Want to try your hand at making one of Baker’s brooms? Here’s how to get started.
Master broomsquire Charlotte Baker of Nightshade Handmade says, “I primarily use broomcorn, which is the seed tassel of a variety of sorghum (Sorghum vulgare). I’ve also used the grass called ‘broom sedge,’ longleaf pine needles, birch twigs, and scotch broom, with mixed results.
“I used to grow my own broomcorn, when I was making only a few brooms a year. Now, I purchase it from a company that imports it for industrial brooms but also sells it in its raw, unprocessed form to broom and basket makers.
Most of my handles come from the woods around my house. I take long walks in the woods in winter, when the sap is down and the trees are dormant, saw in hand, looking for potential handles.
“Harvesting vine-twisted saplings is good stewardship, as being girdled by vines is detrimental to the health of the trees. I also harvest crooked saplings. I’ve made a few whisk brooms using antlers for handles. The antlers were naturally shed ones, found in the same woods as my sapling handles.”
Materials and tools needed:
• Broomcorn (about 2 pounds per broom) #18 nylon cord (for binding and sewing) Wooden handle
• Binding wheel or sturdy stick for holding binding twine
• Large needle (butcher’s trussing needle works well)
•Tie-off loop, made by tying the ends of a 16-inch piece of twine together
Place broomcorn stalks in a bucket of hot water so stalks and knurls (where tassel meets stalk) are covered. Soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove from water and drain for several minutes.
Place binding wheel or sturdy stick (with 10–12 yards of #18 nylon twine wound on it) on the floor. Secure loose end of twine to handle, a couple of inches from the end.
Place your feet on the tying wheel and pull twine tight with both hands on the handle. Place a stalk of broomcorn along the handle, with the knurl directly under the twine. Rotate handle toward you, pulling hard so the twine indents the broomcorn. Place another stalk next to the first one, then rotate handle toward you again. Repeat until you’ve gone all the way around the handle.
Lay tie-off loop along the stalks, then rotate handle toward you, wrapping twine over stalks and loop, five or six times, pulling very tightly. Hold wraps down with thumb, then cut twine, leaving a tail several inches long.
Still holding wraps down tightly, put tail through short end of tie-off loop, then pull the other end of the loop, pulling tail underneath wraps. This is called a “blind knot.” Trim tail close to wraps. Trim stalks to about an inch above wraps, using knife.
Secure twine to handle, about 2 inches above the ends of stalks on the first row of broomcorn. Begin adding second, outer, layer of broomcorn using the same procedure as for the inner layer. If you wish to weave the stalks after binding them on, make sure to use an odd number for the outer layer.
After all stalks are added, wrap twine tightly around all stalks five or six times.
Begin weaving the stalks by placing your thumb on the twine and releasing pressure on the tying wheel. Raise one stalk and place the twine under it. Pull twine tight.
Place thumb on the stalk that now has twine underneath, let twine lie over the top of next stalk, then raise the next one and weave twine underneath. Pull tight and continue weaving up the handle as far as desired, and as far as the length of the stalks will allow.
Tie twine off using a blind knot, the same way the inner layer was tied off.
Hang to dry for 24 hours before sewing.
Thread a large needle with a couple of yards of twine, then knot one end with a double overhand knot. Push needle through broom, where you want your stitches to be, locking the knot in place among the fibers.
Wrap twine around broom two or three times, then begin sewing a “lock stitch” by pushing the needle into the broom on one side of the wraps and bringing it out on the other side of the wraps. Make a short stitch over the wraps, and push the needle back into the broom, bringing it up an inch or so away from the first stitch.
Continue all the way around, back to the starting point.
Secure the end by tying a single overhand knot in the twine about an inch away from where it emerges from the broom after the last stitch, then pushing the needle back through the broom to bury the knot in the broomcorn. Add more rows of stitching if desired.
Trim the ends of broomcorn.
Drill a hole through the top of the handle, and add a loop of twine or leather cord for hanging.
Always hang your broom for storage or display, as letting it rest on the brush can bend it out of shape.
“A handmade broom is the perfect blend of form and function, and a delight to use. When I make a commissioned broom, I strive to personalize it by using twine in the recipient’s favorite color and using a handle that seems to fit his or her personality. The simple act of creating art with my own hands is profoundly satisfying and meaningful.”