Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Folk Art of Brooms and Broom-Making

At one time, a Delta farmhouse wasn't complete without a set of brooms and whisks to sweep the dirt out the door, clear the cobwebs out of the corners, whisk away the fireplace ashes, and quickly remove crumbs from the table. . .There has been the need for a broom as long as there has been someone to insist on cleanliness, and the Delta is no exception. . .not only for inside the home, but outside, too. . .Many tenant homes rid their yards of grass by sweeping them. . .The cleaner the yard, the better. . Old brooms or handmade branch brooms were utilized. . ..Not one blade of grass or weed escaped the weekly yard sweeping. . .A ritual that was repeated over and over into the 1950s and 60s. . .I remember as a child being curious as to how a few of the tenants yards had no grass on them, until one day I saw a lady sweeping the dirt. . .I found it an odd thing to do until I realized it was her way dealing with the grass and weeds. . .The dirt packed down into an almost concrete hardness over the years.
House brooms were not always bought at a store. . .They were often crafted at home from field straw, broom straw, or corn husks. . .It's another folk art that is rarely practiced anymore in the Delta. . .As with the Rag Rug looms, John and I thought we'd revive the art. . .So, we journeyed to Kentucky and Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill to be taught by the experts of American broom-making. . .

We met the instructor the day before the workshop in the basement of the Center Family Dwelling. . .He was demonstrating broom-making to the public. . .We were fascinated and more than ready to give it a try the next morning.
We also learned that before 1797, brooms in America were merely tree branches and brush used to sweep the floor and clean the ashes from the fireplaces. Sometimes  crude brooms were fashioned by tying something on a stick or handle: straw, hay, fine twigs or corn husks. These crude brooms did not sweep well and fell apart after a short time, even though strong linen twine was often used. 
The sweeping quality of brooms changed in 1797 when Levi Dickenson, a farmer in Hadley, Massachusetts, made a broom for his wife, using the tassels of a variety of sorghum (Sorghum vulgere), a grain he was growing for the seeds. She thought Levi’s broom was exceptionally good and told friends and neighbors about it.

By about 1810, the sorghum used in brooms, had acquired a new name, Broom Corn, as the British called all seed bearing plants, "corn." The sorghum also looks similar to the sweet corn plant. It's tassel became the broom material that is still used in quality brooms today. The broomcorn that Shaker Village utilizes comes from Mexico. Little is grown in the United States, except for personal use.
Early brooms were mostly round. . .but in the mid-1820's the Shakers started making brooms, changing the design of the round broom. They eliminated the woven stems up the handle, the holes and the pegs, and used wire to bind their broom to the handle. They then put their broom in a vise, sewing it into the flat brooms we use today. While their flat broom sweeps a rough surface very well, it does not do as quick and thorough a job as the earlier on a smooth surface as a round broom does.

In our workshop, we learned to make whisk brooms. . .a turkey wing, a hawk's tail, and a small round brush. . .and we had a close-up demonstration of how the flat broom is crafted.

Our results were not quite as perfect as the instructor's the day before. . .though once we learned the basics, it's a folk art that is easily practiced and perfected at home. . .At the end of the day, we had a full basket of whisk brooms to take home with us. . .

not perfect. . .but they do give an air of the primitive, don't they? . .Wonderful for decorating, as well as use. . .

Be sure to visit the DUNCAN FARMSTEAD Pinterest board: BROOMS AND BROOM-MAKING for more decorating with brooms inspiration. . .

Once we get our technique down, we may offer a few classes of our own here at the Historic District. . .Our homemade brooms will be displayed in many of the buildings as well. . .such as the shotgun houses and company store. . .As our inventory grows, they will be made available to purchase.
Until then, if you would like to try your hand at making your own brooms, check out the links below. . .It's a wonderful outdoors family project for summer, too. . .Broom straw isn't a necessity. . .We have a number of options growing free along the ditch banks and tree rows. . .twigs, grasses, pig weed (grin). . .

Making a Straw Broom OFF THE GRID NEWS : A straw broom is easy to make, and the project is one that would be fun to do with the kids or a as a great back-to-nature project that would be ideal for a group activity at a craft fair or other special event.
Things you will need: Straw, A stick to be used as a broom handle, Twine or wire for binding, A knife and scissors for finishing touches
    Handles can be ordered from a supplies store for a more commercial look, but if you are going for rustic or are taking advantage of the items you have available to you, you can make your own using branches that you have collected. It is a good idea to strip the branches of their bark and allow them to dry for a few months before using them to ensure that no cracking or splitting will occur when you put them to use.
Clean your straw so it is free from dust and debris, shaking bits loose without using water, which can cause your broom to mold.
Divide straw into ten separate, equal bunches. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE