— now with a supplement from a letter written by John Arlott
I thank Glynis Poad, who has very kindly shared her knowledge of the company’s history.
*Click on an illustration to see it bigger*
It’s interesting to compare two leaflets from the early days of Majacraft production. The enterprise was started by John Arlott in the 1980s, and the first leaflet reflects that era. It bears only the names Moshie and John Arlott so it must before their son Tim (after whom the Tiny Tim was named) was participating an the company.
There are three models of wheel and none of them have individual names. We can recognise Tiny Tim in the ‘folding wheel’ at lower left, but the ‘double pedal wheel’ wheel above it doesn’t match any Majacraft I’ve seen. It must be Arlott’s very early double treadle wheel, which developed into Suzie. Then there is a double table (Norwegian-style) wheel; Glynis writes ‘John was a keen advocate for Norwegian wheels which he made at the beginning and the end of his time making spinning wheels.’
In the later leaflet which must date from the early 1990s, we find Suzie and Tiny Tim, named (below). Kristen and Tim Arlott’s names appear along with Moshie and John’s, and Glynis tells me they took over after John retired which would have been soon after this.
Suzie (named for the Arlotts’ daughter) can fold, and there are other differences. Tiny Tim, which seems to have been the first folding Majacraft, looks just like the one I once owned. It was very portable and convenient, but I disliked the restricted feeling around my foot on the treadle.
Other changes can be seen in this leaflet too:
Polly has now appeared, and is clearly intended as a simple, sturdy economy model. Pollyanna, with true double treadles, hasn’t quite arrived yet. The early leaflet showed an electric spinner but now Majacraft are selling one made by Seiko of Japan. And there’s a new addition – a drum carder.
The ‘Norwegian wheel’ is still featured, and we are told ‘This is the Majacraft standard bearer.’ Yet I have never seen one, to my knowledge. Have you?
The chair is still here, and looks a little different from the one in the first leaflet. There’s also a very small (but eight-shaft!) loom.
The skeiner has been improved and other accessories added:
You might like to compare the price lists:
Most items haven’t changed enormously. Exceptions are the electric spinner (understandable as it was now being imported), the chair (why?) and the ‘Norwegian wheel’ which Glynis says probably took too much time to make. Soon Tim dropped it in favour of the Saxonie. However, in later life John returned to making them. He also made grandfather clocks!
We see already in these leaflets many of the features Majacraft owners know and love: the delta orifice; the sealed ball bearing joints that never need oiling, in fact shouldn’t be oiled; the good range of ratios; the single movable flyer hook; and above all the double treadles. John Arlott didn’t invent double treadles, of course, but he introduced them in New Zealand.
Glynis and Owen Poad purchased the business in 1996, and new developments continue.
Supplement 22 February:
To my embarrassment I have only just found, in my several shelf-metres of books, magazines and files about spinning wheels, a letter from John Arlott. It’s undated but would have been sent in late 2009. He writes:
… I was a Registered Professional Engineer and came into this market place because it was becoming known that I had retired, had some “fancy” machinery and a bent to help others less fortunate than myself, spinners and weavers with what I may call mechanical problems …
So, first wheel for a lady with one hand and one hook about 85 or 86 (probably a date not the lady’s age) first electric wheels for ladies confined to bed … and first wheels to a group in Japan in 1987.
These introductions provided me with an opportunity to establish some basic parameters, simplicity is the vital ingredient for spinners, for manufacturers, for cost.
1. Flyer shaft to be overhung, one end in bearings and the other available for bobbin changing and all adjustments without removal. (He is describing what we sometimes call a Picardy-style flyer.)
2. Single adjustable flyer hook, reduce the rotating hardware and the things upon which to snag your fibre.
3. Delta no fuss orifice, no threading hook, takes any fibre, thread with thumb and finger.
4. Ball bearings, cheap, quiet, near enough frictionless, no messy plastic or leather and oil of grease and sloppy fit.
5. Double pedal, sit straight instead of on one cheek easy on the back and easy on the backside.
The first wheels were vertical and did not fold, folding is a bit of a luxury and not so important as some spinners seem to think.
Polly and Pollyanna followed the soundly based Suzie (named after my youngest daughter) and the heavy green wheel pleased the U.S.A. customers who spin cotton and viscose.
I demonstrated these products from Savannah GA to Prince George BC and all points in between, it was a great experience … At times we averaged 48 wheels [sold] a week and you can see I think that we started at the bottom in 1986 and made every effort to listen to the client and improve …
I reckon that it is possible to incorporate a mobile phone, flashing lights, digital readouts, texting whatever that may be and ruin an absorbing hobby.