Saturday 8 January 2011

St. Andrews Woollen Mill: Aran Stitches And Their Meanings

I have very fond memories of going to the St. Andrews Woollen Mill with my gran to buy huge hanks of oily wool for knitting, it was a large warehouse full of wools, patterns, sheepskin rugs, knitting equipment and hand-knitted gems. The Woollen Mill probably closed around 1980 but the smell of the place is indelibly marked in my memory.

It was lovely to find this leaflet inside a bargain bag of knitting patterns I bought yesterday in Abernyte Antiques mall for £6, I remember the logo and font so well, the low-tech artwork is inspiring in itself.

If only such places still existed.

A transcription:


Aran knitting is one of the most popular forms of knitting today and it is thought that it originated about 500 years ago in a group of three islands off Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. The islands as a group are known as the Aran Islands but individually they are known as Inishmore which means the 'big island', Inishmaaan the 'middle island' and Inisheer the 'west island'.

It started long ago with the fishermen of Aran making nets and then developing this skill into the knitting of garments using goose quills and a very rough spun local wool known as 'bainin' which means off-white.

The stitches used today in Aran knitting are exactly the same as those used centuries ago. They originally told the story of the life and the work of the people in the West of Ireland. The people in remote villages earned their living from the land and sea. Each family had its own design and pattern which to them was full of meaning.

This stitch recalled the honey earned by the hardworking bee and was made by twisting stitches forward and back across the panel.

This stitch depicted the holy trinity - Three in One and One in Three. Trinity stitch is also known as Blackberry Stitch.

It was thought that this design ensured a long life to the wearer and strong sons to help with the fishing. It was worked by knit or twist stitches against a purl background.

This stitch was worked as very small diamonds and illustrated the small stone walled fields in Western Ireland.

This stitch represented the fisherman's rope and was therefore essential to the prosperity of a fishing village.

These were another form of cable and were in honour of the lobsters which were plentiful off that part of Ireland and helped in the prosperity of the community.

This stitch had great importance attached to it and when worked with Trinity Stitch carried a religious significance.

This pattern was like a cliff path winding between the rocky outcrops which were represented by a form of Trinity Stitch.

This was usually considered as the 'Ups and Downs' of married life and was also known as the 'Marriage Lines'.

This was purl or twist stitches worked to form the poles and rungs of a ladder against a knit stitch background. It symbolises that man climbed from earth to Eternal Happiness.

This was a single moss stitch and was another symbol of wealth in the coastal districts. Irish Moss is an edible seaweed and at one time was an important source of nourishment. it was used to flavour soup and even today is considered a delicacy.

This stitch represented wealth and success to the wearer and was formed by plain stitches on a purl or moss background.

This was a treble stitch and it reproduced a common design from Celtic Crosses and reminded people of the strong faith of the Irish community.

This, of course, recalled the famous stone and the story that those people who kissed the Blarney Stone enjoyed at all times, the gift of a persuasive tongue and this was worked as a cable within a cable.

This refers to a fisherman's basket known as a creel and embodies the hope of a large catch.

There are more stitches than those described here. Part of the fun and interest in the whole Aran Story is in discovering new stitches as well as recognising old favourites. It is fascinating to examine the many examples that one sees worn by people in all places and all walks of life. We are always interested in new examples of stitches together with the stories and legends behind them and we shall be happy to hear from you if you have any more to add to our collection.
[As would I, in order to keep the spirit of this leaflet alive and well.]