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Once you know something you cannot un-know it

Friday, 30 March 2012

The concept behind Purl Harbour was to knit pieces that looked at least 20 years old, worn out, often too big and out of trend. Despite all of John's efforts, fashion editors and stylish customers rush to his Bondi studio to hand pick one off cardigans, sweaters and scarves that really look hand made (because they are). Here is how it all happened.


 Why on earth did you start knitting?

I always laugh because I grew up in the hippy era and it's a twisted faith that I've turned down the knitting path. I could have turned down the candle path, batik or macramé path... we all did something manual and had to have something hippy about it. It saved me from taking as much acid as everyone else because I could put on a velvet robe, paint up my eyes and walk around knitting and everyone would go "WOW he's out of it! He's SO cool!" Of course I wasn't! But somehow I kept knitting and learnt everything myself, as I am completely self-taught.


Why did you establish your studio in Bondi?

It's because of the beach! I've always had my studios close to the beach; I started in Double Bay in 1980 then moved to Gould Street, Bondi, near Max's shoe shop in 1988. I stayed in that small shop for 20 years. The mess in there was unbelievable. I cannot throw anything away because I always think I might need it. Things were piling up and up and up. Eventually I moved my mess to the current shop, on Curlewis St, and it's a bigger space, thank god. I just love the fact I can close the shop for 5 mins and go for a swim. This is why I am in Bondi.


What are the most memorable encounters you've had in your life?

Years ago I had a call from Kim Basinger. She wanted me to knit a sweater for her. I thought "Someone is having a laugh; of course it's not Kim Basinger". When her PA called with her credit card details, I realised it was true so I went all around Bondi telling everybody. What would have taken me 1 week took me 4 months as I was cycling everywhere spreading my story instead of working behind my knitting machines!

Another funny story is when I was living in Barcelona; I was very young and became a muse to Salvador Dali. The painting never actually happened but I got in with the thing with his wife Gala and was part of their circle for a bit. That was fun.


What's next for John Macarthur, the knitting master?

Once you know something you cannot un-know it. So I am keeping my knowledge but I am spontaneously getting further and further away from Fashion. I am thinking of knitting hundreds of prawns plus one piece of lemon and wiring them together as if they were just unwrapped. I would also love to knit a room. To cover a table, chairs, the legs, knit the food, the bowl, glass and plate, and just put one real element in the middle like a stiletto cup sided, as if the woman was dragged off for sex in the middle of dinner. The other thing I want to do is to follow the concept of synesthesia and knit music and colors. Get a piece from Beethoven and make a tapestry from the notes.

I can try a lot of things these days, just because of my age. How lucky that I have never followed any trends, a bit like when I started with the classic nana knit. Now I could pass the nana knit on to someone else and start to play with art and abstract knits. That will be cool.

If you want a timeless piece from John, then I would recommend going to his studio and picking one of his knits. The shop might be closed but wait 5 mins and he will be back from his ocean swim.


John McArthur: Purl Harbour

Words: Elise Pioch Balzac 

Photography: Hugh Stewart 





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