For a Smile…
All of Broomtown was abuzz because boy-broom and girl-broom were getting married. Everyone felt certain that the bride-broom and the groom-broom would make a lovely couple. The night before the wedding, however, bride-broom told groom-broom that she was pregnant with a little whisk-broom. “But, how can that be?” wailed groom-broom, “We haven’t even swept together yet!”
The History of the Broomsquire
Rudimentary brooms, which were nothing more than a branch picked off the forest floor, were used for centuries to sweep caves, camping sites, cabins, and castles. Over time, people began to tie straw into a make-shift handle composed of twigs, corn husks, or stemmy hay to sweep the dirt floors of their homes and around their fireplaces. While these crude brooms were a welcome from the tree branches formerly used, they did not sweep well and fell apart after a short time. In fact, the phrase "flying off the handle” refers to a time when a crude broom would fall apart after being used by the matriarch, during the frustration of keeping a house together and clean.
The first evolutional change in broom making was brought forth by Levi Dickenson in 1797. Legend has it that he used he used the tassels from his harvested sorghum to make a broom because he was in short supply of straw. Shortly after this variety of sorghum was renamed broomcorn. As is turned out, the broomcorn materials not only lasted five times as long as straw, but it also swept better than previous materials as dust is attracted to the sorghum fibers whereas it was repelled from the straw fibers.
Along with the improvement in broom material, another advancement shifted the broom from a handmade house broom to a highly desired item at the local mercantile shop. Before the 19th century, broom-making was an idiosyncratic art; most were tied using a square piece of lumber, spooled with linen like a bobbin, and held in tension with ones legs outstretched holding the lumber bobbin in place. In 1810 the foot-treadle stying machine was invented. The treadle machine became an essential part of the Industrial Revolution. Customers now had a choice of buying a smaller handled broom for use in tight areas around the fireplace or a long handle one to sweep the open wood or dirt floors in their homes and shops, albeit all brooms produced were still round.
The exquisite and elegant craftsmanship of the Shaker’s changed the design of the round broom into that of the flat broom most commonly used today. Using a large custom-made stand-up vice, they employed farm-grown linen twines to sew the broom flat so less sorghum was needed fo each broom and a the sweeping area was enlarged.
In the late 1800’s broom making was given another boost as it was discovered that broomcorn grew much better in the newly expanded western states. This discovery significantly increased the amount of broom shops around the country where the workers were paid handsomely for their craft. Yet, in 1994, with the passage an implementation of NAFTA, broom shops were shuttered by the hundreds in favor of the cheaper Mexican brooms. Today, a small number of craftspeople keep the historic art of broom making alive and vibrant. For a household item, comfortably perfected in its design after so many decades, the broom’s staying power—both as a cleaning tool and cultural symbol of neat domestic tranquility—is remarkable and deserved.
The Broomsquire Finds Flow
There are a characteristics of flow that the broomsquire enters. First, the broomsquire finds a physical location that offers the ability to completely concentrate on the task at hand. Secondly, a clarity of goal must reverberate in the back of the mind of the artisan and at the same time allow time to slip away as a non-factor. Lastly, the craftsperson must find a balance between a a challenge and the skill to create. Finding the balance of challenge and skill is the hardest part of finding flow. Not being challenged enough and the project will become boring and unfinished. A project that is too challenging for the level of skill, and the project becomes too hard to accomplish. In other words, the project must challenge the artisan to push themselves to be their best, but also enable their skills to accomplish their best.
Words from Jason Gold, Our Broom Squire
While broom-making relies fully on all five of my senses, I find that my sight is the last sense I rely on. I LISTEN to the sound of the broomcorn being tied against the handle and judge from the sound whether or not it is too tight or too loose. I FEEL the tensile strength of tying string and determine the proper tension that needs to be used each time I wrap the handle. I TASTE the sweetness of the broomcorn in the air to determine how long the broomcorn needs to soak before being tied. I SMELL the freshness of the broomcorn and it squeezes the water from the fibers as the broom is tied tight. And, I SEE the blood rush from my fingers when I twist the broomcorn around the handle and pull it tight.
Jason Gold, 2020
Fun Quotes & Facts
“I was a shy kid with a broom handle that I pretended was a microphone.” (Patti LaBelle)
“A new broom can sweep the floor, but an old broom knows where the dirt is.” (Paul Mooney)