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From hand-knitted socks to Grace Kelly - the evolution of the Aran jumper

It’s 125 years since knitting was first encouraged on the Aran Islands – and the story of the famous jumper is a colourful one.

Grace Grace Kelly, pictured in an Aran jumper in 1950 Source: Irish Clothes

THE ARAN JUMPER is as well-known a style icon these days as you could think of, but have you ever stopped to think about where the style came from in the first place?

Murphy of Ireland, a Donegal-based heritage clothing retailer, have created a timeline tracing the history of one of Ireland’s most famous garment creations.

  • View the timeline here

Knitting was first encouraged on the isolated islands off Galway’s coast in the 1890s, with hand-knitted socks the main creation at first.

Arans The Aran Islands Source: Aer Arann

It was incorrectly surmised by playwright JM Synge that each family had a different sweater pattern on the islands so that if someone drowned they could be identified by that pattern.

irish history links The earliest forms of Aran knitwear - from the 1920s Source: Irish History Links

The film Man of Aran in 1934, although making the islands famous, did not feature the patterns we know so well today. In fact, the first such products didn’t go on sale until the following year.

It was in 1950 that the jumper came to worldwide attention when style icon and legendary beauty Grace Kelly was pictured wearing an Aran sweater, as later was Steve McQueen.

patons The first Aran knitting pattern published in 1940 Source: The Vintage Knitting Lady

From there, Aran patterns were featured in Vogue Magazine in 1956 and the concept started to take off. A dedicated cottage industry sprang up in the 1970s with companies setting up shop on Inis Mór, the largest of the islands.

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steve Steve McQueen pictured in the iconic jumper Source: The Gentlemans Journal

“The Aran is a wonderful symbol of Ireland,” Paul Murphy, managing director with Murphy of Ireland, told TheJournal.ie.

I believe that it is still fantastic that we have something like the it that is still so uniquely Irish.
It also highlights the amazing craftsmanship that those who make the jumpers display. It’s something we should really shout about.

cloudfront Models walking the runway in Aran designs for 2013's Autumn / Winter collections Source: Cloudfront

Nowadays, the majority of Aran jumpers are produced on the mainland as the islands no longer farm sheep’s wool in sufficient quantities to keep up with demand.

But with international designers now featuring Aran patterns as a matter of course, and with endorsements from the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Cara Delevingne, the jumper’s popularity is here to stay.

The timeline above was created by Paul Murphy, managing director of vintage clothing retailers Murphy of Ireland. You can visit their website here.

Read: What will become of the Aran Islands now that their airplane service is gone?

Read: Joy for locals as second teacher found for school on Aran Island

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