Scholla: Broom Making May 2, 1941

Scholla 5/2/1941 Broom making

One of the handcrafts that is rapidly disappearing is described in the following letter sent to the column by Frank W. Matz, of Mohnton.

Broom corn is a variety of maize and its cultivation is similar to that of ordinary field corn. However the seeds of broom corn grow on sprays and not on the ears. These seed sprays become top heavy as they reach maturity and stalks must be bent at the stem, causing the seed pods to hang downward almost perpendicularly. This will insure the development of straight straws. Once the straws are mature they are cut and dried. The seeds are removed with a curry comb.

The first process in broom making is to assort the straws into two classes, those with thick heart-stems and those that have thin heart stems. The latter will provide a finer texture of straw materials for broom manufacture. The ends of the stem are cut thin. The straws are tied into bundles according to the size of the broom that is planned. The thick stemmed hearts are placed on the interior of the bundle and the finer straws form the circumference.

The next step calls for the fastening a one-fourth-inch rope to a door or some secure place. The thinned stems which have previously been soaked in boiling water are wound tightly by wrapping the loose end of the rope around the bundle and drawing on it. In this way the bundle becomes a tight mass. At this point thick twine is wound about the straw bundle  and the rope can be removed. The result is a cylindrical broom, without a handle.

A pointed handle is inserted into the bundle and two nails driven into the end of which holds the broom straws.

The cylindrical mass must be flattened. A home-made clamp or press is used for this purpose.

The clamp is held on the craftsman’s lap while he sewed the ends of the straws together. After the broom is fastened securely in the press a twine is wound around the bundle where the stitching is to be done. Each stitch is looped through the surrounding twine. Small brooms usually have two rows of stitches and larger ones have three or four rows. A steel needle, about four and one-half inches long is used. The needle is bent slightly near the point and flat at the bend. After the sewing operation is completed the ends of the protruding straws are cut and a new broom is ready for spring cleaning.

Broom manufacturing in Kutztown courtesy of the Berks History Center.
Broom manufacturing in Kutztown courtesy of the Berks History Center.

Scholla: Splint Baskets (Schiene Karrebe)

 

Lasanksy, Jeanette. "Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania". Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 48
Lasanksy, Jeanette. “Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania”. Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 48

Harry Groff making oak splints using his Schnitzelbank.

Graeff, Arthur D. Scholla: Splint Baskets (Schiene Karrebe) Reading Times. 10/20/1940

When gypsies come to you with baskets for sale the great likelihood is that the sturdy splint basket they offer were braided and woven by some Pennsylvania German craftsman who learned his trade at the bench or schnitzelbank, somewhere near the Blue Mountains. The nomadic gypsies do not weave splint baskets, or schiene karreb. Their craftsmanship does not extend beyond the manufacture of willow-wicker baskets and hampers. The construction of a splint basket calls for more time, skill and patience that the roving bands of Romany can supply.

Harry Groff, of Rehresburg, learned the art of karreb-flechte, or basket weaving from an elderly man who was his neighbor more than a generation ago. The teacher was Frank Eckert, of Bethel formerly from Cornwall, in Lebanon County. Harry Groff is no longer a young man but the knowledge of his craft will not perish with him because he has taught his two grown sons, George Groff, of Robesonia, and Albert Groff, of Bethel, how to split white oak splints, how to operate the ancient schnitzelbank and draw the schnitzelmesser, or drawer knife along a slab of white-oak timber peeling off long ribbons of wooden splints of cardboard thickness.

Schiene is the dialect term for splint and any basket constructed from splints is designated as schiene karreb, regardless of its size, shape, or purpose. Groff declares that at one time he made willow (weide) baskets, but found that the splint-type would outlast the willow by many years. The first splint basket which he made 35 years ago is still in daily use and in excellent condition. In some sections of Pennsylvania the term schiene karreb is applied only to a basket of very peculiar construction, being built with two convex compartments on either side of a middle peak. This was designed to fit the part of a horses neck just in front of the pommel of the saddle. In this way the basket could rest evenly and eggs carried in the basket would not be rolled from side to side with the swaying movement of the horse.

The selection of white-oak timber for splints calls for care and circumspection. Groff says that he cannot use the tree which stands alone. He prefers the oak whose growth was stunted by proximity to other trees in a forest. The tree that stands alone grew too fast and its timber is not tough enough for his purposes. He has tried hickory but found that it does not serve his purpose. Red-oak may serve well for chip-baskets, but only the white oak posses the virtues needed.

Neighbors bring their willow “wash baskets’ to Groff to have die henck, the handle, repaired. Without exception the craftsman replaces the broken part with a thick oaken splint, chiseled on his schnitzelbank.

Lasanksy, Jeanette. "Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania". Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 48
Lasanksy, Jeanette. “Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania”. Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 48

Harry Groff making White oak splints.

Lasanksy, Jeanette. "Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania". Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 28
Lasanksy, Jeanette. “Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania”. Keystone Books. 1979 pg. 28

Harry Groff lashing a double rim on a bushel basket.

Recommended reading:  Lasanksy, Jeanette. “Willow, Oak, & Rye Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania”. Keystone Books. 1979