Unlike, say, a vacuum or a mop, J.P. Welch's handmade brooms are beautiful enough to leave out, even after the floors are swept.
Broom-making may sound like an occupation straight out of an 18th-century nursery rhyme. But before you lump the broom maker with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, meet J. P. Welch. A modern-day artisan, he got his start 29 years ago, after a handmade broom at a farmers' market piqued his interest.
"It wasn't complicated, but it was functional," says Welch, who lives in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. Inspired by the tool's design and utility, Welch, a forestry technician at the time, gave the craft a try. On Justamere Tree Farm, the 72-acre property where he and his wife, Marian, were already growing Christmas trees and procuring maple syrup, he planted broomcorn, the grass tassels used to create the base of the broom.
After mastering the Shaker-style broom -- a simple wooden handle and broomcorn tassels bound together with wire -- Welch learned more involved designs, including brooms meant for specific tasks such as scrubbing pots or removing cobwebs. "It was something that really started as a hobby," he says. "Then someone convinced us to do a craft fair, and people actually bought the brooms."
Not only are his brooms beautiful and long-lasting, but his loyal customers -- including Martha -- have found that their natural-fiber bristles trap dust better than store-bought varieties. Today Justamere Tree Farm produces 2,000 brooms a year. As it turns out, even in a world of hand vacuums and disposable mops, the art of broom-making still has its place.
The Broom-Making process
To make a broom, Welch hangs sassafras saplings to dry and then cuts them to handle length. Using wire, staples, and five-ply jute, he binds broomcorn tassels to the handle. Once the tassels are in place, Welch trims the tops off the broomcorn. For flat brooms, Welch uses an antique Shaker-style vice; placing the broomcorn in the vice, he sews the tassels together. Finally, he trims the ends of the broomcorn for a straight edge.