Cable Knitting Magic: The Aran Sweater

Breezy Cables cable knitting pattern

Breezy Cables by Kathy Zimmerman

My knitting group gets together twice a year at a nearby retreat center. I look forward to these getaways so much; it’s a wonderful thing to commune with my friends and fellow knitters and show off what we’re working on, talk about yarn, and help each other when we get stuck on something.

One of my friends is a fabulous cable knitter, and she and I sat next to each other last weekend. We talked a lot about cables, as you can imagine! I’m a big cable knitting fan, but this gal really knits some amazing  sweaters. I was inspired.

When I got home, my cable lust kicked in, and I started browsing our library of cable knitting patterns. While I was looking at all of the different cable designs, I remembered doing some research on the meaning of cable stitch patterns.

As I poked around on the internet, I found that many of these cable patterns originated in Aran sweaters, which are named for the Aran Islands off of the west coast of Ireland. The weather on these islands is cold, wet, and windy, and warm wool sweaters are a must. The livelihood of the residents of these islands was farming and fishing, so Aran knitters used wool with a high lanolin content to make their sweaters as waterproof as possible.

I found many sources out there that explain what Aran cable patterns symbolize. Not all of the sources agree on exactly what the patterns mean, but there seemed to be some common ideas. Here are some examples:

Aran cable knitting stitches

Aran stitch patterns, clockwise from upper left: honeycomb cable, basic braid cable, plaited cable, tree of life stitch, seed stitch, diamond stitch

  • The honeycomb stitch symbolizes the hard work of honey bees, and it also signifies the concept of plenty, which for fishermen, must mean a bountiful catch.
  • The basic braid cable represents rope, the lifeline of the fisherman.
  • Plaited cables represent the interweaving strands of life; the ins and outs, ups and downs.
  • Tree of life stitch, also called Trinity stitch, sends wishes for long life and a large family.
  • The diamond stitch wishes the wearer treasure, wealth, and success. And seed or moss stitch, which is often used as a filler in diamond patterns, signifies abundance and growth.

I find this sort of thing fascinating, and I know many of you do, too. Part of what draws me to cable knitting is the history of the craft—and the beauty of the completed garment can’t be denied.

Aran Pullover cable knitting pattern

Aran Pullover by Kristin Nicholas

There are many, many options for cable knit sweaters, from pullovers to cardigans to jackets, and we’ve pulled seven together in our Aran-inspired collection, Irish Knits!

All of the stitch patterns shown above are taken from the sweaters in this collection, so you get a wide variety.

Choose which symbol speaks to you, and cast on one of these beautiful sweaters. At right is the Aran Pullover, by Kristin Nicholas. I love the allover diamond stitch in this sweater, and who doesn’t want treasure, wealth, and success? (I hope the treasure is lots and lots of yarn.)

Get Irish Knits! today and immerse yourself in some really incredible and symbolic cable knitting. I know one of these patterns will catch your fancy.


P.S. Which Aran stitch pattern and symbol would you choose to knit and why? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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