Vasyl Hudz making brooms at his workshop set up in the backyard. Source: Ukraїner
Sown in spring and harvested in late summer, millet, which is used for making the brooms, “feeds” the villages for the whole year. Everyone weaves wicker brooms here: children, youth, adults, and seniors. Just half a century ago, wicker brooms manufactured in Podillia were sold all over the Soviet Union. Nowadays, they are mostly made for the Ukrainian market.
Technology and history of manufacturing
Brooms are mostly made of millet or sorghum stems. This crop grows well in local soils, so the harvest is abundant.
The broom-making process starts long before the craftsman sits down to weave it. To start, millet is sown at the end of April or beginning of May. Millet is cut, dried, put in yaskas (hammocks for carrying millet), and brought home. The next step is to clean out the seeds. It takes about a month to process millet harvested from one hectare, and in the end about 2,000 brooms are made of it. Millet stems are bound together and put in three bundles, and only after that actual weaving of the broom starts.
It usually takes an experienced craftsman just five minutes to weave one broom. However, everything depends on the person and his or her temperament and work speed.
The broom is tied with a special rope — it is handmade especially for this. Gift brooms are also decorated with golden ribbon above the rope. Smaller brooms serve as amulets at home.
Vasyl Hudz from the village Vilshanka has been weaving brooms since he was little. He remembers his parents promising to give him a coin or to let him go play if he cleaned the proso millet. Later, boys themselves started competing in their craftsmanship: the one who would make the most bundles became cooler than the others. His parents and grandparents wove brooms, and most likely his children will weave, too:
Willy-nilly, you have to weave, as you need something to live on.
Vasyl has a workshop set up in his backyard. The machine for weaving brooms has a special opening for millet. Millet is compressed under pressure, and it shrinks. Tied to the tree, there are ropes for winding the broom and ribbons for the gift brooms. He says August is the most difficult time for a broom weaver. It is the time to harvest millet, cut it, put it in piles, and clean it. Now and then they work from morning until night to get everything done in time.
Mykola Shpytko from the village Osychky explains how they started making brooms after World War II. It was back then that they sowed millet for the first time and weaved the first broom. In the 1960s, when ice cream cost 14 kopecks, getting five extra kopecks for a broom was not at all a bad side job. During Soviet Union times, Mykola’s father went to other cities to sell brooms. Brooms were mostly bought in Russian cities: Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), Bryansk, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and Moscow.
Today, there are tools for weaving brooms in every yard in Osychky. Almost nothing has changed in broom weaving technology in the last half-century. Mykola says he could weave 200 brooms a day when he was young, and nowadays about 50 on average.
Decorative brooms and magical amulets from herbs
Vira Shpytko from the village Osychky has been making brooms for many years. She calls herself an entrepreneur — she took her products to the city of Odesa and had her own business. Today she brings handmade amulets to Odesa. She weaves various compositions, in which each component has its own purpose.
This is the deity who protects the house. Here we see rye, wheat, and oat — to bring the whole family together for festivities. The deity takes all the negative energy in. She comes without eyes – that is done so on purpose.
In mid-August Vira goes to collect herbs: rye, wheat, saffron, oregano, musk, and yarrow. She dries herbs at first and then weaves braids with them. All decor elements are cast from plaster and painted. She says the tradition is coming back now. There is a special demand for the compositions of houses. So she makes roofs from reed and tiny stones by the entrance from peppers.
For locals, weaving brooms is an additional income and a family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. They weave during the week and come to sell at the Savran market on Thursdays. It opens at seven in the morning, and visitors have to buy everything they have come for in less than an hour, or they will run out of time. The market closes very quickly. Wicker brooms are not sold by the piece but in packs of 50.