John Arbon Textiles is a small scale worsted spinning mill in South Molton, Devon – but that doesn’t explain the half of it.
They just held their annual open weekend and it was well worth the trip. Sitting in an unremarkable, modern business park you enter a world of great clunking lumps of vintage machinery that produce, from the raw fibre that arrives in giant compressed bales, the finest of yarns.
Now, first off, when it comes to spinning, the making of ‘worsted’ and the making of ‘wool’ are two different things – different processes producing different results. In basic terms worsted uses a long staple (fibre) and wool a short staple. There’s a good blog post here from Dreamstress which explains the whole thing in detail. Wool spinning is a more straight forward process, so of course John Arbon chose to make life more difficult for himself and it’s worsted all the way.
He is a man passionate about his yarn, and about the machines he has acquired and restored over the years to produce it, he even gives them names.
This carding machine is called Chapman and is apparently so fierce he has to live in a cage.
John Arbon at work on Clint (formerly the machine with no name) the French Comb, or Rectilinear Comb. It an odd contrast, these machines, all noise and greasy cogs and gears within, comb and smooth and twist fibres into the softest downy rovings and tops (see here for a glossary on spinning terminology).
The machines in action are a thing to behold, there’s a lovely little film on youtube where you can see them in action….
…including Gillian the skeiner, made in 1910, she is still working hard – with the help of a little gaffer tape.
And the end result?
Beautiful yarn – for socks and much else.