Interview: John Arbon
Knit Now talks to John Arbon of John Arbon Textiles about running a mill and the journey of wool from fleece to knitting yarn.
How did you come to own a textile mill?
By sheer grit and determination! Essentially I have built the mill bit by bit by buying old mill machinery from the North of England as mills closed down. I then have reconditioned them and set them up down in Devon.
Can you explain the stages between a sheep fleece and a ball of yarn?
It’s a long winded affair and this is essentially what we do:
1. First we buy the greasy fleeces either from the BWMB auction or privately, if privately we have to then grade the fleeces.
2. We then scour (wash) the fleeces at a scouring plant in the Nth of England.
3. The cleaned fleeces are bale packed and sent to our mill.
4. We then use a fine worsted carder to card the wool or hair in to a sliver.
5. As we are worsted (long staple fibres) processors/spinners we have to prepare the fibres into a very parallel arrangement so we gill them first.
6. Gilling is like running fibre through steel hair combs, aligning the fibres. We gill twice.
7. We then Comb the fibres and remove any vegetable impurities, coarse fibre and short fibre. The combed fibre is now a top.
8. The tops are then regilled to make an even top and then gilled to finish to the required weight.
9. The tops are then drafted into rovings on a drawbox and then reduced further on a roving frame onto bobbins ready for spinning.
10. The Rovings are then spun on our ring spinning frame into the desired singles yarn.
11. The spun yarn is then coned on a cone winder and passed to a ring twister to fold the singles yarn together in to the desired yarn weight DK, 4ply, Aran etc.
12. If the yarn is to be sold as skeins we then skein the yarn in to 100g skeins on our skein winder or hanking reel.
13. If the yarn is to be dyed and balled we then wind the yarn on a cone winder into cones and send it off for dyeing and balling.
14. Then hey presto we have a finished yarn…….simple isn’t it!
What are the advantages of being involved in all stages of the yarn production?
We have total control over what we produce and we are able to spin in small quantities tailoring very unique yarns like Knit by Numbers or Alpaca Supreme. We can also keep a handle on the quality.
What do you think are the advantages of pure wool yarns?
I love natural wools, I love the smell, the handle and the variety. Above all this I love the fact that it is sustainable and good for the environment, apart from the addition of nylon, the natural wool will breakdown back into the soil and grow grass and the sheep will eat the grass and it all starts over again!
Why do you think knitters should buy British?
If we all buy British we reduce the miles to market and reduce the carbon footprint of yarns. We also ensure the textiles industry can continue to grow and we can bring on new textile entrepreneurs and designers and makers and keep making yarns form our own local sustainable resource.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Running my hands through freshly combed wool it feels amazing and smells amazing better than cut grass.
Which sheep do you use for yarn and what makes them a good source for fleece?
We are keen to use fibres from the South West particulary from Exmoor. My favourite has to be the Exmoor Blueface a cross between the Exmoor Horn and Bluefaced Leicester. The fibre makes an excellent springy strong and soft yarn and goes in our Excelana range of yarns and our Stanbury Walking Socks and Exmoor Stroller socks.