Friday, October 26, 2007

Broom making 101

In the spirit of Halloween, I've decided that the next tutorial should be about making a broom, specifically, the Cobweb Catcher. I learned to make these brooms years ago at the North Carolina Basketmakers' annual convention by a lady named Mary Normand. It is still the only style broom I know, but I've made plenty of them since and have always found them to be very useful as well as decorative. I've tried my hand at the Turkey Tail wisk broom, but I lack the hand strength to hold it together tightly enough while wrapping. I hope the pictures are clear enough. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to write.


Adapted from the Feather Duster by Mary Normand


3-4 foot slender bamboo pole (long dowel rod could be substituted, or you can order broom handles from R E Caddy at this website:
waxed linen
drill with 1/8” bit
sharp knife
curved large-eyed needle (A leather needle works well, but you may want to use a metal thimble to push the needle through the stalk to save your fingers. I was given an actual cadaver needle in my class that I still have which has an end that curves up and is good to push against. Leather needles I've found since leave the eye end straight and can really poke into your skin when you're pushing the needle through. The stalks are tough and can wear on you after a few pushes.)


Trim the branches off the bamboo pole; sand so that you do not have sharp edges. Leave a joint or node at both ends of the pole to prevent splitting. You will be working with an odd number of stalks. Try to select stalks that are evenly matched so that your stitches will be even. A lot of small stalks give a different pattern than fewer larger stalks. This is a matter of personal choice. Hold the stalks in place around the pole to determine how many will be needed. Soak the stalks in a bucket of water with just the stalks emerged for about 20 minutes. You may need to place a towel over the stalks to keep them from floating up and out of the bucket.
After soaking the stalks, remove them from the water. You will need to trim the stalks beginning 3/8” above the node. Cut at an angle away from the brush end and continue to cut about 1/2 of the diameter of the stalk until you reach the end of the stalk. Continue with the rest of the stalks and soak them again until soft.
While the stalks are soaking, you need to drill a 1/8” hole through the bamboo approximately 5-6” from the smaller end of the pole.

Attaching the Broomcorn:

Thread the needle with 2 1/2 yards of the waxed linen. Thread this through the hole in the bamboo and tie off the end, leaving the longest piece attached to the needle.

Lay out all of the broom stalks to the left of the pole in the order you want them around the broom, cut sides up. Begin threading the needle through each of the stalks from right to left through the area between the cut surface and the brush end. Pull the waxed linen tight so that all stalks are side by side and fit nicely around the pole with the uncut sides of the stalks exposed. Do not overlap the stalks.

Count the stalks once more to make sure you have an odd number. You do not have to stitch the first and last stalk together. Instead, wrap the waxed linen three times around the stalks (easiest way is to roll the pole around and let the thread follow). Pull the waxed linen very tight.

Begin stitching through each stalk in the following manner: The needle should enter each stalk just under the three wraps from the left side of the stalk and should emerge on the right side of the stalk just over the three wraps. Come over the wraps with the needle and thread and enter the next stalk in the same manner. Continue around until you reach the first stalk you have sewn. Continue sewing and overlap for 3 stalks.

You will not be sewing through the stalks now, but will be weaving over and under each stalk in the direction away from the brush end. Hold the pole tightly with one hand while you weave the thread in and out with the other. It is important for the overall effect here to keep the thread very tight. This will help to make the little “puffs” between the threads.

Continue weaving this pattern until you come within 1” of the end of the shortest weaver. At this point, you will repeat the three wraps and stitching you did before, remembering to overlap two or three stalks.

Using the end of the remaining thread, wrap another three times about 1/2” below the last stitching and tie this very tightly. Leave this tied until the broom completely dries. Once this is dried, remove these last three wraps. The stalks should be indented all around. Trim stalks evenly at this indention all around. (The indention makes the stalks “hug” more tightly to the pole, giving it a more finished look.)

Cut approximately one yard of waxed linen. Wrap tightly around the brush end about 5/8”-1” from the tip end of the bamboo (toward the tip end of the brush) three times and tie off. Do not cut the thread. Tuck the short end of thread into the brush part and thread the long end onto your needle. Begin stitching around the wrapping just as you did on the stalks, except now you will go through the brush ends. Select a width of brush equal to the width of your stalks. Stitch in the same manner as before, going up under the wrap from the left side and emerging on the right of the section above the wrap. Cross over the wrap on the outside and enter through the next section from the bottom left of the wrap. Continue around until the brush end has been divided into even sections. Overlap stitching for two or three sections. Tie off thread, leaving a short tail to tuck into the brush or leave longer to tie on embellishments.

These brooms are fantastic for reaching into high ceiling corners for those hard-to-get-at places. They save dragging a chair to reach and look lovely decorated with bright fall leaves for an autumn look or with winter greenery. Have fun and let me know how you do with your first broom.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

From Sheep to Sweater

I decided to sponsor two crafting clubs at school this year, knitting and One-Stroke Painting. It's been a wonderful experience and the students reinforce my decision constantly at work. They approach crafts differently from a lot of adults, who tend to bring their insecurities with them into the classroom. Young people love to work with their hands and have not lost that sense of wonder at creating something new. I have over 30 students in each group, which means they don't all have chairs to sit on in my classroom. They don't seem to notice, much less mind and happily sit in groups on the floor, chatting and crafting. Their contagious enthusiasm keeps me going and involved with crafts even when I don't have time at home to do my own painting or knitting.
I took students from both clubs to the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace in Fremont, NC on Tuesday of this week. We had a great time and learned to dip candles. Since there were so many of us, we dipped our strings, then kept moving in a circle until it was our turn again. By then, the candles had cooled enough to dip again. I can now appreciate life back in the late 1800's and the fact that I'm living now. The students had a great time as did the teachers and parents who went. If you haven't visited this historic site, please do. It was a real education. You can find their website at The staff were extremely nice and very well informed.
While we were touring the site, we had a chance to see the farm animals which are kept there for demonstration purposes. Of course, I had to ask about the sheep. I thought I remembered that they did their own shearing, so I asked a staff member. He said they did and in fact, they were planning to demonstrate this the next day. I asked what they did with the fleece and was told they usually just threw it away after the demo. Well, I couldn't resist hinting that I'd love to have it. They saved it for me! I now own a beautiful cream and yellow sheep's fleece. I was so excited, I didn't mind staying up until after 11:30 last night to wash it...and wash it... and wash it. I think I counted about five times. Thanks to Woolite, it is a little more pleasant smelling. I never knew you could find so many different things embedded in a sheep's wool!
The challenge I have given to myself is to convert this fleece into something wearable by next spring. I'd also like to take some of the carded fleece to school to give the students a chance to try their hands at the drop spindle. I took a lesson in this at Clara's Yarn Shop in Winterville last summer. It was fun to learn, but I'm not really good at it. Maybe I'll give it another 'whorl'. What I'd really like to learn is to spin on a spinning wheel. I'm hoping I can get a more consistent texture & ply than I am presently getting on the drop spindle. Clara's has moved to the internet, but you can see her beautiful hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn at
My next step after the wool dries is to purchase a couple of combs to card the wool and remove the rest of the small 'stuff' still clinging. There is another very nice yarn shop in New Bern called the Weaver's Web Gallery which is only about a forty-five minute drive from here (602 Pollock St, New Bern, NC). They have the combs and also offer spinning classes. Plus, it's always an excuse to shop for yarn. I'll keep you posted on my progress:)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apple Bobbing

Apple bobbing has long been associated with Halloween as an activity kids/adults do at parties. The activity originated with the ancient Celts and involved placing apples in a large basin of water. Apples, being less dense than water, would float freely around the basin. Each person in turn would hold his/her hands behind his/her back and try to pick up an apple with his/her teeth. Traditionally, the first person who managed to remove an apple from the water was to be the next person to marry.
This activity seems silly now, but like all other gatherings at that time, these served to bring people living in remote regions together who may not have met (or married or produced children). These get-togethers helped keep the population going and surely allowed news to spread.
I would think this activity will slowly fade into Halloween history. I can't imagine dipping my face into a bucket of water that other people have also dipped their faces into before me. Our views and knowledge have changed the way we look at certain traditions. However, we still long for simpler days when innocent fun was innocent fun and the image of a child beaming as his face entered the water will long stand as one of the symbols of Halloween.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Witches & Beer?

I heard a very interesting discussion from Alan Eames on NPR Saturday. He is an anthropologist who specializes in the history of beer. He was explaining that women were the early brew masters (or should we say brew mistresses?) who would use a broom handle or besom (style of broom) as a symbol of their craft and to let clients know they had brew available. They also wore pointed hats to draw attention to their booths at the marketplace. And we all know that cats are good mousers who would have been essential to anyone dealing with grains. Over the years, women have been falsely accused of being evil witches when they were unfortunately involved in political situations. These particular symbols of the brewing industry have taken on a reputation as symbols of witchcraft.
I found the discussion fascinating. Alan D. Eames is the author of The Secret Life of Beer. After hearing him talk, I'm going to have to check out this book. Who would have thought that beer would have had this interesting history? Thanks Alan for the information. Good luck with your continued research.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Halloween Legends

Halloween is my favorite holiday. There is no end to the imagination and creativity shown by its celebrants. I love reading about the origins of holiday traditions. I think we can enjoy them more when we know just why we do certain activities rather than just doing them automatically. Here are a couple of traditions followed by many, but understood by few:

Jack O' Lanterns
The jack o' lantern is synonymous with Halloween. As the legend goes, an Irishman named Jack and known for his stinginess and drunken habits was bellying up to the bar on All Soul's Eve. The Devil happened to be there and Jack offered his soul for the price of a drink. Jack talked the Devil into transforming himself into a sixpence in order to pay for the drink, saying that the Devil could transform back after the tab was paid and not have to actually pay for the drink. The Devil, being who he was, liked this idea of getting a soul and not really paying for it anyway so he agreed.
No sooner had he transformed, than Jack scooped up the sixpence and placed it in a pouch with a cross on it. The Devil could not transform back into himself, so was forced to make a bargain with Jack. Jack asked for one more year before he lost his soul and the Devil agreed.
One year later, Jack was still engaged in his drunken miserly habits. The Devil appeared and Jack agreed to go with him. Jack stopped under an apple tree and asked the Devil is he would retrieve an apple from the tree for him. The Devil climbed the tree, thinking this would only take a minute. Jack pulled a knife from his pocket, carved a cross in the tree and again the Devil was trapped. Jack again was given a reprieve.
Soon after, Jack died of natural causes. He was refused entrance into heaven because of the life he had led. He went into Hell, but the Devil, for once deciding to honor a bargain, turned him away as well. Jack asked, "Where am I to go?"
The Devil told him to go back where he came from. "How will I see?" asked Jack. The Devil tossed him a coal from the fire pits and Jack placed it into a turnip in order to light his way.
So, Jack was forced to wander through the land carrying his lit turnip. His light can be seen over the marshes of Ireland. The closer one comes to the light, the farther away it moves.
Irish people over the years would place lights inside carved turnips and potatoes to scare away ghosts. They would also do this so that if Jack needed a light, he would take it and leave them alone.
This custom continued when the Irish people migrated to America. They found the pumpkins larger and much easier to carve, so the transition to our modern-day jack o' lanterns, or "Jack's Lanterns" came into being.
Share this legend with anyone with an interest in Halloween. I'll continue my research and 'Happy Haunting.'