I have met many and varied people involved in the fibre industry from all around the globe. Although our stories differ, we all speak the same language - borne out of a love of all things yarn. I have decided it is time to share some of these stories with you. They involve passion, anguish, pain, blood, sweat and tears. But they are about people like me and you that love what they do. And thus the Fibre World Stories Series is born.
Today I would like to introduce you to John Arbon, of John Arbon Textiles in Devon, United Kingdom. I had read a bit about John and his trusty mill and was fascinated with his story. Evident was a mix of elbow grease and endurance with a small team and a sliver spinner called Kevin. In times when we are under the pump as small businesses clawing out from under the weight of quite often unethical mass production, I found John's relationship with yarn to be heartwarming and a great story to tell.
John's earliest memories of yarn are somewhat similar to the experiences of many of us, that is watching his nan or mum engaged in the craft of knitting. More specifically though, he mentioned to me a red, black and white hand knitted jumper he owned as a child. It had noughts and crosses on the front in bands and John, who was 6 or 7 years old at the time, adored that garment and fondly referred to it as his "OXO" jumper.
John always had a deep appreciation of colour and initially worked for a printing inks company and attended The London College of Printing in Elephant and Castle. This foray into colour led to a new found love of silk screen printing and John's first business printing promotional t-shirts for bands began. No time to rest on his laurels as John was awarded a 1st Class Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Textiles and Apparel. He chose to continue his education with a tour first to Guatemala to study backstrap weaving and on to Japan to study garment knitting machine technology.
In terms of inspiration and like-minded philosophy Oliver Postgate, a British puppeteer and writer has inspired John throughout his life. They both share the belief that a vivid imagination and determination (some of that blood, sweat and tears referred to above) can make anything possible - even if you know very little about it in the early days. Postgate's biography "Seeing Things" is John's favourite and much recommended read and as only the British could understand John states "who doesn't love Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood, The Clangers and Bagpuss". Somehow I think us Aussies have missed out on some great childhood fun!
In the year 2000 John settled in Devon and in line with the abovementioned philosophy had a rather vague idea that starting his own spinning mill was quite frankly achievable. What has happened in the time between 2000 and now? A great deal - but all will be revealed in a second instalment. Part 2 of this story is soon to be added here.
Meanwhile I glance at my skeins of Devonia DK sitting on my desk. Beside them is a note from Juliet (pictured above with John) who is always keen to help me out if I need some information about production and stock. I reach out, pick up a skein, smell it, squeeze it and feel the absolute connection between the people, the yarn they have created, the sheep and their land. There is nothing quite like it.
Cheers for now,