DELPHI — Indiana broom maker Bev Larson has invited fellow broom makers, hobbyists and the interested public to the first “Indiana Sweep In.”
Broom makers from across the nation have set up shop at Wabash and Erie Canal Park in Delphi. During the three-day convention, attendees will be able to attend discussions and various workshops to enhance a growing skill or learn a new one.
“A sweep in is a gathering of broom makers,” Larson said. “They have been held across the country for many years, but this is the first one in Indiana.”
Broom making experts will be on hand throughout the weekend to share ideas and demonstrate the various techniques involved in the making of brooms.
According to Larson, the process begins with a type of sorghum used for making brooms called “broomcorn.” Broomcorn consists of a tall stalk with brush at the top and no ears. From a distance, broomcorn looks like sweet corn. However, upon closer examination, there are no cobs —just a large tassel on the top. That tassel is the part of the plant used for making brooms.
Mike White, a broom maker from Brookston, added that because broomcorn is so tall (14-16 feet), it needs to go through a process called “tabling” to bring it down to the height level of the worker. This is done by the worker walking backwards between two rows, bending the stalks diagonally across each other. It is then cut for processing.
Broomcorn is harvested as either “raw” corn or “processed hurl.” Raw broomcorn has been cleaned but left with its “flowers” in the wavy tip and the stalk is completely attached. Processed hurl has the stalk completely removed and cleaned entirely.
Larson said it’s called broomcorn thanks to the English. She also mentioned that Ben Franklin is largely credited with introducing broomcorn to the United States in the early 1700s.
“It’s called broomcorn because the English would call anything that produced a seed head corn,” Larson explained.
Once cut, the brush is gathered into small bundles and taken to have the seeds removed, usually by a thrashing machine. Once the seed has been removed, the broomcorn brush is ready for drying. The brush is then spread out in layers on slated shelves a few inches apart.
After being dried, the brush is ready to be made into a broom using a broom making machine called a kick winder.
“You would thrash the seeds off and work with what’s left,” Larson explained. “For the kick winder, you cut the stem off too and work only with the brush heads.”
Larson said her particular style maintains American broom making tradition but with a modern twist.
“For my personal style, I use the same traditional techniques that have been used for years and years,” Larson said. “But I do it with a little modern twist because I use color.”
Broomcorn was a huge crop in Oklahoma Kansas and Colorado until about 1950. In Colorado alone, more than 125,000 acres of broomcorn was harvested in 1944. Now almost all broomcorn is grown in Mexico.
Larson said that participants attending the sweep in will be able to vote on a “Viewer’s Choice Award” for brooms that they like the most.
There will be stations set up to demonstrate thrashing seeds, stripping bark, sanding, dyeing broomcorn and broom handles and more. Additionally, broom makers from Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois and Ohio will be attending the event.
“I started making brooms about 15 years ago,” Larson recalled. “I just fell in love with it – I still have the first broom I ever made.”
White agreed, saying he still has his first broom as well. Both Larson and White want to continue sharing their knowledge of the American broom-making tradition.
Reach Quentin Blount at email@example.com or 574-732-5130.
IF YOU GO
What: Indiana Sweep-In
When: Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Wabash & Erie Canal Park, 1030 N. Washington St., Delphi.
Details: On Saturday at 11 a.m., the broom makers will be helping kids make a mini broom. Also, there will be a chance to vote on a viewer’s choice award on Saturday. Broomers will be bringing their favorite brooms to show off and the public gets to vote on their favorite. There will also be a demonstration on how to thresh seed from the broomcorn, how to dye broomcorn, comparing two different methods, an easy way to remove bark from sticks, etc.