Last summer while sipping coffee at a play date, a dear friend of mine asked me a question. “Do you think you could knit an Aran sweater?”
How that little question changed my life as a designer and as a knitter!
I hesitated as I thought. “I don’t know.” I said. “I…think I could…”
The unspoken end of that sentence was “if I were good enough” or “if I weren’t too scared to try” or “if I could see it through” but as she waited for a reply, I skipped past my automatic self-doubt and thought, “maybe I could.”
Maybe I could!
I had never attempted an Aran, had knit cables just a handful of times, and had never worked with more than one cable pattern at a time.
Our mommy conversations moved on, but I was still thinking about Arans.
Later as we packed our kiddos up in their car seats, I brought up the Aran sweater again. I found out that she especially loved Arans because she had lived in Ireland. She had loved it there and wished to bring home one of the amazing Aran sweaters she had seen, but never bought one because they were quite expensive.
I said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to make one, maybe I could do it as a design challenge for myself…it would probably take me a long time, but if I got through it and made one, would you like to have it?” She was very excited and said she would pay me, of course.
She is a rare gem who values handmade, and is willing to pay for it. I was grateful but declined the offer because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my creative life, it’s that payment = pressure. And pursuing creative passions under pressure can cramp the creativity and kill the passion. She kindly kept insisting, so we left it undecided.
Weeks went by.
I had Arans on my mind and worked to clear my plate of other projects, ordered some cream-colored yarn, and began doing research in earnest.
I used Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting, borrowed from my local library, as my tutor and started working on the design.
At first, I puzzled over the hundreds of different cable patterns I found in stitch dictionaries and on Pinterest. How would I choose? What look was I going for? I studied many Aran sweaters, and decided I liked the strong look of a wide center panel. After a couple of false starts and struggling to swatch tricky but beautiful cables, I realized something important for all design and maybe for my life: I didn’t have to make it so difficult for it be beautiful.
Now on the lookout for simple cables, I landed on three that I had passed by in my earlier searches. I liked them and they were easy, so I adjusted two of them to mirror one another, and sequenced them to create seven panels across the front and back of the sweater.
Here is the chart I created in Excel for a single repeat of the front/back body.
Miss Clare’s Aran Sweater: single repeat of back and front body pieces (excluding neck shaping)
If you look closely at the chart, you’ll see that the entire sweater is made up of knits, purls, 6-cross cables and 8-cross cables. It’s the strategic placement of the cables to create the central horn cable, the plaits, and the twists that gives intricacy to the entire sweater.
I was tickled pink by the fact that the cables coordinated with one another in 4-row and 8-row repeats. This also simplified the puzzle of remembering which cables to work on which row. Once I had my sea legs, the cables told me what to do next. Well, they didn’t start talking or anything, but I could just look and see what should happen next.
That said, I did mis-cross a cable early on, but I caught the mistake before too many rows got away from me, and was able to fix it.
Setting out on uncharted waters…with my trusty knitting chart and Little Sweater Girl nearby!
I worked on this project for about 6 weeks finishing in mid-November. Once the knitting was done, those separate sweater pieces sat on my dining room table for nearly a week.
Because I was scared.
Terrified is not too strong a word.
In the past, I felt triumph and heartbreak at completing the knitting and virtually ruining the finished product because of sloppy seaming.
But as before when the designing got hard, I was spurred into action by thinking of my friend and her excitement over the sweater. I just had to get over it and make it for her.
Finally plucked up my courage and committed the sweater pieces to the laundry tub for a wash.
View of the sweater in process, being blocked and sewn together.
Thar she blows! My First Aran design and knit.
Proud designer selfie.
My lovely friend, Miss Clare, wearing the sweater for holiday, 2016.
What a great experience it turned out to be. What a confidence-building adventure. What a reward to see my friend wearing and loving her sweater that she told me reminds her of one of the happiest times in her life. Thank you for asking, Miss Clare.
So when’s the last time you thought, “maybe I could…”
If you think maybe you could, you should!
For the love of trying, and learning, and making your dreams come true however big or small they may be, you should.
p.s. If you would like to use my charts to make an Aran, leave me a comment and I can share some more details like a chart for neck shaping and my sleeve pattern. You should also check out the Alice Starmore book, Aran Knitting.