A Week of Aran Knitting Class with Charley Orlando

A Week of Aran Knitting Class with Charley Orlando


What is Aran knitting anyway?  Aran knitting, sometimes called fisherman style, comes from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.  Knitters use one color of yarn to create textured patterns like cables, diamonds, and bobbles.

Today we started out with basic stitch patterns like ribbing, seed stitch, fisherman’s rib stitch, moss stitch, and two-stitch cables. Wow sounds like a lot but not really if you move through them deliberately.

“I can’t believe I made all those stitches!”

From host Jessica Kaufman:
11:00am: This is a live report from cable knitting class. Here are some things you’d be hearing if you were a fly on our walls: “pshhhhhhhh!” (that was a slightly frustrated student letting out a therapeutic exhalation); “Is it time for a joke yet?” (that was our teacher, lightening the mood); and “If it’s ribbing, knit ’em as you see ’em!” (that was our assistant, teaching us a mantra for making things easier to remember). So far this morning we’ve plowed through 1×1 ribbing, 2×2 ribbing, seed stitch, moss stitch, stockinette, left cables, and right cables (both with and without a cable needle!). And it’s not even lunch time yet. Diane, the only Folk School First Timer in our class, says she feels encouraged, but that the cable on the far left side of her knitting has been mysteriously obscured somehow. We’ll work on that after lunch! Today is “square salad” day, featuring locally raised Brasstown Beef. More reporting later!

2:45pm: “Oh, shoot!” is the plaintive cry heard across the room, now that we’re in the thick of our cable lessons. The new skills are piling up and students are struggling to remember when to purl, when to knit, and what all the different terminology means. How many do we cable, and how often? Once the students had finished their first cabling exercise we made them do it all again but with cables going the opposite direction! If mutiny doesn’t happen, I’ll report back later this afternoon.

4:00 Time to visit the Yarn Circle, but only one student wishes to go. Most are ready to call it a day. They are not used to knitting so many new stitches and patterns in one session. Tomorrow is another day. A few more corny jokes and a wonderful rendition of Mrs. Fogarty’s Christmas cake by Rosy rounded out the day.

Students hard at work discussing the assignment.


“Hey mister smarty-pants instructor, you threw so much stuff at us yesterday that our minds are scrambled. How about helping us sort out that information?”

“Okay, I have lots more information and skills for you to learn, but we can stop and review to fill in some holes.”

We started with a review this morning of everything we learned yesterday. Thankfully, all the new information soaked into our heads overnight, and this morning, everyone could speak with relative confidence about cables, and various stitch patterns that are common in Aran and Gansey knitting.

10:34am: Wooohoo! Jennifer, a student in class, just jumped up to hit our “easy button” (the kind you can buy at Staples). After a concentrated hour spent setting up and working the blackberry stitch (aka Trinity stitch), we have achieved blackberries! The sweet little stitch clusters are popping up on everyone’s swatches. We’re still needing to take deep breaths, but the sun is out.

Here is a completed blackberry (trinity) stitch

2:00 The sample designs are in full swing and many learning opportunities have presented themselves. Ahh, a whole hour of just working on our own designs! Think we’ll take a break from cables and learn how to knit button bands on sweaters.

4:30pm: You can tell it’s just about the end of class time. We just spent an hour and a half learning how to twist three stitches of stockinette out and across a background of purl stitches, also known as “twisting” (as opposed to cabling, which is strictly knit-over-knit or purl-over-purl). I am hitting the easy button every ten minutes or so, which the students find encouraging. Hooray for everyone for coming this far!

Jessica wrapping up the blog for the day

The students seem to have enjoyed all the learning they can stand for today. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the differences between Arans and Gansey designs, and each student will begin a bigger project that will last them through the end of the week (and beyond…?).


Time for reviewing and updating our goals to start off the day.  We found that most of the goals had been accomplished or were being worked on.

Learning review update:  What new ideas have we gleaned since yesterday’s review?

What makes a sweater an Aran sweater?  Let’s see.  The designs come from the Aran Islands off Ireland.  Their fishermen wore them at sea and at home to keep them warm and to indicate in some cases where they came from.  They include many cables, twists, blackberry stitches, and purl bump stitches like seed and moss.


This is how those purl-bump designs go.

Wow, we are just cruising peacefully along here. Everyone is either working on their own design or the challenge from yesterday, with the twists. We are at the point, as a class, where everyone can chatter away as they work– much better for the morale than when we were all hunched over our samples, feeling stressed! And it’s a sunny day out, to boot.

I sat down with every student and went over different cable patterns and discussed their upcoming projects with them.  They are raring to go with scarves, small sweaters, and samplers.  After I review the traditional Gansey design, the finish projects will begin. What are Ganseys anyway?

Well – Ganseys are fishing sweaters or knit-frocks from the ports of England and Scotland made of sturdy yarn on size one needles.  Distinctive individual patterns are common.

2:50pm: “We are feeling great!” “Confident!” “Yes, we can!” Those are the things the students shouted out when I asked the class how they were doing just a second ago. (Okay, they also shouted out something about Cool Whip and sang some jingles, so we may be going, well, a little loopy. Sorry…knitting pun.)

This afternoon we’re continuing to puzzle out our own patterns, inventing as we go.  “I can make a smiley face from purl bumps.   Does anyone else feel the sense of accomplishment?”

Jennifer decided to work outside because it was finally a nice sunny day. As she left she said, ” I am going outside and I am not taking my notes because I no longer need them.”

Outside on a beautiful day without notes

A day of steady progress.  Tonight we have a “knit in” in the living room from 8 to 10PM to share our accomplishments with other students.  We will let you know how it works out.


We had a great time last night, sitting in the library of the Keith House and having our knit-in. Students who are not in the Aran class were welcome to join us, so we had a refreshing mix of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. Today is a day of knitting to establish and work on patterns within projects. We need mistakes in the work so we can identify what the students have not mastered as yet. Let’s hope for a lot to keep us hopping. I have a feeling that this class is going to plunge right in. Let’s see…

A mixed media student takes a break

Yep, I was right. Here they go. I am going to get out of the way before they run me down. A few problems come up and are quickly solved.

By Jessica: 11:26am: It’s almost lunch time already? Wow, it is so pleasant to knit with a group of people when the mistakes are only coming once every ten minutes or so! People are really grooving along. The word on the street is that the local yarn store in Blairsville is having a 25% off sale on everything in the store to celebrate their anniversary, so a few of us are commandeering a Folk School vehicle and will drive over after we finish our lunches. Not that any of us need more yarn, mind you… but it’s always nice to just take a look, eh? I want to check and see if they carry my “desert island yarn,” SilkyWool by Elsbeth Lavold. It’s a 3-ply wool/silk blend in great tweedy colors, a sport weight, that you can do just about anything with.

The term “desert island yarn” means a yarn that you cannot live without, and that if you had to be stranded on an island with no yarn store in sight, you’d know just what you’d want to bring. I go through phases, like any other knitter, but SilkyWool is a constant love (and no, they are not paying me to say so). Back after shopping…

What is your “desert island yarn?”

Charley and a workstudy student

Mary-Louise is moving right along with her project

Great weather today. Just in time to end the class and head home. Tomorrow will be winding down projects, cleaning up and heading for the student exhibit to show off.

Here are some thoughts on the week from Pam, a student from Rocky Mount, NC: “It’s been a wonderful class. It turned out to be just as much about the people as the learning.” Christine from Madison, WI says, “I see knitting, and the language of knitting, in a different way as before I started this class. To actually look at the stitch, and to understand the work, is new for me. I feel so much more comfortable with my knitting, and I’m less fearful of it (not that I was afraid of my knitting before!).”


2010 Aran-Gansey Knitting Class

Well it is the last day and time to review the week’s learning activities, using the notes I distribute at the end of each week. A class picture is required for the blog and my website, so we all went out and squinted in the deliciously bright spring morning. Check the website for more information.

Certificates are given to those who requested them and my class notes are handed out for later review. What does this mean? What do I do when….? Where do I find …..? The notes triggered many review questions, which were answered or explained. We are all just knitting as fast as we can while the breeze blows through the open studio doors, not wanting the end of the week to come. Right now, the class is chattering about how good the clam chowder was at lunch, and how our projects will continue tonight at the concert. One of the best things about taking a knitting class at the Folk School is that even when the studio closes, you are free to continue working– in the library, or the community room, or even out in the grass!

Here’s Rosy Devane and her “dog” Bobo, modeling the cape she knit for him during class this week.

4:23pm: It is done. Our class is over. We have almost all departed, and the last of us are sweeping up. Time to go wow the crowd at the Student Exhibit.

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