More than a year ago, I blogged about a yarn shop in Edenvale and planned to start a longer series about knitting in Joburg. Somehow I never got around to expanding that series until now, but I’m glad I procrastinated: My favorite yarn and fabric shop, Arthur Bales, is turning 120 years old in August and it’s having a huge sale for the entire month. So I’ve picked the best time to finally blog about this wonderful store.
The History of Arthur Bales
I’ve been buying yarn at Arthur Bales since I started knitting in 2020, and I knew the shop had been around for a long time. But I didn’t know the full history until yesterday, when I showed up for the sale and picked up a copy of the Bales Bulletin near the entrance. The Bales Bulletin is the most delightful and informative newsletter I’ve come across in a very long time — I read it from cover to cover.
The newsletter includes an in-depth history of the Bales brand, peppered with old photos, vintage advertisements, anecdotes on the history of knitting and sewing, and fascinating little details about what shopping was like in Joburg during the city’s early years. There is even a section about the rise of knitting and other handicrafts during the pandemic, and the role Arthur Bales played as an essential service provider during lockdown.
I don’t have space to recount the whole history of the store here, but in brief: The first Arthur Bales (the name itself derives from the phrase “bales of cloth”) immigrated to South Africa from Norwich, England — the epicenter of Europe’s wool trade — in the 1890s, and initially worked as a traveling photographer. Bales opened a drapery store in Braamfontein in 1902, just a few years after Johannesburg was founded, and the shop eventually expanded into a large department store selling clothes, furniture, games, and toys, in addition to cloth. The business eventually passed to Arthur Bales’ widow, son (Arthur Jr.), and then grandson (Arthur III), who opened the Linden location of the store in 1969.
The Braamfontein store closed in the 1990s, and the Linden store — which specializes in yarn, fabric, and haberdashery — is now run by a 4th generation of Bales. Even today the Linden shop has a pleasant, old-timey feel to it.
The Arthur Bales Sale
Arthur Bales has a couple of big, end-of-season sales each year, but the current 120th-anniversary sale is a special one. It’s running for the whole month, rather than a couple of days, and there are different specials happening each week of the month. This week is the big opening, with all of the store’s yarns and fabrics reduced in various increments. I think most of the yarn I bought yesterday was 20-30% off.
Next week is “Penny Week”, with sale items priced in pennies and shillings to celebrate the olden times. Follow Arthur Bales on Instagram for information on the following two weeks’ sales.
I can’t wait to get started on my new knitting projects. Care to join me? If so, get over to that sale ASAP.
Arthur Bales is at 62 4th Avenue, Linden.