Design an Aran Sweater: The Back

Back of Aran Sweater

An Aran sweater is a style of sweater that originated from the Aran islands off the coast of Ireland. Originally hand knit from unscoured wool that retained the natural oils from the sheep, the sweater was essentially water repellent. The four to six design elements added texture that captured more air within its weight, making it a very warm garment. Often hand knit for the fishermen of the island it’s not a surprise that some call the style fisherman knit.

It became famous in Canada and the United States years ago by a group called the Clancy Brothers that performed on Ed Sullivan wearing Aran sweaters. The Aran sweater has had surges of popularity with celebrities captured wearing the garment. From Grace Kelly in a 1950 vogue magazine, Elvis in the 1957 Jail House Rock movie,
Steve McQueen in the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair, Chris Evans in the 2019 movie Knives Out, and most recently Taylor Swift’s 2020 album cover for Folklore.

As an Aran sweater never seems to go out of style it seems like a great designing project. Free worksheets and pattern pages are available at the bottom of the page.
Once you have completed the worksheets go to the pattern page and transfer the required calculation for your pattern. Our YouTube channel has videos to accompany each component of the sweater.

Over a few lessons we will cover how to design your own Aran sweater pattern starting with the back. All components of the sweater are knit flat and pieced together.

The Swatch and Your Gauge

Yes designing always starts with a swatch. Use a few Aran design elements and knit a swatch in pattern. Needles that are the same size as your yarn doubled over should be the right size. For an Aran sweater you do not want a loose fabric. Remember larger needles make a thinner fabric, smaller needles a denser fabric. Be sure the swatch is at least 4 X 4 inches. Use the number of stitches and rows from the design chart to calculate your stitch and row gauge.

Swatch in Pattern

Using a sweater with a comfortable fit, take measurements as per the worksheet provided below. NOTE: I recommend completing the calculations and determining your design elements before starting the back. It is also a good idea to read through all the articles before you begin.

The first calculation is the bust measurement multiplied by the stitch gauge.
90% of that number is what you will be casting on for the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater. Be sure this number is divisible by 4.

The sweater I’m making is for a 19.5 inch bust. My stitch gauge is 6.5 . 19.5 X 6.5 = 126.75. I’ll use 127. 90% of 127 = 114.3. I’ll round up to 116 as it is divisible by 4.

Work a K2P2 ribbing for 2 inches ending on a right side row, making stitch increases needed. On the next wrong side row begin following the Aran design chart.

Example: My ribbing was 116 stitches, I need 127 stitches at the bust. 127 – 116 = 11. 116 divide by (11+1) = 9.6. I will therefore make an increase stitch after 9 stitches until I have my 127 stitches.

Choosing designs. There are numerous design elements to choose from for an Aran sweater. Feel free to choose your own or use the ones provided. If choosing your own, be sure to account for a purl stitch in between the elements. It is very important the designs be centred on the back and the front. You may also want cables placed on opposite sides of the piece to have opposing twists.

I choose a few designs. The full number of stitches of the full design is 60. Then I used a section with 41 stitches, giving me 101 stitches. 127-101=26 stitches unaccounted for. To solve this I will add a 13 stitch seed stitch to each side of the centered design I have choose.

Now knit in pattern until you have the desired length to the armhole.

The armholes will need a bit of math. First you need the stitch count required across your shoulders. The difference between the bust area and the shoulder will be the stitches that will be eliminated to form the arm holes.

An armhole has a flat horizontal portion then a slow slope towards the shoulder. The horizontal piece I’ve cast off 25% of the stitches to be eliminated on that side. I need to eliminate 13 stitches each side for the arm hole. 25% of 13 is 3.25. I will therefore cast off 3 stitches, then 1 st at the beginning of the row 10 times. Please note you may want to adjust the horizontal portion to be greater if you feel 25 % is not enough for you. It will mean you will do fewer 1 st cast offs.

Continue knitting until the armhole is the depth required, or the measurement of hem to shoulder as needed.

Neck measurement

Next we move into shaping the shoulders.
First measure the width of the neck. These will be the last stitches to cast off. For me that was 49 stitches.

A shoulder has a downward slope. To figure out this area lay a straight edge even with the outer edge armhole seam at the top of the seam of the sample sweater. (See line 5 below) Now at the neck edge measure vertically (see line 4 below). This will provide the distance in which shoulder shaping will happen. Multiply this measurement by your row gauge. For me the measurement was 1 inch. My row gauge is 7.05. I therefore have 7 rows to eliminate stitches.

To form a nicely shaped shoulder stitches should be cast off over sections.

Shoulder Shaping

Now we have all the information to complete the shoulder.
Take the full stitch count you have after completing the armholes minus stitches needed at the neck. Divide those by 2. These are the stitches to come off on each shoulder. I have 101-49=56 divide by 2, I have 26 stitches per shoulder to cast off.

Take the row count calculated from the line 4 measurement.
From the row count we know we have the last stitches at the neck to be cast off. Therefore for me I have 6 rows to cast off (7-1). Cast offs are done the beginning of each row, so I must divide the rows by two. I therefore must remove 26 stitches over 3 rows.
26 divided by 3 is 8.66 stitches. I will therefore cast off 8, 8, then 10 stitches per side. This equals 26. Then I will cast off the 49 stitches at the neck.
This will complete the back. Be sure to wash and block the back.

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