Is it a Gansey or an Aran? A Look at 2 Traditional Knitted Sweaters

Is it a gansey or an aran? While there are those who can spot the differences between the two sweaters from a mile away, it can be easy to confuse the two traditional knitting styles. In the spirit of the release of the 25th anniversary edition of Knitting Ganseys, let’s take a quick look at what makes these two types of traditional knitting unique.

Gansey

According to Beth Brown-Reinsel in her book Knitting Ganseys, “Ganseys are wonderfully varied and thoughtfully constructed sweaters that originated in the fishing villages along the coasts of England, Scotland, and Cornwall in the nineteenth century. Designed as a working garment for fishermen, ganseys were traditionally seamless and knitted in the round with an overall simple square shape and dropped shoulders.”

Although not all gansey sweaters are the same, traditional ganseys usually:

  • Have distinct underarm gussets to eliminate stress and allow a wider range of movement
  • Are knit using a highly twisted five-ply yarn known as “seaman’s iron”
  • Are knit with a tighter gauge for a denser fabric to protect the wearer from the wind and water
  • Are adorned with sharply defined knit/purl patterning, usually on the chest and upper arms
Just a small taste of some traditional Ganseys from Knitting Ganseys. Images © F+W Media, Inc. by David Baum.

Just a small taste of some traditional ganseys from Knitting Ganseys. | Images © F+W Media, Inc. by David Baum.

Aran

Although they also have island roots, the origins of aran sweaters (or jumpers, as they’re traditionally called) are traced back to Ireland—specifically, to the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast. While these garments are similar to ganseys in that they were knit for the fishermen of the region, they are distinct and traditionally more ornate.

Some characteristics that are unique to aran sweaters include:

  • They are traditionally knitted with unscoured, natural wool, producing the traditional off-white color.
  • They are heavily adorned with cables that run the length of the body and sleeves.
  • They have unique symmetrical patterning that was specific to a family or clan.
The 2016 Winter issue of Interweave Knits is filled with both Aran and Gansey inspired patterns! Images © F+W Media, Inc. by Harper Point Photography.

The 2016 Winter issue of Interweave Knits is filled with both aran and gansey inspired patterns! | Images © F+W Media, Inc. by Harper Point Photography.

So whether you’re a lover of a hard-working gansey or swoon at the sight of an intricate aran (or fall somewhere in between), you’ll have no trouble telling the two apart now!

Happy knitting!

Hayley

(Featured Image © F+W Media, Inc. by David Baum.)


Traditional meets timeless with these knits!