Make Your Own Basics: The fisherman sweater

Make Your Own Basics: The fisherman sweater

If you know me at all, you know that A) I believe no closet is complete without a good ol’ ivory fisherman cable sweater, or “aran sweater,” and that B) I’ll take any opportunity to blog about my favorite fisherman sweater patterns, even if it means repeating myself somewhat. So obviously, sooner or later, the fisherman sweater installment of Make Your Own Basics was bound to happen. (As is my knitting one! One of these days.) I put together a roundup last year of a whole big bunch of favorites, and there are new ones all the time, but for the sake of Basics, I’m boiling it down to just the truly classic—

TOP: Honestly, all the best aran patterns I’ve seen are in vintage pattern booklets, and the crème de la crème is Bernat 536-145 (aka 4106-145), from the Bernat Book of Irish Knits, 1967. With this Basics series, I’ve tried to stick to easily accessible/downloadable patterns, but given the number of people who pipe up every time to say “I have that book!” it seems like it must not be terribly hard to come by — and regardless, well worth effort. This particular pattern is written for four sizes, but it’s unisex — meaning a deep yoke and wide upper sleeves to accommodate a manly-man physique. I have a huge yearning to create charts for this old pattern and rework it a bit in the process, but I would also very happily knit and wear it as is.

BOTTOM: For some random reason, I think of Steve McQueen’s aran sweater as the one by which all others must be judged, and the Honeycomb Aran by Patons comes pretty damn close. Regardless of how Steve it may be, it is utterly timeless and happens to also be a free pattern. For a very similar set-in-sleeve alternative, see Grit by Kim Hargreaves.

For me, for it to be truly classic and iconic as a wardrobe staple, it does need to be undyed/natural yarn. But obviously what feels most basic and building-block-ish to you may vary.

For more, see:
• Aran sweater legends
• Best fisherman sweater patterns
Cable sweater amazement of the 1960s-80s
Quest for the perfect aran sweater
• and the Amanda knitalong


PREVIOUSLY in Make Your Own Basics: The v-neck sweater

46 thoughts on “Make Your Own Basics: The fisherman sweater

  1. I have three sweaters in the queue but a fisherman sweater will be #4. Thank you for your post with the patterns. P.s. I love Steve McQueen

  2. I would love to reach a knitting skill level that would allow me to make such a beaut! I’ve yet to dare go beyond pretty basic stuff, perhaps 2017 is the year I brave a basic (read: rectangle with sleeves) jumper, in hopes to work up to Fisherman Sweater level!


  3. Years ago I went to Ireland for a friend’s wedding and stopped on the Aran Islands because, well, I’m a knitter, damn it! I rented a bike and found a yarn store, where the ladies inside were clearly suspicious of my ability to undertake a true fisherman or Aran sweater (I’d forgotten to wear a handknit and was rocking a black turtleneck instead – highly suspect). I still have that yarn. I started an Aran skirt, but then decided no, I really should make a sweater, and so now it waits patiently for me to start. Soon, my sweet (speaking to yarn here), soon. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration!

  4. I am another one who “still has that book”. Not the one pictured today, but one of the ones in your previous post (its the one with the sweater dress in it). When my daughter, now 45, was in junior high, she wanted such a sweater, badly. She was a kid who lost everything, and i was reluctant to make her a sweater out of expensive wool, so I made her an aran sweater out of Sugar and Cream (it was actually a sweater version of the dress pictures in that post). Back in the 80’s that meant it cost about $5, The sweater was like the velveteen rabbit, it was “loved” and it it was in continuous wear for the next decade, worn and fought over by both daughters, mended and re-mended as it spent semesters abroad in China and London (twice), and went to college and started grad school. For a time it seemed virtually indestructible, but it was eventually so threadbare that the creator (me) declared its death. Sometimes i wished that I had used better yarn, but in the end, Sugar and Cream was the perfect choice (and like linen, it gets softer and softer with age…until it just lints away).

    I would like to say that the moral of this tale is that slow clothing has always been with us, but I would sound like an old scold, so I won’t. But I will say that those of us who bought the books, kept the books, because good things never go out of style.

  5. Currently working on Emu #2839, an aran cardigan which is circa 1960 based on the Twiggy style of makeup on the model. After a lot of searching for a pattern I liked, I found this one, ordered a scanned PDF from a vintage pattern stockist and proceeded to interpret. The pattern is well written and I am really enjoying sinking my teeth into a more intensive (for me) project. Once I remembered the pattern, which I should have put more effort into doing sooner, it moves along pleasantly.

  6. Norah Gaughan and my particular favorite Janet Szabo are wonderful Aran designers. Their patterns are on Ravelry, some are top down, in the round, and just stunning. On my list once I retire. (Just months away!!)

  7. Just finished a Na Craga for my brother, since he admires the Clancy Brothers. It turned out to be a surprisingly easy but enjoyable knit. Now I need something for myself, since I have always borrowed my dad’s or boyfriend’s cable sweaters.

  8. I just bought the Bronwyn pattern for my iconic fisherman’s sweater. I really like the split hem detail, though my second favorite is the Patron’s sweater pattern. I’m using undyed Irish yarn that a coworker gave me from her mother’s stash! Great free yarn!

    • I just started Bronwyn too. I splurged on some local yarn and it is so beautiful. I couldn’t decide whether to do the split hem or not, but I ended up doing it and I’m glad I did. Irish yarn will be great!!

  9. Don’t forget the Patons Designer Series booklet Street Smart (2006). Consider the “Cabled Hoodie” and the “Must Have Cardigan”, both on Ravelry.

  10. Ooh I’ve been admiring Patons Honeycomb Aran for a while. I love the raglan sleeves. One of my goals for 2017 is to knit a fisherman/aran style sweater. Ideally I’d like to knit 2, one in light grey and one in natural white. Alina Schneider’s Journey sweater in grey: and a 1 color version of #20 Colorblock Aran by Yokko Hata in natural:

  11. Ha, ha, great minds think alike ;-) I also thought about Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway when I posted about my finished Honeycomb Aran sometime last year (
    At least I got my first basic piece right, even if it meant a bit of reknit somewhere in the process. I love this sweater, and I can see myself wearing it for many years to come. In creamy white, of course, I agree with you there. Totally timeless. I used Berroco Ultra Alpaca, a fantastic yarn to knit and to wear.

  12. For the non-knitters, my mother once cut up a beautiful (oversized) Aran sweater and turned it into a lovely tailored jacket. I was horrified to think about cutting up someone’s knitting! This was before I learned about steeking. Not sure if it was a hand-me-down or a thrift store find…

  13. My very first sweater was one from that old Bernat book, back in the 1970s (ouch!) Another great book is Alice Starmore’s “Fisherman Knits”. I was lucky enough to take Alice’s aran knitting class back in the 1990s when she was travelling the US, and more recently Fiona Ellis’s cabling class. A couple of years ago, I designed “Zora”, for those who want the aran look without allover cabling to deal with (it’s seamless too). However, now you’ve given me the aran bug again, and this time it’s going to have to be cables everywhere!

  14. I love these kinds of sweaters, BUT a.) I have wide shoulders so they can make me look linebacker-esque, b.) I’m big-busted but small in the waist so I can’t get a good fit on top without it being huge on me elsewhere, and c.) I look better in small motifs since I’m short.

    Anyone know if there’s a sweater that would fit these parameters? Maybe at least something with plainer sleeves? I’m dying to join the club!

  15. I agree that the old patterns are the best. I have a box full of them passed down from my grandparents to my mum and now I have them. My father has a lot of aran sweaters and the most loved are cream/natural from the same pattern too! I am knitting him Svenson by Jared Flood for a change of wool but still with cables after searching for another aran pattern but I know I will go back to the box full of old booklet/leaflet patterns especially for raglan sleeves. I treasure the box with all sorts of old patterns.

  16. I have the book and knit my first fisherman sweater at age 18 (many decades ago) out of ecru acrylic (acrylics were the “in” thing at the time) and I still have that sweater today! That was my first and only acrylic!

    Have you ever checked out all the beauties designed by Janet Szabo? I never see her name anymore in the knitting forums but her work is beautiful.

  17. The only problem with old patterns (as I have learned from knitting them) is that sometimes the armholes are hella deep.

    • I agree with Susan. The sweater at the top has such huge upper sleeves. Tweaking and reducing is definitely in order. Wonder why they designed this way? Used as an outer garment with lots of room for more sweater/shirts underneath?

  18. Dear Karen, I would love to know what yarn you’d knit this in. I wouldn’t know where to begin beyond worsted natural ecru. Danielle

  19. My favourite is Alice Starmore. The books fisherman’s sweaters and aran knitting are both filled with beautiful patterns

    • It’s perfect! Thank you for changing the center panel to actual honeycomb — I’ve been imagining doing the same. So much better! (Not to mention the name …)

  20. The beauty in knitting a gansey, is knitting one that tells your story! If anyone wants to embark on the journey of knitting a fisherman sweater, I encourage you to set all patterns aside, and make it your sweater, your story. With books like, Knitting in the Old Way, and Knitting Ganseys, it is easy to design your own sweater, one that each column of knitting represents what is important in your life.
    In 2015, I finished knitting a gansey for my husband that took me 15 months to complete. Each stitch pattern represented our lives, our children, and our farm. And now, our lives are immortalized in my husband’s sweater. By taking this project head on, I learned more about knitting (and myself) than I ever would have had I simply followed a pattern. I had never knit anything like this before. It was a learning journey-a turning point in my knitting-a labor of love.
    If you are curious-I wrote a series of blog posts on my knitting adventure-the challenges, the struggles, the joys, and the rewards. Most of the links can be found in this one post.

  21. There are some beautiful Aran panels published in Japanese knitting pattern books. I know it sounds weird to be looking for Irish-inspired patterns in books from literally the other side of the world, but those panels are a thing of beauty. (And always nicely chatted) There’s a ton of them on Pinterest.

    • They definitely publish tons of great aran sweaters — we used to have the best of the books in the webshop — but most of us do have to be willing to figure out how to resize them, since they tend to be one (tiny) size.

      • I’ve got a couple of those books, though not full patterns, just panels. About a hundred of them in each book, and very pretty – cables, lace, columns etc. Some are 20-30 stitches across, others are 50-60, and everything in between. It’s not hard to find a basic well fitting pattern and splice in a pattern, no need to battle through Japanese notation!

  22. Fantastic! I really wanted to make a Steve McQueen sweater for my son, but I had no idea where to find a pattern. This article has nailed it for me. I am not a great knitter – I have only recently learnt and have only ever knitted five garments, none of them with cables or colour work. But I will read your blog and have a go.

  23. There is nothing (maybe) more comforting than a snuggly fisherman knit sweater. Alas, I live in the south (South Carolina, USA) and it never gets cold enough for it. AHH

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