1.29.2011

Aran You Glad I Did?

I know I'm a little behind the rest of the knitting community on this one, but I'm sharing anyways because I'm so excited that my copy of the new and revised edition of Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting has arrived!


First published in 1997, it's been out-of-print for a decade, and I have thought more than a couple times of biting the bullet and paying the scarcity going rates on ebay. Happily, I didn't have to -- I found the new edition on sale for just $17.

It got me thinking about one of the projects of my youth: my first Aran.


I started this sweater in the summer of 1986 on Martha's Vineyard. My family had a home and spent summer months there from the time I was in kindergarten. Little did I know then that 1986 would be the last summer we spent there together: my parents split up the following October. I've only been to the house twice since then.

Each year from the time I was in 7th grade until that summer before my senior year, I would look forward to our trip to the Island in no small part because I would get to pick yarn and start a new sweater. This one was especially exciting. A few years before, I had watched my mom knit an Aran cardigan and practically salivated over every stitch she made. This, then, was my first Aran knit. In fact, it was my first cable project at all, and with it I felt like I'd arrived at the apex of knitting.

I can't recall the name of the yarn store in Edgartown where I made my annual fiber and pattern purchases. A quick search of the internet indicates there isn't a yarn store in Edgartown any longer... although I find that hard to believe. Anyone know for sure? The only fiber arts-related store name I can remember right now is the Silver Needle -- and even that seems to have transformed from a brick-and-mortar retail to an online shop. Ugh! Oh how I loved to browse their gorgeous hand-painted needlepoint canvases! While on my honeymoon in 1991, I picked up the wonderful Benjamin Bunny for my mother, to go with the Peter Rabbit she'd already stitched for a pillow. But I digress...

My Aran, started in summer 1986 and finished in winter 1988 (I lost a year dealing with my parents' divorce and heading off to college, but I did finish during winter break of my freshman year), was completed nearly a decade before Starmore's book even came out!

I tried to locate the pattern I knit this from so I could give design credit where it is due, but I no longer have it. Anyone recognize the design?

(Yes, that's my shadow creating the discoloration in this picture and the following.
I can't believe I made such a rookie mistake... but I'm also not going to re-shoot.)

I remember being especially pleased with the bold and flat geometry of the center panel checkerboard. It was different than other Arans I'd seen because it didn't feature some kind of open cable in this position.

And I adored the cabled knots,


which created a visual line along the vertical without extending, themselves, as solid vertical lines. I'd never seen cables handled quite like this before, and I loved it. They almost look Asian -- like Chinese glyphs.

The sweater was knit in flat pieces, and features a saddle shoulder construction that seamlessly extends the knot line to the neck. This is in line with the conventional post-World War II construction. I had thought the bobbles flanking the panels were a more (then-) contemporary touch, but according to Starmore's research, the bobbles have been an Aran fixture for about as long as this sweater genre has been around.


It's held up remarkably well these 23 years, don't you think? My mother always allowed me to work with the best wool. She viewed handknit projects as heirlooms in-the-making that we would want to last, and she was right. There's absolutely no pilling. I didn't even re-block the sweater before shooting these pictures today, and it still looks great.

I'm quite proud that at 17 years old, I already was a veteran knitter of numerous complicated sweaters and had such advanced techniques under my belt. I owe this to my mother, who didn't futz around with teaching me on dull repetitive projects like dishcloths or scarves. I probably would have put the thing down out of boredom and never finished if she had. Instead, she threw me into the deep end: I learned how to knit on a beautiful cardigan pattern with bobbles and smocking and buttonholes and set-in sleeves with puffed caps -- and I wore that sweater for years. She never once let me think that I wasn't ready for a new technique, and I know this made me the fearless knitter I am today.

Of course, since our move to Seattle from Ohio eleven years ago, my first Aran has gotten much less wear than it used to. We simply don't have cold enough weather here for a sweater so thick and warm.

If you've never knit an Aran, you should! And if you haven't checked out the Starmore book, you should! Not only are her designs gorgeous, she presents wonderful scholarship -- both artistic and historical -- about the art of Aran knitting. Anyone out there who thinks these sweaters originated any time before the 20th century is in for a big surprise!

1 comment:

OhShknit said...

It's funny how 5 years makes a difference with memories. I don't remember watching you work on this. I barely remember the yarn store in Edgartown, even though I'm sure I always tagged along. I do know that Martha's Vineyard isn't nearly as magical as it was when we were kids. I think it still only has one stop light on the whole island, but it seems more commercialized. After my last visit 3 years ago, I no longer ache to go back. My new love is the Pacific Northwest. Thank goodness you're there! The sweater is beautiful. I love it's non-traditional representation of a very old, traditional style.