20 March 2013

223. Irish Pullovers

Pullovers, some say sweaters, cardigans, jumpers. I mean knitted garments. Knitwear.

In Ireland a very particular type of sweater has been traditionally knitted for years with white natural wool in intricated patterns and stitches. Those jumpers are known in the world wherever you find Irish settlers, mainly in the former British empire.

In the late 60s I arrived in Australia married to a young Australian whose grand-parents had emigrated from Ireland around the First World War. Wearing such a jumper for him was a statement of fond attachment to the culture of his forebears. He would not let me touch his Aran jumper. It was for him a semi-sacred article of his deep rooted identity.

In continental Europe, however, in France or Germany, this knitted white woollen sweater with intricate patterns does not mean anything. You may like the idea to wear one but it has no extra meaning and above all it does not indicate identity.

I love wearing my own knitted jumpers and I love nordic designs. In my three times twenty three years I have made quite a few pullovers and cardigans for myself and other people. Before Christmas last December, 2012, I started something of my own design. I called it the "shepherd's hood", using natural white and black wool from sheep of my area of France, or just a bit south of my area actually in the Limousin Region. As I had attended a needle tapestry course in Aubusson during the summer I had been made aware of a new trend in undyed wool for the sake of not polluting the ecosystems with chemical dyes. A wool mill www.fonty.fr  was selling pure white and pure brown wool direct from the fleece. I found the colours very attractive. I bought some from the retailer on line Laine-et-Tricot  and started knitting.

Life has surprises sometimes! In January I moved to Ireland taking my knitting with me of course. When I ran out of my Limousin natural wool, I started another "shepherd's hood" with local Aran wool in green and brownish colours. Eventually I got some more Limousin wool sent over and I kept knitting relentlessly.

Meanwhile, my brain cells kept working and my imagination went wild. I was in Ireland now and a major rugby match was going to be played in Dublin. What if all the supporters were wearing my "shepherd's hood" in their national colours or in their team's colours?! I would add little bells on the four corners of the hood and they could even make noise with their woollen hoods to support their team in the stadium. I went on knitting frantically... until one day when I searched on the internet for this famous knitwear manufacture of Irish sweaters. I needed to tell someone of my big idea. Moreover if it made sense commercially, the idea would have to be taken up by professionals.

So... one snowy morning, on 12 March 2013, I drove from Wexford to Monasterevin leaving at 7:30 and arriving at 9:30. The whole Irish landscape was covered in snow. It was somptuous! I met Lorraine and the boss of West End Knitwear  as arranged by mail and email. Their website www.arancrafts.com says Welcome to Arancrafts Ireland and has a taste of long tradition. I explained that my own father ran a factory and I was brought up with the painstaking work of a new 'collection' twice a year which involved the imagination of the whole family. I told the story of my encounter with Aran sweaters in Australia. And then I showed them my "shepherd's hood"... well! two halves of it, one half in natural black and white wool and another half in green and brown Aran wool.

I don't know what they really thought. They seemed interested in the way I made it, number of stitches, etc. But they went cold and dismissed me cooly.

A few days later I found on internet that the real Aran manufacture of traditional Irish sweaters is "Aran Sweater Market" in Golway. Their website  www.aransweatermarket.com  shows the same collection of knitted articles. So I don't know now! Have I made a mistake by going to Monasterevin? Are they related? Doing business together or being competitors?

In any case my "shepherd's hood" does not fit within the Irish tradition. It's a French idea! Who then would be interested to manufacture my "shepherd's hood" and market it in continental Europe? 

2 comments:

Tillerman said...

My bride knitted me an Aran sweater. I wore it on our honeymoon. It must have brought me luck. Now, 40 years later, she knits sweaters for our grandchildren. Jumpers have meaning.

The Book Florist said...

Wow, it's so lovely to hear about the sentimental value behind an article of clothing. It sounds so very special. Also, good on you for your creativity and dedication to trying something new. I'm sorry to hear that you were dismissed. They're missing out.