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.

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