View Full Version : What exactly is "Aran wool"?

07-23-2008, 09:11 PM
Hello, I'll be leaving for Ireland in a couple of days and my family and I plan on visiting the Aran Islands. Naturally, this makes me want to come home with some genuine Aran wool that I have the pleasure of knowing I bought right there. I know I should pick a pattern before going so I get an adequate amount of wool and so I'm not frustrated trying to later find a pattern for a fixed amount of wool.

But I find I don't really know what constitutes "Aran wool." Is that just a reference to its origins? Or is it a specific weight? Or is it even a stitch pattern more than a wool? I ask because in looking at patterns online that say they're "Aran," I'm finding different weights (like afghans in chunkier wool and "Aran" socks in fingering weight). When I look for "genuine" Aran wool out on the islands (and I'm sure I can find it in other locations in Ireland, too), will it come in different weights (for instance, could I make socks of Aran wool, or is it too thick, or does it come in sockweight?).

Ok, now that I've asked the same question ten ways, here's another: does anyone out there have a favorite Aran pattern? I am a new knitter who is not very accomplished and I get frustrated easily by complex patterns, particularly sweaters. I'm thinking along the lines of relatively simple socks, one-piece lap-size blankets, scarves, mufflers, those sorts of things. I don't mind trying cables, which I've done a little bit of. I want to make the most of this and so I don't want to overextend myself or have to cart home a ton of wool.

Thanks in advance!

07-23-2008, 09:59 PM
Yeah, it's complicated... There's Aran weight which is just slightly thicker than worsted, but not all that much. And `Aran' patterns, of course, which have cables and bobbles and all sorts of patterning. As to whether there's wool that comes only from the Aran islands and has specific properties, perhaps some of the UK contingent can better answer that. Though I think it's undyed natural colors, like brown, tan, gray.

Probably if you just buy some wool there that you like you can just tell everyone when you get home that it's genuine Aran wool.... ;)

07-23-2008, 10:51 PM
I like your answer a lot Sue! <wink> backatcha! Thanks.

07-24-2008, 07:37 AM

Suzeeq said:

"Probably if you just buy some wool there that you like you can just tell everyone when you get home that it's genuine Aran wool.... :wink: "

Oo - you're a bad lass,:teehee:

OK - I'll try and keep this short and sweet:

You're right, there is traditional Aran wool which usually comes in cream or off white, the colour used by 'Aran' knitters.

These days, you can still buy Aran wool - of the same sort of texture but in a rainbow of colours. You don't need to stick with cream or offwhite if you don't want to. You are still using Aran wool, even if it's a different colour.

Weight - Aran weight is closest to US Light Worsted.

Patterns - There's a huge variety of traditional Aran patterns and what they all have in common is, of course, using Aran weight wool.

Alot of them are quite complex and you really need to concentrate on each and every row of the pattern, especially with twists and diamonds.

The pic below is a cardi I knitted for my grand daughter - it took me forever but I learned such alot about stitch patterns, cables, twists, etc., that it really was brilliant for advancing my knitting skills.

There are, however, lots of simpler patterns, just involving a couple of cables, which I did before I bit off with this particular pattern.

Take a look on ebay UK and you will find tons of 'Aran' patterns, meaning both the traditional pattern stitches and using 'Aran' weight.

Anyway, I hope you have a lovely holiday (send me a postcard!) and hope this helps.

Best Wishes


07-24-2008, 07:52 AM
Hi, Maryanne!

Interesting question. I looked it up and found the following -

"Aran - denoting a knitwear with traditional patterns, typically involving a raised cable stitch and large diamond designs."

You might want to check out Gladys Thompson's book, "Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans - Fishermen's Sweaters from the British Isles" before you go on your trip. Ms. Thompson put a lot of work into getting the patterns for these traditional pieces documented since most have been passed on in families by word of mouth. They are quite beautiful and were in real danger of being lost. She's done an incredible job of documenting many of them and included charts, patterns and some of the knitting history of the various islands.

I, too, am a relatively new knitter (just over a year) and I've made a few afgans with these types of stitches. It's challenging, for sure, but I've learned SO MUCH just by doing them.

It helps a great deal to get familiar with the pattern before you start. I do that by writing out the pattern for each row on index cards, breaking it down by logical steps on each row. Then when I have them all written out I can put the cards next to me on the sofa and just put the card for the row I've just finished in the back. (For more info on this, check out the thread "Knit tips & tricks, page 2 or 3, in General Knitting).

Hope this helps, and I really hope you enjoy your trip!


07-24-2008, 07:56 AM
Ellie, your cardi is AWESOME!!! What a lucky child to have something so precious. :yay:


07-24-2008, 09:23 AM
Weight - Aran weight is closest to US Light Worsted. No, by gauge, aran weight is US heavy worsted. There's less sts/inch than worsted.

But glad you liked the rest of my answer though....

07-24-2008, 09:55 AM
No, by gauge, aran weight is US heavy worsted. There's less sts/inch than worsted.

But glad you liked the rest of my answer though....

Hiya Suzeeq

Sorry -I think I've got DK on the brain these days (all those hats).

I've put a link here http://www.yarnstandards.com/weight.html.

You're right - Aran is the equivalent of worsted and I know I knitted the main body of the cardi on 5mm needles.

The rest of your answer was eminently suitable, Watson - carry on like that and we'll make you an Honorary Brit.


Thanks so much for mentioning that book of almost lost Aran Patterns - that is a 'gotta have', so I'll go and have a mooch right now for it.

Thanks very much too for your very kind comment about the cardi - it was a special cardi for a special little girl (but then I would say that, wouldn't I?) :teehee:

Think I've had another wheeze too for your Tips and Hints thread, so I'd best get cracking.

All the Best


07-24-2008, 10:21 AM
The rest of your answer was eminently suitable, Watson - carry on like that and we'll make you an Honorary Brit.

I think I'm more than an honorary one... a couple of multi great grandparents came to the US from England almost 400 years ago. So there's a little bit of it flowing in my veins....

07-24-2008, 11:44 AM
I am currently searching for the "perfect" Aran sweater pattern (hard to find). I came across this site where you can order a "kit" (pattern and yar) or just the pattern. You can also order a completed sweater. The kit is $99.00 US, the pattern ALONE is $30.00. Which amazes me because I would expect the yarn to be much more and the pattern much less. It is coming from Ireland so shipping is also expensive.


Anyway, they have literally hundreds of Clan patterns to choose from. At that price I have to narrow my selection to just one which is proving to be very difficulty. I have had several very nice emails with the lady who does the ordering, they seem to be delightful to deal with.

I am looking for RAGLAN Aran sweater patterns if anyone has a reference.

07-24-2008, 12:10 PM
I think I'm more than an honorary one... a couple of multi great grandparents came to the US from England almost 400 years ago. So there's a little bit of it flowing in my veins....

Hi Suzeeq

Well, I've said it before and I'll say it again - there's not a day goes by that you don't learn something new on this Forum ...

I had absolutely no idea that the Mayflower had docked in Wyoming - amazing.

HI Ginny

Could you tell me please what kind of sweater you've got in mind - adult or child - maybe I could have a look over here - that's an awful price to pay for a pattern!


07-24-2008, 12:22 PM
if you check the link I posted you'll see these are all Raglan pullover with dozens of WONDERFUL patterns. I'm looking for an adult either pullowver or Cardi. I want a Raglan pattern because I think the sleeves look so much nicer raglan rather than set.

These patterns don't have graphs (my preferred method of cable knitting). I'm just learning to translate written to graph but it is very labor intensive. Also considering buying the program that makes graphs.......

07-24-2008, 12:45 PM
Hi Ginny

There's a link here to some Sirdar Aran patterns - if you scroll down a bit, you'll find a bloke wearing a grey sweater.


There's also a main pattern page at the bottom. Meantime, I'll have a Google and see if I can come up with some Aran chart patterns.


07-24-2008, 01:33 PM
Just found some interesting used books on AMAZON and ordered 3 (for less than the one pattern would have cost).

07-24-2008, 01:47 PM
I might be all wrong on this but I think Aran yarn is spun with the natural oils (lanolin?) left in the wool. That is why it is sometimes called fishermen's knit-because it resists water.

07-24-2008, 01:54 PM
I don't know about the oil, it makes sense, but I have read a different reason for them being called "Fisherman" knits. Each family or "clan" had it's own specific pattern that was handed down for generations and only worn by that family. The fisherman wore the warm wool sweaters out on the boats and because the patterns were individual to each family, if the ship sank and the fisherman were washed up on the beach he could be identified by the sweater he wore.

07-24-2008, 02:15 PM
I had absolutely no idea that the Mayflower had docked in Wyoming - amazing.

I come from a long line of nomads or else we'd still be in England.....

Actually, my greatwhatevergrandma's parents did come over on the Mayflower, don't know if she was born here or came with them. The great...grandpa was mentioned in the 1620 census for Jamestown. I think they were married after that; her family left Plymouth colony and went south.

Later descendants migrated to the Carolinas, Arkansas, then to Missouri where my mom and her parents were born. Then they all moved to Idaho where I grew up after being born in Oregon. I've lived in several states myself. A lot of us are wanderers, I tell you.

07-24-2008, 05:15 PM
Hiya Ellie and Ginny

Yeah - I've heard that as well about the oil and each family having an individual pattern of their own - maybe that's why there's so many of them to choose from, Ginny. Glad you've found something a little more reasonably priced.

It's becoming a really interesting thread this - I'd love to find out how they process some of the Aran wool so that it doesn't lose all the natural oil.

Wow! - that's some pedigree you've got there, Suzeeq. Your forebears weren't exactly put off by travelling, and they certainly must have been made from stern stuff to face and survive that Atlantic crossing in those conditions.

Have you ever been to the Plymouth Plantation? We went a good few years back now and it was very impressive how much trouble everyone had gone to to keep things as authentic as possible.

You couldn't get a flicker from the Captain's Wife or the rest of the crew - not a smidgen of a hint that they really were living in the 20th Century. I wondered if they had to be packed off somewhere for treatment at the end of the season.

You could have come off that ship believing you'd fallen into a time warp.

Anyway, Good Luck with the pattern hunt, Ginny and I'll see what I can come up with here.

Best Wishes


07-24-2008, 09:39 PM
No I've never made it to the eastern edge of the US, though would like to sometime. Yep, the Masschusetts/Connecticut area as well as Jamestown would be on my list to visit.

07-24-2008, 10:30 PM
Thank you all for your answers and for the fun conversation! I leave tomorrow night and will spend some time between now and then checking out the links.
And thank you Ellie for the amazing cardi photo!


07-24-2008, 11:36 PM
Hey, Ellie!:waving:

I think you'll love Gladys Thompson's book. She has some incredible photos of the fishermen and I got really tickled at her tales of chasing some of them down on the street, trying to get them to hold still while she wrote down the pattern for their sweaters! :rofl: That is ONE DETERMINED LADY! But she certainly got a great product with her book.

Glad you've got more tips and hints to write in, too. They're always good ones! I'm happy to see how generous so many on this site are in sharing their experience. I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient so I can cram more knitted things in!