As mentioned in an earlier post, aran knitting is nothing more than fancy ribbing -- just combinations of columns of knit and purl stitches. Once blocked, it tends to lie flat, and that's significant given that adding a ribbed lower edge onto aran stitch patterns can add complications. These are complications that can usually be solved, but you should know ahead of time what you're in for. Look back at Norah Gaughan's Vale, from Part One of this series, and you'll see how well aran designs work without a ribbed lower border. There's a strong aesthetic argument for doing this. A sweater without ribbing will tend to hang more loosely (and attractively) about the hips. If you want to make your life easy, don't even bother to read the rest of this post.
If you feel up to exploring the possibility of ribbing, read on. First off, you need to understand that if you just start off with ribbing (any type) and then make an abrupt transition to aran stitches, things will look off. That's because there will be cable ribs growing awkwardly out of purl stitches and 4-stitch braids emerging off-centre, etc. It won't be pretty.
Have a look at the ribbing to aran stitch transition in Hedgewood.
You can see that I've made an effort to align the ribbing elements with the aran panel by reducing the number of purl stitches between the ribbed elements in the central celtic cable. The alignment isn't perfect across the entire sweater, but it is in the central focal point and the rest is close enough to fool the eye.
Now look at my various swatches for this design project.
The bottom swatches show how easily I could have decided not to bother with ribbing at all. It was a close call. The top swatches show two different approaches to ribbing. The cable panel suggests 2 x 4 ribbing as the default choice, not 2 x 2 as in my original design sketch. In the top right swatch I used 2 x 4 ribbing all the way, then increased in the final row for the smaller two cables. In the top left swatch I chose to vary the ribbing, changing to 4 x 4 ribbing for the small cables. This is a little more complicated to knit since it necessitates planning and marking out those sections of ribbing. In the end, I chose to go with this approach because I like the sculpted look of the cables growing out of the ribbing. You can see how I worked this out in the bottom row of this chart.
There was a good deal of erasing as I played with various options. Ultimately I needed to knit swatches with ribbing (see above) to check out the options. It might seem time consuming, but it was a lot easier than casting on hundreds of stitches only to end up frogging everything after six inches of knitting.
So, now you're in a position to make your own choices. To rib or not to rib?
P.S. For ribbing, DO use a needle one size down from the size you used for the main aran stitches; you need to compensate for the fact that all those cables will draw in the width of the knitting. And even if you choose not to rib, cast on and knit the first row with a needle one size smaller to prevent the lower border from flaring (unless you want that effect, that is).
Part 6 is here.