Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Western - How to make a Broom

In my book, Doctor in Petticoats, the hero is sent to a blind school to learn how to navigate in the world as a blind person. While there he meets a young man who is the instructor for the broom making class. In order to understand how the blind were taught to make brooms, I had to learn the process as it would have been done in the 1800's.

This is what I discovered. 

Broomcorn is actually a species of sorghum. The broom bristles are the stiff tasseled branches of the plant. The plants grow 2-8 feet tall and grows best in hot arid climates. The plant is harvested, dried, and the seeds removed. The seeds are edible, starchy, and high in carbohydrates. They are used in cereals and animal feed.

When humans first started using broomcorn as a broom, they just harvested the plant, dried it, and started sweeping. By the 1800's they started lashing the broomcorn together to make a better sweeping surface and even using just the branches lashed to wooden handles.

The Shakers evolved the broom making process and were the first to use wire to secure the broomcorn to the handle rather than tying or weaving it with string. They also developed a treadle machine to wind the broomcorn around the handle and secure it tightly.

For my story, I have blind students learning to make brooms by hand. I used Foxfire #3 book to learn the process that was passed down for generations in North Carolina.

The seeds are combed out of the tassel. The tassels are placed in water to soak and make them pliable. Two nails or wooden pegs are placed in one end of the handle to prevent the stalks from slipping off after they are tied in place. A rope is tossed over a rafter. It needs to be long enough for a loop at the bottom for the broom maker's foot and that is 4-6 inches from the ground. The rope is wrapped once around the broom near the point where it will be tied. When the person steps down with their foot, it tightens the string on the broomcorn. When it seems tight, they take a five to six foot length of heavy-duty cotton string threaded through a carpet needle and weave it through and around the broomcorn, securing it to the handle. 


Z said...

Very interesting post today, I enjoy learning the history of things.

Paty Jager said...

Z, That's one of the best things about writing. I'm always researching and learning new things.

bn100 said...

Very informative

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Paty Jager said...

Thank you.

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