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…make brooms, a short course

Students making brooms

Brooms have been around as long a mankind’s need to remove waste. At first a branch with twigs served fine. Later, the twigs were tied onto a sturdier branch that acted as a handle. You can still find these tied up twig brooms in some parts of the world today. In fact, were it not for the development of broomcorn, you might be using one yourself.

Broomcorn — which isn’t a corn at all although it kind of looks like one as it grows — is a member of the sorghum family. This sorghum, however, can send out a seed tassel in excess of three feet long and it’s this seed tassel that we use to make brooms.

Broomcorn which is cut and shipped with the stalk attached and the seeds removed is often referred to as craft corn. Broomcorn that’s been trimmed and sorted is called hurl. The remains that do not fit in either of these categories because of its lack of length or aesthetic defect is often sold as insides to be used inside the brooms where they can’t be seen, but are just as useful as the more desirable hurl.
There are many styles of brooms!

  • Traditional Kitchen Brooms
  • Shaker Flat Kitchen Brooms
  • Cobweb Brooms
  • Besoms
  • Round Whisks
  • Flat Whisks
  • Handled Round Whisks
  • Handled Flat Whisks
  • Hearth Brooms with wooden handles
  • Hearth Brooms with iron handles
  • Cake Testers
  • Pot Scrubbers
  • Corn Silkers and Veggie Brushes and Hat Brushes
  • Pencil Brooms
  • Turkey Wings
  • Tom Turkey Wings
  • Hawk Tails
  • Sparrow Tails
  • Rooster Tails
  • Wedding Brooms
  • and many more…

But there are only a few methods used in tying a broom. Today you’ll learn two methods: standard and parallel ties. These two methods are the foundation for any other broom you’ll ever want to make!
Before you begin, you’ll want to take note of the tools and materials

  • Tying table with chair and base
  • Knife
  • Pliers (Needle nose, standard, and snips)
  • Scissors
  • Press
  • Cutter
  • Large needle
  • Stitching cuff
  • String and Wire
  • Broomcorn (Hurl, craft corn and stalks

Standard Whisk

  1. Start with a large handful of hurl. This should weigh about 7 ounces. Precision is not important… stick with what you can comfortably hold in one hand.
  2. Tap the hurl on its base to try to get it all even. Examine the hurl to ensure that the vast majority is facing the right direction.
  3. Measure from the sweep (the brushy end) up about nine-inches. Again, this is not a precise measurement… I use one of my handspans.
  4. Push the wire from your tying table through the hurl from back to front and make sure that it extends in front far enough to bend up at a right angle and extend beyond the bristles. Note that the wire is going in to the back of the broom
  5. Using your foot in the rungs of the reel to provide a light degree of tension to keep the wire from unreeling, gently wrap the wire around the bundle by rolling it towards you until it is all the way around once. The tail should be above (towards the bristle, not the sweep) the wrap. Then apply a little pressure by pulling back on the broom and pushing forward with your foot.
  6. Push the tail of the wire into the broom so that the end extends from the bristle by an inch or so.
  7. Make another two wraps pulling and pressing hard. Again, note where the wire went into the broom as this is the back of the broom.
  8. Make a ‘V’ across the front of the broom by cocking the broom at an angle and continuing to wrap. Straighten so that the wires now form a backwards ‘N’and add another complete wrap.
  9. Make another V as in step 8. Add another two complete wraps.
  10. Bend the tail out of the broom towards the back, and, using pliers, get it as close as you can to the last wrap.
  11. Snip the wire attached to the reel, and twist the tail and the snipped wire together. Turn the resulting twist into a staple facing into the back of the broom.
  12. Trim the bristle by tightly tying the bristles together and cutting (sawing) through above the bent over internal wire.
  13. At this point, your broom is basically complete. All that remains is to stitch the broom, add a strap with which to hang the broom to the staple and pound the staple flat or begin to plait the broom, and trim the sweep on the cutter. Due to our limited time in this session, I will be stitching the broom for you and we will not be plaiting this broom.

Turkey Wing

This set of instructions is written a little more concisely as many of the terms and methods have already been discussed in the standard whisk section.

  1. Sort out a large handful of hurl – about 8 ounces – into nine small piles. Lay them criss-cross on the tying table. The last two should be larger than the first seven.
  2. Take the top bundle in hand and run the wire through just above the brush leaving a long enough tail to reach above the bristle by about an inch when bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Make a gentle wrap, bend the wire up, tighten, make another wrap, tighten.
  4. Make a V, but do not continue with the wrap.
  5. While holding the V, add another bundle of hurl under the wire so that the brush is just a little shorter than your first bundle.
  6. Continue with the V and one single wrap.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until all bundles are used.
  8. Finish with a V and 3 wraps as with the standard whisk.

The bristles are trimmed off of this broom in the same fashion as the standard whisk. The sweep on this broom is normally trimmed by eye with scissors. This broom is not stitched. We will be plaiting this broom, time permitting.

Plaiting

I read this word and variation of it in story books as a child. Of course, I always pronounced it ‘plating’. I always thought it meant braids and braiding as it was always used to describe a woman’s hairstyle. Imagine my surprise when I was told to pronounce it ‘platting’ and that it was weaving! Then imagine my confusion when I learned that the finished product is often referred to as a Shaker braid!!

Before any of the following steps can be taken, you’ll need to have some reed or stalks trimmed and soaked. In the case of the stalks, they need to be split in half or in thirds before beginning the soaking. It sometimes helps, too, to remove some of the pith. The leather only needs to be dry, supple and cut into strips.

  1. Create a loop with string from the reel to use as the hanging strap and place it under the staple. Hammer the staple flat. Wrap string around above flattened staple 2 or 3 times.
  2. Beginning at the back, lay in pieces of stalk, reed or leather so that the bottom end is in line with the wires below and the rough side (leather), pith (stalk) or flat side (reed) is facing out. Keep in place with the string over the top of them. Wrap three times.
  3. Fold over the pieces and wrap the string over the top three times.
  4. From the back (where the hanging strap is, where the wrapping began) start to place the string under one and over the next… weave the string and stalk. Always keep snug tension, but not so much as to damage the stalks or reed (the leather is awful hard to damage).
  5. Continue around and ‘round for as many times as is necessary to leave enough material visible to wrap another three times and trim off an even amount.
  6. Place in ‘rip cord’ loop with loop facing the direction you’re currently wrapping and wrap over it tight three ot 4 times.
  7. Cut the cord, place end in ‘rip cord’ loop and pull it back through. Trim and singe the cord. Trim the excess stalks as desired.