The Fisherman Sweater

Knitted as knotted love letters with distinct patterns, these Irish creations were designed to protect seamen from harsh elements.  Here’s the story behind the hardest working sweater in your wardrobe. 



Fisherman Sweater_ Celine_ 2010s

With the rise of fast fashion much of the clothing produced in the last 20 years will sadly never see to the status of vintage or heirloom. Yet there are certain pieces made almost 100 years ago that physically and aesthetically stand the test of time — enter The Irish Fisherman Sweater.

Original fisherman sweaters, also categorized as Aran knits (named after the three rocky isles guarding the mouth of Galway Bay), were made from unwashed, undyed wool. Not washing the wool leaves the natural lanolin oils produced by the sheep intact. Dense and almost waxy, these handknit masterpieces were designed to be water repellant to protect islanders of the West Coast of Ireland, many of whom were fisherman, from the harsh, wet and salty elements. To add to the water repellency of the garment, sometimes additional lanolin was applied. Most commonly the natural undyed wool was cream in color and referred to as, báinín (pronounced "bawneen"). Darker versions were produced by rarer black sheep.


Fisherman sweaters are recognizable by their unique cable designs which resemble twisting ropes running vertically up and down the body and sleeves. Each sweater contains 4-6 knits patterns each. Irish clans created their own distinct patterns that were passed down from generation to generation. There is a hotly debated myth that these unique patterns were used to identify the bodies of fisherman lost at sea when their decomposed bodies washed back to shore... Needless to say, even now, authentic, handknit fisherman sweaters are hard to miss. 

They are also hard to find. The majority of cable knit sweaters in the resale market are “modern” versions made with softer and lighter yarns produced on knitting machines. And although beautiful in their own way, they do not compare to the utility and longevity of their predecessors.

Modern is great for art and plumbing, but when it comes to fisherman sweaters, vintage was knit to last.