Spinning a yarn

Close view of one of our spinning wheels at Lavenham Guildhall

Continuing our series meeting some of the volunteers at Lavenham Guildhall and discovering what inspired them to join us, Alan Wheeler meets Jean, one of our volunteers with a very special skill.

They say much of what we do is as a result of our parents and geography, and that’s certainly the case when I met Jean, a volunteer at Lavenham and the main stay of our weekly spinning demonstrations in the Guildhall.

‘My mother taught me embroidery and knitting as a child and I guess everything developed from there’ she explains.

‘When my husband and I lived in the West Country, we kept some sheep as lawnmowers in a field behind our house and one day I borrowed a book and a spinning wheel and taught myself to spin’.

She goes on to explain that her hobby became something of a passion. In 1998 she moved to Suffolk and her skills as a spinner fitted in perfectly with volunteering at the Guildhall where, along with other volunteers, she showcases her spinning skills every week.

Periodically there are also natural plant dyeing events, together with weaving and spinning of such unlikely raw materials as plastic and bamboo.

‘I really love the interaction with the visitors, keen to experience first-hand this traditional cottage industry. My research into the history of the cloth trade in East Anglia means I can offer them an insight into the manufacture and history of the famous Lavenham blue cloth. It’s this blue cloth that underpinned Lavenham’s fabulous wealth in medieval times and upon which much of the Guildhall’s history was originally founded’.

Jean’s animated enthusiasm for her subject is infectious and it’s obvious she finds volunteering rewarding in so many ways.

‘I’ve met people from all over the world and from all walks of life here at the Guildhall’ she recalls.

‘Demonstrating any skill or craft is a great ice-breaker. Visitors are sometimes reluctant to have a conversation, but seeing something happening often leads them to ask questions. Some are keen to know everything, some are happy to sit and watch, and some want to tell you their life story. It’s a two-way street and I hope they get as much from the experience as I do. It’s different every time’.

‘Life as a volunteer is never dull and all this from a few sheep in Somerset!’ she says with a smile.