Ganseys versus Arans

One of the interesting things in my study of the gansey is the abundant information available for the Aran sweater which is also known as the fisherman’s sweater.  In this post we’ll look specifically at the difference between a gansey and an Aran sweater.

As I discussed previously, the gansey (with the little “gee”) sweater originates from the British Isles, specifically those of Great Britain.  There have been some knitting historians who point to the South, towards the English Channel – specifically the Channel Islands, and others who point North, atop Scotland in the Orkney Isles.

The big “a” Aran sweater also comes from the westerly British Isle known as Ireland, and even more specifically the Aran Islands.  According to Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson who co-authored Knitting in the Old Way, the first “Aran fishing shirt” appeared in 1936.  (The gansey dates back to 1649.)  There is also some speculation that the skills to knit this sweater originated in America. According to oral history, two Irish women returned to their home in the Aran Islands and brought with them skills they had learned from their time in the great Dyeing Melting Pot.

Characteristics of the Aran sweater feature a variety of cables and bobbles.  These textured stitches appear best on light-colored yarns whose shadows help with the definition.  The many pattern and design books in my collection recommend a simple boxy shape for the body of the sweater.

The simpler the shape of an Aran, the better — nothing should detract from the richness of the stitch patterns.

– Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitter’s Almanac

A quick visual analysis of ganseys and Aran sweaters shows that both highlight textured stitches.  The difference is in the placement.  The eye follows the cables and intrinsic stitchwork up the Aran sweater.  The stitchwork on the ganseys can be defined as a series of horizontal bands above a section of stockinette stitch.

My Ravelry Bundle of Aran Sweater Patterns for Adults

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 9.32.20 AM

My Ravelry Bundle of Gansey Patterns for Adults

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 9.25.57 AM

Also, the Aran sweater typically uses an Aran weight yarn.  On the thickness scale, it is slightly more heavy-weight than the worsted.  The yarns used historically in a gansey sweater were thinner and tightly spun.

This research begs two questions which I have yet to answer:

One.  Does the thicker yarn used for the Aran sweater support the later origin of the Aran sweater as pre-Industrial Revolution were typically thinner?

Two.  Why do we capitalize the A in Aran sweater and not the G in gansey?  If it’s because Aran is an actual place, than why don’t we capitalize the J in jersey and G guernsey for that matter?


Bliss, Debbie.  Knitting Workbook.  North Pomfret:  Trafalgar Square, 2001. 42.  Print.

Gibson-Roberts, Priscilla and Deborah Robson.  Knitting in the Old Way.  Fort Collins:  Nomad Press, 2004.  259-260.  564.  Print.

Hiatt, June. The Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting. New York: Touchstone, 2012. Print.

Zimmermann, Eliabeth.  Knitter’s Almanac.  New York:  Dover Publications, 1981.  10. Print.


Blogs Participating in the #GanseyKAL:

  1. Knit Me For a Loop (Hey, that’s this blog!)
  2. Long Tall Yarn
  3. (Insert your blog here.)


My Previous Blog Posts in the Series:

  1. To Gansey We Will Knit!
  2. What is a Gansey Anyway?

11 responses to “Ganseys versus Arans

    • Me, too. My mother reports that several of her relatives knit sweaters for a living. Although she hadn’t heard of the word “gansey,” I like to think that is what my ancestors made and in a way I am carrying on their legacy.


  1. In your gansey bundle for adults, there are two Jerod sweaters. I’m sure these feature the same stitch patterns as the Jerod’s sweater (a child’s sweater) from BBR’s book that I am using.


    • The two are listed as separate patterns on Ravelry due to different yarn weight requirements. You are right, though, that they are child-sized. I like their classic look and that they aren’t made to be cutesy simply because a child will wear them. My oops in bundling them with adult sweaters.


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