Handmade Broom or Swale

…I was surprised to hear a new type of swishing  noise coming from the road and of course I had to investigate. My reward was to see Anne-Marie sweeping like a demon with a very obviously home-made besom, it doesn’t take much to make me happy but this humble object gave me unadulterated joy! Apparently the plastic rake had broken.

Anne Marie doesn’t know what particular plant she used but, traditionally in colder temperate climes besoms are made of birch or heather because they have the right amount of fine but resilient branches for the job.  In Nova Scotia according to Peter Barrs and Joleen Gordon in “Older Ways Traditional Nova Scotian Craftsmen” (ISBN0-442-29628-2) there used to be a tradition of ‘sheen brooms’ made from a single pole of yellow birch where, instead of the branches being used as the brush head, the wood is peeled away in layers or ‘sheens’ to create the brush fibres, leaving the unpeeled part as the handle.

Technically speaking  the ‘Anne Marie special’ is more correctly a ‘swale’ as it does not have a separate handle, this I discovered in the excellent ” Encyclopedia of Green Wood Working” by Ray Tabor (ISBN 1-899233-07-5)

Of course, there are plenty of home made simple plant fibre brooms besoms and swales still being made and used all over the world but, it is rare now in northern Europe to find a person under retirement age who would think of making one for themselves, rather than spend their hard earned money buying something that will inevitably make someone higher up the food chain rich on the profit.

A plastic leaf rake costs about 20€ in my local ‘garden centre’. Manufactured in China from planet munching materials it has probably been shipped to Europe on an ocean going skyscraper of metal boxes and I would need to work for at least an hour and a half (on the average French take home pay) to earn enough to buy one. Anne Marie thinks her swale does a superb job and it only took her about 15 minutes to cut the twigs from her hedgerow and bundle them with used baler twine which leaves her with a plus balance of 1 hour 15 minutes in her life account with which she can go and do something she really enjoys – which in her case is ironing!

Lois Walpole, Britain


Lois Walpole is of Anglo Scottish heritage and trained in Sculpture,  Basket Making and Design.

She works full time as an artist/basket maker taking part in and curating national and international exhibitions, working to commission, designing for production, teaching and writing.

She divides her time between the Shetland Islands and the Charente, in south west France, where her studio is based.

Her blog gives the latest about her teaching and exhibitions and is where she talks about the baskets and basket related things that she finds interesting, inspiring, infuriating and intriguing…

Her self imposed rules are “no materials purchased and basket making techniques employed wherever possible”.

Main Research Source