It started with a story – it seemed to always happen that way – me questioning my mom about her years growing up on a farm, she obliging me and seeming to enjoy the telling. I’m not sure how we got onto the topic of brooms - could have been my announcement that I was planting broom corn that spring. So she tells me about a broom maker in her community of farmers. When cash was scarce, as was often the case in this rural setting, bartering with one’s neighbor became the poor man’s currency. His currency came in the form of brooms. He grew what they called broom straw. She told me people came from miles around to buy his brooms because, as she said, “They were good brooms and lasted forever.”
When I planted my broom corn, which, while in the grass family, isn’t truly corn at all but sorghum, the growing stalks looked a lot like the popcorn stalks I’d planted that same year. However, instead of producing ears, seed heads appeared on the tassels at the tops of the plants making them rise to over eight feet tall. Cutting off the raw hurls was the first step in the making of a broom and these hung on my barn door to dry while awaiting the day I could meet up again with Skip and Susan Peek.
I had met these award-winning artisans the previous year at the Tennessee State Fair where they were selling their incredibly beautiful brooms. I know, the word beautiful isn’t often paired with the word broom, but Susan dyes the processed hurls and Skip weaves them with such precise stitches - well -their finished brooms are stunning. I had approached them about the possibility of teaching me the art of making a broom and they agreed to walk me through the process. And a year later, they did.
Since the seeds weren’t yet removed, we spent a good while taking them off by hand. I found out a curry brush works well, so that’s on my “to buy” list. Once the hurls were clean, a rubber band was wrapped around the tops to hold them together while they soaked in water. This step makes them pliable and ready for weaving.
Once the weaving is complete, the twine is wrapped and tied off. Skip is cleaver with wood and this was evidenced in the spindle he created for holding the twine used to wrap the broom. The spindle is controlled by your foot to keep tension on the thread while sewing. When this is complete, the tops of the hurl are cut even and the broom is near completion.
Using a bunching needle, twine is used to sew further down the straw. Skip drilled a hole in the top of the handle I’d selected earlier. He then placed a piece of leather through it so I could hang it on my wall. And just like that - a broom was made.
As we swept up all the seeds we’d removed from the broom straw I was thinking there was enough to plant a field of it! And that’ll make a pile of brooms come this time next year.
Interested in broom making? Check out Skip and Susan’s website for more information: https://talotamhollow.weebly.com