I, knitter. The Myths Behind The Real Aran Sweater.

But first...a look at The Aran Islands, Ireland. The Aran Islands are not a myth. After you read this, if you read it, you will probably share the relief I felt when I remembered that at least the Islands, at least they, are real. The Aran Islands are geographically placed in such a way that if Ireland was a person facing west and had her belly button pierced, they would be her dangling gemstone belly jewellery.

This is picturesque, yes, but did I mention I grew up on an island in the Atlantic? This is kinda normal stuff for me right here.

My island didn't, however, have craggy cliffs like this. I started sitting up and paying attention right about here.

My what big cliffs you have, Aran Islands. So big you make that castle look tiny. Well played, very well played. (update: In further researching, I discovered this picture was taken on the Cliffs of Moher which is across the straight from the Aran Islands on Ireland's mainland. The Cliffs of Moher doubled as the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride)

Lest you get the idea that huge towering cliffs indicate hilly terrain, think again. Oh look, Frimmy got this photo from National Geographic. Thank you National Geographic! *waves*

Speaking of waves...here are some waves crashing on one of the Aran Islands. Waves and turbulence in the water contributed to the deaths of many fishermen because something that a lot of fishermen have in common besides working on the ocean and meeting a lot of fish, is none of them ever bother to learn to swim. Not that swimming will help you in a thrashing sea full of waves but really, it couldn't hurt. The young lad's great grandfather lost his life in one of the worst storms in Escuminac, New Brunswick in 1959 where 130 km/h winds and 15-meter waves sank 22 fishing boats and drowned 35 men in the deadliest hurricane in Canadian history. We can chat about that another time but no amount of swimming skill would have helped any of them. Wave action leads me into knitting...

I knit. I like it. I have all the needles and accoutrements of knitting and have pretty much done everything except knit a 3D object.

This is a blanket I knitted for the young lad when he was little. I don't like typical things, clearly. The peas are 3D but I don't count that. Forgive the general worn appearance, it's old.


But first, what isn't a myth

This sweater is real with a distinctive pattern. The man inside it is a myth. Especially if he has an Irish accent because - Hello Nurse! - that would be just a little too perfect.

Notice the pattern? I read that each component of these patterns represents something. For example: There are almost two dozen stitches, and the combinations are infinite. Patterns known as the Ladder of Life and Holy Trinity have obvious religious links. Others talk more to life's experiences, e.g. the Double Zigzags relate to the trials and tribulations of married life while the Tree of Life tells of hope that a fisherman will have long life and sons to carry on his work. For more information about the history of the Aran Sweater, check this out.

And again...pattern...except that I also read that the idea that stitches actually represent something is also a complete myth and that they were created for their decorative appearance by clever and skillful knitters because they looked nice, not to convey any meaning. So...yeah if you want to read more about that, go here.

With that, I decided to trash this whole idea and do a post about cookies again. Then I thought, no, who do I write this for anyway? Millions of discerning readers who want to know the truth or me? I'm sorry, but the answer is me. Besides, I had too much time invested in stealing pictures off the internet to add colour to my post.

Everyone has seen Aran Isle sweaters (except for my spell checker because it insists on correcting Aran to Arab, Ara, Ran, Arlan and Arman) These sweaters have been around for ages and are often called fisherman sweaters because fishermen knitted them on the long boring days out at sea. No, I'm kidding. They wore them on long days at sea. The yarn was processed, or NOT processed in this case, to leave as much of the natural oils in the yarn as possible so they were somewhat waterproof as well. One of the features of these sweaters back then was shortish long sleeves. This was so that the fisherman would not get the sleeves wet as readily while working in water. As you can see the design of the sleeves has been updated and is what we would consider normal length.

What is a myth

This fisherman has clearly just survived being washed up on shore and it's a good thing he survived because who could identify him by his sweater with all that paraphernalia entangling him?

I just finished "An Irish Country Doctor" by Patrick Taylor, a novel currently on the best seller list and whose author The Globe And Mail describes as "probably the most popular Irish-Canadian writer of all time". You know, because we have so many of them that we have to distinguish one from the other.

Here is a quote:
In the Arran Islands, the famous local sweaters all had recognizable patterns that appealed to American tourists. The visitors didn't know that each pattern was particular to a family, so that if a man was lost at sea and washed ashore the corpse could be identified by the sweater.
I read that and thought it would make a totally awesome blog subject. Alas, it was not to be. As we have learned, it is a myth. Did our friend, Mr Taylor, one of the best Irish-Canadian authors of all time, A) purposely foster this misunderstanding? Or, B) Not realize it was a myth? Or, C) Knows this for a fact because he is Irish and therefore has special inside knowledge at the same time a large portion of the world mistakenly believes it's true and for which another tinier portion of the world says is a myth?

I don't know. Perhaps he can tell me. Because, Mr one of Canada's best Irish Canadian writers and who doesn't live very far away from me geographically speaking, I'd listen to you explain it to me for as long as you wanted to talk because, are you kidding me?!, someone with an Irish accent could pretty much tell me anything and I would totally believe it.


Angie said...

I read it all and the best part was the leprechaun flipping me the bird.

But really, I'm seriously bummed that the pattern identifying families is a myth. One good thing though, I can safely buy a sweater when I go to Ireland someday and not worry I'm going to run into a McDougal and have him punch me in the nose for wearing his family clothing.

Frimmy said...

I think a lot of people romanticize it and equate it with the kilt and how individual kilt patterns represents various clans. I was kinda disappointed that wasn't the case which will work for you when you get to Ireland and wear a McDougal sweater.

I loved that leprechaun. It was almost like he waved at me to steal, I mean, pick him.

A-Gran said...

That was fascinating. Clearly you put a lot more work into your blog than I do mine.

Frimmy said...

Oh I don't think so at all. You're very engaging and you make me laugh.

Angie said...

No, she's right. You work way harder than she does. Example number fifteen: She has a horse commentator.

A-Gran said...

Angie is correct. I've been trying to farm out my work for weeks now. I see now why the beautiful words "guest blogger" have been put together. Speaking of which.... anyone interested? Anyone? Seriously, don't make me get the horse.

Angie said...

Millhouse is quite clever and likes to type. He can be had for a can of tuna.

Frimmy said...

oo Angie would be an awesome guest blogger!

A-Gran said...

Millhouse is hired. When can he start? I have a lonely heart's horse. I'm thinking some sort of Life tips from Millhouse...

Angie said...

Millhouse does have an uncanny sense of etiquette. He's also completely unemotional, so I'm sure he can take someone to the house when required.

Copacetic Daisy said...

That is very cool you knit. I never learned how to do that I can crochet and I once learned to tat. Don't think I would be able to do that now. Great blog really enjoy it.

A-Gran said...

I have been searching for someone to teach me to knit for years and years now. I learned to crochet as a teenager and I'm still not very good at it. If I could find a class somewhere on crocheting I could learn a few tricks and probably be crocheting at an expert level quickly. I just don't learn well from the books. A couple of hours with a seasoned crocheter would do it. I've even asked a couple of the geezers here if they could teach me and they don't know how. How can you be a 70 year old woman and not know how to crochet? As far as knitting goes, the items are much nicer, in my opinion and I want to learn so badly. I have knitting needles and have tried to follow some youtube instructions but I need someone to sit next to me and explain this shit.

Frimmy said...

My mom is 70 and she knows all the crafty stitches. She crochets doilies too. She forced my sisters and me to learn to knit and we would do quilts for bridal showers. The kind that have panels and you sew them together. I hated those things I told my mom that if anyone ever gave one to me as a gift I would be horrified. Now, I appreciate that she taught me.

Tack on knitting lessons for the list of things we'll do when you visit.

donnac said...

Tonya..go to any yarn boutique store especially on a Saturday. There's usually people sitting around a table knitting and chatting like old men around the cracker barrel in a country store. Knitters of all ages. They will gladly show you. It's a social and practical thing.


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