Year of Mittens: The Rich History of Aran and Cable Knitting

August is almost over, and we've enjoyed seeing everyone's finished and in-progress mittens. We hope you all have enjoyed working all of those cables!

Our August mittens for the Year of Mittens are a richly cabled design, inspired by traditional Irish sweaters, most often referred to as Aran sweaters. While these sweaters are traditionally knit in natural white wool, these mittens are knit using our Cumbria Fingering yarn in Windermere, a traditional Gansey sweater color. This blending of traditions across the sea is something that is really at the heart of how regionally specific knitting traditions develop, and evolve. 

There is a long and confusing history behind cable knitting. Many say that it originated long ago on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. This wind-swept, craggy string of rocks in the Atlantic Ocean is the perfect romantic setting for a thick woolen knit to take shape. Waterproof and knit tight as armor, densely knit extra thick sweaters were woven through with distinctive patterning developed over the generations by the women of the family. The story goes that the Aran cable patterns were specific to each family so that the bodies of the men lost at sea could be identified when washed ashore. A more likely, and less romantic, tale of the origins of Aran knitting is that the sweaters were developed for tourist trade sometime at the beginning of the 20th century. In any case, the intricate and intertwining patterns are certainly reminiscent of the Celtic knots so recognizable in traditional Irish imagery. These sweaters are beautiful works of art steeped in a long knitting tradition, whatever their beginning.

Most likely, these richly patterned sweaters developed simultaneously, through co-development occuring due to the migration and travel of fisherman all over the Bristish Isles, Ireland, Scandinavia, and France. The similarities between fisherman's sweaters of these areas is plain to see. Regional styles prevailed, through use of wool type and color, style and complexity, but in many cases the overlaps in design are too commonplace to be able to label any one style of sweater strictly of one place. In Britain and France, closer to large cities knitters may have had better access to dyestuffs, or even later on, commercial dyehouses.  In other more isolated areas, natural undyed wool colors were more common. Surely, some version of what we call an "Aran Sweater" existed before they were commercially popularized in the 1950's and 60's, but most likely they had more in common with the traditional fisherman's gansey than today's richly patterned Aran designs. 

In the 1950's, what we now refer to as Aran knitting was popularized in the US by a design in a 1958 Vogue Pattern Book. This sweater, knit - but not designed by - Elizabeth Zimmerman, started a craze for this style of sweater. The Irish Government, recognizing an opportunity to develop a very rural part of their country with a tourist trade, sent knitters and designers to the outlying islands to work with the local knitters to help them produce garments of high quality and using standard sizing methods. Today, you can still buy traditional Aran sweaters (and kits!) produced by the knitters of the Aran Islands: Inishmaan, Inishmore, and Inisheer. 

Of course, as knitters, we think you should make your own Aran-inspired designs, in fact, one of the challenges laid out by the Knitting Guild of America's master knitter program is to design and knit your own Aran sweater! That said, maybe the August Mittens are a good place to start. 

Have you knit an Aran sweater before? Share your story with us! And, stay tuned on September 1st for our next installment in the Year of Mittens!

To Swatch, or Not to Swatch...

Yesterday, we posed a little question to the Twitter-verse:

A number of really great conversations started popping up between designers: 

It was an amazing and informative conversation. Designers talking about all the various ways they try to convince people to swatch, and all the different ways the think about how they word their patterns. Kate and I spent the day pouring over the comments and discussing the issue ourselves and realizing that the issue was that the people who identify as lifestyle knitters generally do swatch, or at least make an effort.

But, the people we really wanted to reach were the casual knitters. The people who know how to knit, (some of whom have been knitting for many, many years) but aren't reading knitting blogs, and aren't reading about knitting theory, and aren't watching tutorials or going on knitting retreats. We needed to reach knitters that just wanted to walk into a shop, pick out a sweater, buy the yarn and needles the pattern specifies, and go home and knit the darn thing. 

And then Webs re-tweeted us and the knitter opinions poured in!

This got us to thinking. What if we did an experiment? We could write up a quick "pattern" for a 4" square stockinette stitch swatch, with a nice little garter border. Tell people what needle size to use, of course, but not tell them the gauge. We could send a skein of each of our yarns out to volunteer knitters to knit the swatches and mail them back to us. (They would keep the rest of the skein, of course). If we had three or four different swatches from three or four different knitters, all using the needle size we recommended, how different would the swatches be? 

Let's do an experiment! If you want to participate, here's what to do:

1. Send us an email (info AT kelbournewoolens DOT com) with your name and address.

2. We will send you a pattern and one skein of yarn.

3. Knit the swatch and mail it back to us within one week of receiving the yarn. The remaining yarn is yours to keep. 

4. Once we receive your swatch, you'll receive a special gift from us for all your help!

5. We will distill all of the data, and compile an amazing blog post featuring your swatches!

We ask that you be realistic about your time and ability to mail the swatches back in a timely fashion. We recognize it is work we're asking you to do, and we know that no one likes to swatch. 

Do you swatch? Do you block your swatches? Tell us about your experience with swatching (or not swatching!) in the comments, or join us on Twitter!

Gansey Kids / Meg Roke (& A Giveaway!)

Meg Roke has released a new ebook, Gansey Kids, full of beautiful knits inspired by traditional Gansey patterns. Ganseys, or Geurnseys, are knit sweaters traditionally worn by seamen originating from Guernsey, a small island in the English Channel. Fisherman needed warm, sturdy, and comfortable sweaters that would resist sea spray. To read more about Gansey history check out my guest blog post on the Fancy Tiger Crafts blog from earlier this year. 

Meg's patterns are all inspired by the traditional garments, but she has reinvented them for the little ones in our lives. There is a range of sizes in the book, with some patterns even sized from infant to adult! Most designs start with toddlers to little kids (as my son would say) to teens. I love this range, as I find that it's especially difficult to find good knitting patterns for kids ages 6-12. 

We're in love with the Whitby Vest (sizes 1 - 12 years), knit in The Fibre Co Cumbria. A unisex vest, it's perfect for fall layering. My son will definitely be getting one of these in his back-to-school fall wardrobe - I definitely have time between now and school picture day to finish it!

Here's what Meg says about the inspiration for the Whitby Vest:

When researching about ganseys, I came across many long sleeve pullovers that featured a stockinette stitch body on the bottom half and a textured stitch pattern on the top half. This is a real classic gansey look that I wanted to replicate in a unisex vest for kids (because kids look so stinkin' cute in teeny vests!). However, the vest needed to be freshened up a bit. After all, this is a collection inspired by ganseys of the past, so the Whitby Vest needed to work for the 21st century. With that in mind, I added an i-cord bind-off edging around the armbands and neckline, worked in a buttonhole for easy-over-the-head maneuvering, and relaxed the fit. Ganseys were traditionally close-fitting garments, but modern day kiddos like to move and wiggle in their everyday clothes... and this vest is cute, comfy, and practical for everyday fun. 

Yarn The Fibre Co. Cumbria: 1 (1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2) skeins; shown in size 4 in Derwentwater
Gauge 18 sts and 26 rnds = 4 inches, in stockinette stitch, on larger needles
Needles US 7 (4.5 mm) 16–24" circular and US 6 (4 mm) 16–24" circular and DPNs
Notions Stitch markers, Scissors, Tapestry needle, Waste yarn, 1 button (.75-1”)
Size 1 (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12) year(s): 20 (23, 25.75, 27.5, 28.5, 30.25, 32)" [51 (58.5, 65.5, 70, 72.5, 77, 81.5) cm] approx chest circumference 11 (13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19)" [28.5 (33, 37, 40, 44, 46.5, 49) cm] approx length

We love Meg's modern patterns that combine classic shapes, textures, and stitches of traditional gansey  into pint sized sweaters for the little ones in your life! 

To show our appreciation for Meg's hard work, we're giving away enough of The Fibre Co. Cumbria in your choice of color, to knit the Whitby Vest for your favorite kiddo. Meg has offered to giveaway a copy of her ebook to the winner as well!

For a chance to win, leave us a comment between now and 8/31 at 12 midnight EST telling us about your most memorable "Back to School" outfit. Mine was...well, let's just say it involved purple Cross Colors jeans. (Hey, it was 1990!) - CK

All images ©Meg Roke. 

Tips + Tricks: Perpendicular Seaming

Two of the patterns in the Arranmore Collection, Burtonport and Wild Atlantic Way, require finishing the armholes utilizing a perpendicular seaming technique. 

Different than mattress stitch, where two pieces of parallel knit fabrics are sewn together with the same number of rows, seaming perpendicular pieces of knitting together requires lining up stitches with rows and sewing them together.

While much of the actual seaming steps are the same as mattress stitch, the trickiest part is making sure you're joining the pieces evenly. A similar concept to perfectly picked up stitches, the key is making sure the length of the horizontal and width of the perpendicular pieces being seamed together are the same measurement, and calculating the ratio of rows to stitches. Below is a photo tutorial on expertly working this technique! - KGO

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

If you’re working from a pattern, the full depth of the armhole (bottom starting point up to shoulder, then down to the opposite bottom point) should equal the full width of the sleeve. It is easier to seam sweater pieces together prior to seaming the side and sleeve seams. 

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

STEP 1 / Once your pieces have been blocked, double check that the length of the horizontal and width of the perpendicular pieces being seamed together are the same measurement. For my swatches, the horizontal piece is the teal swatch and the perpendicular piece is charcoal swatch, and the edges to be seamed together measure 5.5”.

STEP 2 / Count the row gauge of the horizontal piece and stitch gauge of the perpendicular piece. My horizontal gauge is 24 rows/4”, and the perpendicular gauge is 20 stitches/4”.

Calculate the ratio of rows to stitches (S/R) of the two pieces to the smallest fraction. (You will be using the same method as you would for evenly picking up stitches). Since my S/R is 20/24, the smallest fraction for my swatches is 5/6. In order to evenly seam the two pieces, I will need to seam 5 stitches of my perpendicular piece to 6 rows of my horizontal piece.

Note: This number may be different for you depending on your row and stitch gauge.

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

STEP 3a / Thread your seaming yarn (if the yarn is bulky, I recommend a smooth yarn in a similar color and finer gauge) onto a blunt tip darning needle. Insert the needle in and out of one stitch of the piece held perpendicular.

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

Step 3b / Insert the needle from front to back in the open space between the 1st and 2nd stitch on the first row of the horizontal piece, then bring the needle to the front in the second row.

Step 4 / Repeat this process, moving up one stitch on the perpendicular piece and one row on the horizontal piece until you have worked 1 less than your row ration number. Since my R = 5,  I have worked 4 rows.

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

Step 5 / On the next row, insert the needle in and out of one stitch of the perpendicular piece as usual. Then, on the horizontal piece, insert the needle from front to back in the open space between the next row of the horizontal piece, then bring the needle to the front two rows up. You have now worked an additional row. For my swatches, this means I have worked 5 stitches and 6 rows, working the correct ratio.

KW Tips + Tricks: Seaming Perpendicular Pieces

Step 6 /  Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until the full length of the seam has been worked. Once complete, the seam should not pucker in any way, and the pieces will evenly lie flat.

• Unlike seaming mattress stitch, where you can go 1-2" before tightening, I found it is necessary to tighten the seaming yarn after just a few stitches/rows. 
• Make sure you stay in one column on the horizontal piece, and on one row on the perpendicular piece so your seam is perfectly straight.

Looking for more Tips + Tricks? View the full catalog of tutorials here

Colors of Arranmore WINNER!

On August 11th, we introduced you to the history and stories behind the color names of our new yarn, Arranmore, in this blog post. We asked you to tell us which color surprised you? What color did you fall in love with that was outside of your usual palette? 

Congratulations to Carolyn, who says the following: 

Congratulations on so very many amazing colors with so very many interesting color names and color stories!!! My easy favorites are River Esque, Narin Beach and St Claire. They all sit front and center in my comfort zone. But, I love color, and I LOVE your question about what color surprised me and could be a new one that I would love to knit with...
That is BRADAN... "an Irish Gaelic word meaning 'salmon'"... the "'Salmon of Knowledge' creature" and "a wise man that was transformed into a salmon"... ♥♥♥

Thanks for participating, Carolyn, and an email is on it's way to you. 

For more information about our new Arranmore yarn and pattern collection, read the entire blog series here!

The Arranmore Collection: Alternate Colorways

The original samples in the 9 piece Arranmore Collection were designed in a classic and somewhat subtle color palette. When putting together a second set of samples for our Trunk Shows, we dove deep into the full palette of 18 colors, and worked up the pieces in alternate combinations to showcase what some of the other shades had to offer. Linette was kind enough to photograph them* this week before we sent them off to our lovely stockists. Enjoy!



LACROAGH: Slieve Sunset

ST. BRENDAN: Malin Head / St. Claire / Glenveagh Castle / Cronan

SWILLY: Shamrock


WILD ATLANTIC WAY: Malin Head / Glenveagh Castle

* the astute among you may notice that poor Killybegs is missing from this spread - she decided to sit out the shoot, and we'll make sure she has her day in the sun as soon as the trunk shows are back in the office! 

All images by and © Linette Kielinski Photography

The Arranmore Collection: Modern Classics

The last three garments in our  9 piece collection utilize all of the exceptional qualities of The Fibre Co. Arranmore combined with classic techniques we know and love.

Each sweater requires a little more in the way of effort - both colorwork and cables are used to great effect - but the end result of any of the three is a sweater that will be as impressive 20 years from today as it is now:

WILD ATLANTIC WAY: Color blocking kicked up a notch

Named after the gorgeous coastal route along the western shores of Ireland, and inspired by their simple, effective logo, Wild Atlantic Way is a lovely drop shoulder sweater with simple colorwork detailing. Knit in the round from the bottom up, the modified drop shoulder sleeves are knit in the round and sewn in. Stitches are then picked up to work the collar in the round.

YARN: The Fibre Co. Arranmore: Narin Beach (CC), 3 (3, 4, 4, 5, 6) skeins.
GAUGE: 14 sts + 22 rnds = 4” (10 cm) in St st, on larger ndls, after blocking. 
1 – 24” (60 cm) or 40” (100 cm) US 7 (4.5 mm) circular.
1 – 16” (40 cm) US 7 (5 mm) circular. 
1 - set US 7 (4.5 mm) DPNs. 
1 – 24” (60 cm) or 40” (102 cm) US 9 (5.5 mm) circular.
NOTIONS: Stitch marker, tapestry needle.
SIZE: 36.5 (41.25, 43.5, 48, 52.5, 57.25, 61.75)” [92.75 (104.75, 110.5, 122, 133.25, 145.5, 156.75) cm] finished bust. Sweater is designed to be worn with 4” (10 cm) of positive ease. Please see schematic for more detailed finished measurements.  
SKILLS: Increases, decreases, colorwork.

For a tutorial on working from charts, visit our Charts Series here.
For a tutorial on seaming perpendicular pieces of knitting, visit our tips and tricks here.

FINN VALLEY: An aran classic with exceptional fitting.

Finn Valley is the perfect classic cable sweater. Worked in pieces from the bottom up, the large rope-like all cable motif makes a large impact on the front, leaving the back and set-in sleeves to function in lovely reverse stockinette stitch. Once the pieces are complete, they are blocked and seamed together using mattress stitch, and stitches are picked up to work the collar.

 The Fibre Co. Arranmore: St. Claire, 5 (5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 8) skeins. 
GAUGE: 14 sts + 22 rows = 4” (10 cm) in Reverse St st on larger needles, after blocking. 1 cable repeat (16 sts + 28 rows) = 3.5” x 4.5” (8.75 x 11.5 cm) 
1 – 24” (60 cm) US 6 (4 mm) circular or pair straights. 
1 – 16” (40 cm) US 6 (4 mm) circular. 
1 – 24” (60 cm) US 8 (5 mm) circular or pair straights. 
NOTIONS: Stitch marker, tapestry needle, cable needle, stitch holder or waste yarn. 
SIZE: 37.25 (40.75, 44.25, 50, 52.25, 55.75, 60.25)” 94.5 (103.5, 112.5, 127, 132.75, 141.5, 153) cm finished bust. Sweater is designed to be worn with about 4” (10 cm) positive ease. 
SKILLS: Working cables from charts, mattress stitch, picking up stitches.

• For a tutorial on working the mattress stitch, visit our tips and trickshere
• For a tutorial on knitting pieces to the same length for seaming, visit our tips and tricks here
• For a tutorial on working from charts, visit our Charts Series here
• For a tutorial on working cables without a cable needle, visit our tutorialhere.

ST. BRENDAN: The perfect combination of Icelandic design and Irish yarn.

The sleeves and body of St. Brendan are knit in the round, then joined at the underarm. The colorwork yoke is worked in the round, and finished with a simple K1, P1 Ribbing. The sweater is designed and sized to be unisex. 

 The Fibre Co. Arranmore: St. Claire (MC) 4 (4, 5, 6) skeins, Glenveagh Castle (CC1) 2 (2, 2, 3) skeins, Kinnego Bay (CC2), 1 (1, 1, 2) skein(s), Narin Beach (CC3) 1 (1, 1, 1) skein. 
GAUGE: 15 sts + 20 rnds = 4” (10 cm) in St st on larger needles, after blocking. 
1 – 16” (40 cm) and 24” (60 cm) US 7 (4.5 mm) circular. 
1 – set US 7 (4.5 mm) DPNs. 
1 – 16” (40 cm) and 24” (60 cm) US 8 (5 mm) circular. 
1 – set US 8 (5 mm) DPNs.
NOTIONS: Stitch marker, tapestry needle, stitch holders or waste yarn. 
SIZE: 38 (45, 51, 57.5)” 96.5 (114, 129.5, 146) cm bust. Sweater is designed to be worn with 4–6” (10–15 cm) ease. Please see schematic for more detailed finished measurements. 
SKILLS: Knitting, purling, color work, kitchener stitch (grafting).

• For a tutorial on working the kitchener stitch, visit our tips and tricks here
• For a tutorial on working colorwork from charts, visit our tips and tricks here

You can view the full Arranmore Collection here on Ravelry