The Wonderful History of Aran Hats is as Layered as they are Textured.
Aran tradition hats are synonymous with the Aran Islands off the west coast of Connemara in the West of Ireland. They originated from there and are sometimes referred to as 'fisherman's hats'. The reason for this is that for centuries the Aran people have been a fishing community and each clann or extended family guarded their traditional Aran knitting patterns that were used in hats, scarves, jumpers, shawls, gloves and more, as a way of identifying their dead fishermen kin. Sadly losing family members to sea tragedy was all too common with this harsh way of life. The Aran knit hat, scarf, jumper and other apparel with all of it's beauty and complexity is tantamount to the life from where it sprung.
To wear and Aran wool hat is pure luxury. It is wholesome, natural, warm and reflects pure quality. Originally Aran garments were hand knit with unscoured wool which meant they still held on to the lanolin oil and were water resistant if not waterproof because of it. Even when the wool is scoured there is a lovely natural smell off Aran wool. An Aran wool hat for example is traditionally tightly knit with the very thick Aran sheeps' wool you may be familiar with and thus holds it's shape very well and keeps out the cold too! They are very hard wearing and will last a lifetime if you take good care of them. Nowadays you will often find there is mixed yarn used. This is down to many things. Although the heavy warmth was required for the harsh lifestyle lived by the islanders we are not normally subjected the same hardship so the mixed wool makes it lighter. We don't wear as much layered clothing so the pure sheeps' wool can feel a little itchy against our skin. The mixed yarn gives us a bit of warmth and the acrylic or other yarns can help soften the texture. While the craftsmanship is still evident in the traditional stitches and patterns the mixed yarn can make a garment more accessible and affordable.
An Aran Wool Hat is Definitely Worth the Effort
People often balk at the idea of buying an Aran traditional hat but I don't really think they think it through. Washing wool clothing couldn't be easier.
You simply immerse your Aran tradition hat for example, in luke warm sudsy water (better if you have a detergent for wool) for about ten minutes. No vigorous agitation required at all. Dunk it a few times and give the areas where there may be a stain a little more attention with minimum rubbing. Then rinse out using plenty of luke warm water. Squeeze gently to get the heavy water out. Then lay it on a bath towel on a hard non-porous surface such as the draining board or a plastic top or glass top table, in an aired place away from big heat or sun, as heat will make it shrink. Hint: Place items between two folded bath towels and press to get the water out. Then refold the towels to get a drier patch until the heavy wet is gone. DO NOT WRING AS IT WILL STRETCH THE GARMENT. Turn the garment over a few times as it dries so the water can evaporate. Then just leave it a day or two. Ta-daa! You could do it in your sleep! Another Hint: DO A FEW AT THE SAME TIME TO MAKE IT EVEN LESS TIME CONSUMING!
A Word of Caution
As a word of caution.. when storing your Aran knit hat for the Summer or other woolens for that matter, always keep them stored in a container in a dark place. The container should not be air tight but breathable cotton, a sealed pillowcase would work, so the moths can't get in. It is important to make sure the items are fully dry and aired before placing in storage so there is little chance if mould forming etc.
I have had the pleasure of resurrecting a few moth eaten Aran jumpers in my time though I am not an Aran knitter so the result was secure but not repaired to the original state in pattern or stitch. You could ask a professional to try to darn it for you but I don't know who does this kind of repair work. It is no joke trying to catch all of the strands, let me tell you. This work really consisted of minimising the damage or damage limitation whichever you prefer. If you want to attempt to repair an Aran jumper yourself or Aran knit hat etc. you will need some similar coloured wool and a darning needle. A crochet hook is helpful also. The smaller the better.
The first thing to do is lay out your garment in the light on a clean grease free surface such as your kitchen table with a fresh bath towel on it. Then assess it for holes and wear and tear. If there is wool that has become unattached and useless for stitching back in, remove it and place it aside. Then around a particular hole find the ends of the frayed wool on the same line and tie them with a secure knot or a few knots. Keep in mind to tie the knots more towards the inside of the garment to keep them out of sight from the front as much as possible. If there is enough free wool, where one end is attached perhaps, then weave it in and out in a way that is similar to the weave you see beside it and then secure it. Use the darning needle or the crochet hook for this. When you have secured all the lose ends you may need to take a piece of the extra similar coloured wool and weave/darn a little patch to cover the hole. That should hold for a good while. Moth eaten wool can be deceptive as it weakens the wool in an uneven way and so it is important to get rid of any weak portions at the start otherwise your repairs will only last as long as that piece of wool lasts.
An Aran Knit Hat Keeps on Giving
An Aran knit hat is never completely out of style. It is one of those statement pieces such as the denim jacket or Pashmina shawl. You can express yourself with it. You can make it your own. Part of your own style. Your 'go to 'Winter hat. You can bring it out every year or give it a rest for a few years and bring it out afresh again.
An Aran knit hat has style and the aran tradition hat keeps reviving with every generation. It is never going away. The styles are developing and being refreshed all the time but the new styles don't negate what went before. In fact they make them better. There is a certain satisfaction and comfort in wearing an old Aran wool hat or other Aran garment that is hard to explain. It is not only for those with attachment to Ireland. I believe it has something to do with the solidarity among people and the consciousness that you appreciate the lives and trials of those who went before you and that you support their memory in a warm place in your heart. Their endeavours haven't gone unnoticed and neither have they.