Taylor Swift returns centuries-old knitting traditions to demand

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When she launched her surprise album Folklore on 24 July, Taylor Swift wrote a note alongside it: “It began with imagery,” she said. Among the various scenes she invoked was “a cardigan still bearing the scent of loss 20 years later.”

The promotional images often reflected this visual approach to the album — songs constructed from imaginary scenarios and well-spun tales. Grainy woodland scenes featuring Swift clad in check, lace, loose layers, and snug sweaters felt not only atmospheric but also intensely suited to this moment: one in which we were looking for the twin salves of comfort and escape. The memory-holding cardigan was also available for fans to purchase from Swift ‘s website, with a merchandise edition, complete with album patch sewn onto the left chest.

Let’s return to the sweater though. She’s wearing a particular knitwear style in one close-up of Swift, with her fringe falling across her eyes and her knees pulled to her chest: the Aran knit. Given the complicated past and mythology of the knit, it was maybe an apt choice. The Aran is readily recognisable, coming from the three small islands of Inishmore (or Inis Mór), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), and Inisheer (Inis Oírr) off the coast of Galway in western Ireland. Traditionally made of undyed báinín — sheep’s fur, usually cream-colored — it also incorporates designs such as cable, basketball, and diamond stitch. Such patterns are said to be imbued with different symbolic meanings ranging from fishing luck to opportunities for potential prosperity.

Enthusiastic knitting and needlework shop owner Heinz Edgar Kiewe believed these patterns could be traced all the way to Celtic knotwork, indicating a practice that dates back over 1,000 years. In reality, the Aran sweater seems to have its roots in much more recent history; its current iteration potentially developed in the late Victorian era and became commercially successful in the early to mid-20th century when designs were sold in Dublin and beyond, quickly finding favor among tourists and those who wanted to support local garments.