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Monday, February 11, 2013


For several years – actually a couple of decades - I have wanted an Irish fisherman’s sweater.  The hard part of that was initially being able to afford one on a just-out-of-college budget, and then later finding one I liked.  Last year I decided to remedy that and purchased my first fisherman’s sweater.

Fisherman sweaters, also known as Aran sweaters, originated in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, and are distinctive for their intricate designs and textures.  These lovely cream colored sweaters were originally knitted from unscoured wool which retained its natural oils and allowed the sweaters to be water repellant – much needed when you’re battling the wind, rain, and sea on a daily basis.

Many people have argued about when these sweaters were first knitted.  Some say it was as recent as 1900, while others say that it goes farther back in ancient history – citing the pattern’s appearance in the Book of Kells as proof.  Regardless of when these sweaters first appeared, their beauty and function has enshrined them as a fashion icn.

The variety of cables and other patterns that these sweaters come in has even added a bit of folklore to their history.  Tradition tells us that the patterns were related to the various clans, and were used to identify the bodies of fishermen who died at sea and were washed up on the shores.  While I’m not certain how true that lore is, it does speak to the importance and long tradition of these sweaters.

So having first been introduced to these sweaters in college, it was my goal to own one or two (or more?).  Having procrastinated all of these years, I finally made the decision to purchase my first fisherman’s sweater last fall.

I had discovered Wool Overs, a company out of the UK, and was attracted to their fisherman’s sweater.  I purchased the sweater along with their Nordic sweater and couldn’t wait for them to arrive.

Finally the day came and they were delivered.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed but wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, so excitedly I started to wear the fisherman.  Initially it was OK, but over a few weeks I found it didn’t wear very well.  It was adequate but not great.  The sleeves were a little off, and the cuffs wore at different lengths - if I rolled the cuffs back the width was noticeably different.  I began to feel that while the sweater was nice, the quality just wasn’t there.  Although I wear it now and then, I’m really disappointed in it.

Now enter sweater number two!  As many of you know, I LOVE thrifting!  One day last fall, while thrifting, I found a fisherman’s sweater – I had never found one before.  It was from Kilkenny and was also made in the UK.  I was immediately drawn to it.  The first thing I noticed is that its quality was much better than the one I had purchased earlier.  I also loved the color better.  This one was a much richer shade of cream, while the one from Wool Overs was a lighter, whiter cream color.

The difference between the two sweaters was amazing!  The Kilkenny sweater was of superior quality, in a nicer color, and in a pattern I loved (I did like the Wool Overs pattern as well).  I was also pleased that by finding the Kilkenny while thrifting, I was able to get the better sweater at mere fraction of what I paid for the other.

So there you have it.  Not all Irish fisherman’s sweaters are created equal.  While I recommend this style of sweater to everyone, I also caution people to take their time in order to find the best quality they can.  These sweaters are true classics, never go out of style, and will last you for many years.

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