Handmade Brooms

Originally posted October 28, 2012

Since the October weather took a turn toward cold, I haven’t been able to complete the mosaic pieces.  They’re wating for grout, but it has to be above 60 degrees F for the grout to cure right.  Also, my hands get cold and it’s really unpleasant to work outside with wet grout.  So, I’m going to show you the handmade brooms which are destined to hang on the Broom Rack.

handmade brooms


Two of my handmade brooms from Crystal Ridge Ranch. The bottom one has a handle made from Cedar wood which has been cleaned up with a Dremel tool, sanded smooth, and with a Tung Oil finish.  The top broom handle was what I call “Desert Driftwood.”  It is a branch from either Rabbitbrush, Three Leaf Sumac, or Mountain Mohagany.  When I find the branches on the ground, I can’t always tell where it came from.  It is gray, twisted, and has a crumbling surface which has to be removed with the Dremel to reveal the beautiful, durable wood underneath.

desert driftwood

Here is a wheelbarrow full of Desert Driftwood. There are potential broom handles, basket handles, and hangers for tapestries in this collection.

dried desert wood


Here’s a closeup shot of one of the pieces of wood before it’s cleaned up with the Dremel.

sanded, oiled desert driftwood

A similar piece after it’s been cleaned and sanded and oiled.  Each piece is unique.

desert driftwood rabbitbrush







This one was definitely Rabbitbrush.  It is covered with a fibrous bark when I find it, and as I peel it away and begin cleaning with the burr bit on the Dremel, I always reveal beautiful twist and depth in the Rabbitbrush wood.

desert driftwood cholla root


This is the root of a Cholla Cactus branch.  In the background is another piece, much redder, which is probably Mountain Mohagany, and in the foreground is a bit of the  Rabbitbrush. You can see differences in their color and grain, but they all have in common the struggle to grow in a harsh desert environment.

twisted wood branches







All of these are second class candidates for broom handles because  of the curve in them, or a weakness somewhere on them.  They will probably become the  supporting branch to hang a tapestry or silk painting piece instead.

broomcorn for homemade brooms


This picture shows me sorting the broomcorn by the length of their tassels.  I grew these on the ranch, with a real bumper crop in the garden a couple of years ago.  The sweet corn hardly grew that year during an exceptionally hot, dry summer, but broom corn thrived. Each broom gets 9 – 21 sticks, with the length of their tassels carefully chosen for consistent length appropriate for the length and thickness of the handle.  The seeds can be stripped for a functional broom, but I love the look of them on these.  It is up  to the user to determine if they want to use the broom as pure decoration, in a ceremonial manner, or as a functional tool.  I make them durable enough for use.

handmade brooms

A collection of brooms, finished and waiting for their Broom Rack to be finished for display at the store!  The weather is supposed to get better later this week, so I should be able to finish the grout.

Grouting the Mosaic

Originally posted November 1, 2012

mosaic before grouting


I generally re- use old water jugs as much as possible. They make ideal tools for messy grout work in small batches like this. I cut the top off to use as a scoop or spatula, while using the base for mixing the grout, or containing plain water which I use for cleaning tools, wiping grout off the tessarae, or thinning grout.

mosaic grouting


Because this is such a highly textured mosaic, the grout needs to be very runny. For some pieces, it can be as thick as peanut butter. In this case, it’s more like honey in consistancy.   It runs into the cracks and does a good job of filling in gaps.

grout on mosaic sculpture


The grout has been wiped down with a damp sponge, which pushes the grout into cracks, smooths its surface, and reveals the surface of the tessarae. That’s the fancy name for the little pieces of rock or tile or glass in the mosaic.  Because this is so deeply textured and uneven on the surface, I have to be very careful with the sponge in order to avoid knocking pieces off.

mosaic sculpture


Just a little more wiping to get the grout off the surface of the limestone, and the grouting is done on this piece.

tree and mosaic sculpture


The finished Broom Rack, by moonlight and car light.  I’ll wipe the surface of the mosaic again tomorrow, to get the grout haze off.  Because this will be used inside, the final step will be to add some felt to the bottom. Then, I’ll take it to the store to display the brooms!

New Project

Originally posted November 4, 2012  (This project was not completed. I hope to return to it if life gets a little more settled.)

Juniper table base


It doesn’t look like much right now, but I see a really amazing coffee table here.  The light patch is where I started to sand it, to make certain that the wood underneath was solid and durable.  Not only is it solid, but it is amazingly beautiful!  I found this Cedarwood stump up on the bluff and it followed me home to play.

cedar wood natural rough


This shows how rough the wood is.  There’s no telling how long it’s been baking in the hot high desert sun.  As usual, I only take wood that is already dead. Cowboys had no such qualms, though.  Many of the branches or trunks that I find on the bluff were cut down many, many years ago by cowboys searching for fenceposts.   I don’t know how long ago that was, but old steel cans and crockery at their campsites tell me that it was not very recent!

cedar wood partly sanded


Here we’re starting to see the beautiful golden red wood that was hidden underneath all that gray weathered surface.

juniper wood


Closeup of the wood that’s revealing its potential.  There is so much color and grain in this wood!  I can’t wait to see it sanded completely and finished with a clear coat.


My plans for the coffee table include a mosaic base, with a lot of the tessarae coming up onto the wood.  There are a number of cavities in the wood that are inviting some special decoration.  After the concrete for the base is cured, I’ll slice the top branches off evenly to hold a coffee table glass top.  I’m really excited about this project.

calcite crystals naturally occurring in septarian concretion

This has nothing to do with the coffee table project, but I saw it up on the bluff today.  These are calcite crystals in a septarian concretion.  It’s sort of an all sedimentary geode that we have a lot of on the ranch.

This is my  Great Pyrenees who guards my sheep and goats.  He wishes I did all my projects outside with him.  I wish he could come inside without being a bull in a china shop!  He is such a lover. A big, clumsy lover.

(note: as of the time I reposted this blog on a different host, he has adjusted to being an in town dog in a small house. I think he’s adjusted better than mom!)

Lamp Base

Originally posted November 8, 2012

Colorado sunset


The sunset tonight while I was sanding another piece of “desert driftwood.”

sanded woodsanded desert driftwood


Doesn’t look like much now, but it’s going to be a lamp base.  This is cleaned and sanded, but not oiled.

sanded oiled wood sanded oiled desert driftwood

What a difference a little oil can make in dry wood!  This is only the first coat of tung oil.  I didn’t make much effort to get it into the crevasses yet. I’ll do another coat or two tomorrow, and drill holes for the wiring.

Fall Tone Beads



Originally posted November 11, 2012polymer clay swirl beads


The night before the election I hid from the political phone calls with an obsessive evening of Pinterest browsing.  I was inspired to try a couple of techniques I found on this site:


Desiree has some really beautiful polymer clay work on her site, including some very well done how-to articles.  I just had to experiment with her Casablanca Bead technique, and her Swirl Beads, and I had been wanting to play with fall tone metallic colors.

polymer clay casablanca beads


Casablanca beads.  It will take some practice to get them as stunning as the ones on Desiree’s site.  I’ll sand a couple of these again, and re-buff them.  Amazing how photographing can point out little flaws!

polymer clay swirl beads in autumn leaf tones


A string of swirl beads.  I know there is nothing “All Natural” about polymer clay, but I have loved working with it since I discovered it in the early ’90’s.  Some people paint to get their color fix.  I use polymer clay. There is something about creating with color that fills our need to imitate the  best of what we see in nature.

polymer clay bead watercolor technique


This is a technique I first learned at the Ravensdale Polymer Clay Conference years ago in a class taught by Maggie Maggio who pioneered the technique.  It’s usually referred to as “watercolor” and is generally done using less bold colors or even pastels.   I’m happy with these fall tones done this way, though.  The metallic clay makes a glow and depth that is a lovely contrast with the black and matte green.

polymer clay watercolor beadpolymer clay beads watercolor technique


It’s been too cold to be doing grout or tilework outside, and a sinus infection is telling me to stop with the sanding for a few days.  I’ll wear a coat and a better dust mask, and be back at it soon!  In the meantime, I plan to finish the rest of these Fall Tone Beads and string some of them with copper components and wirework.

Beginning to Say Goodbye



Originally posted January 1, 2013colorado sunset

Because of finances, I am forced to sell my ranch.  It tears my heart out to say goodbye to it, but I’m trying to let go.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some photos that may not have anything to do with what I’m making with my hands, but everything to do with decisions I’m making with my heart.

pinon tree killed by pine beetle

This venerable old pinon pine tree grew on the bluff, before drought and the pine beetles got to her.  Now she’s home to any small creatures who need old trees to hide in.

red rooster and silver lace hen chickens

A couple of my favorite chickens here on the ranch.

fairy home

Obviously a home for the faeries.

Colorado sunset

Sunset from home.

You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Dyed

This was originally posted January 3, 2013

dyed cotton thread the-spinning-wheel.com

As I clean and sort and decide what’s worth keeping and what is not, I find it irresistible to take ugly yarn that isn’t worth keeping and turn it into something that is.  These were pastel weaving yarns and crochet cotton purchased from a thrift store years ago.  I couldn’t resist the bargain, even though I hated the colors.

green dyed cotton thread the-spinning-wheel.com

The cotton crochet thread was vintage, probably 1970’s. The quality of the mercerized cotton from that period is noticeably better than what you can purchase now, with a sheen and smoothness you can no longer find.  It makes beautiful tatting thread, or scrumbling, or embroidery.

purple dyed cotton thread

The Rayon bouclweaving yarn was in a pastel peach.  It was a pleasant enough color, but I have never cared for pastels, and had to fix it!  (In the middle of the night.)  So I did some microwave dyeing and made color magic.

rayon cotton hand dyed thread

I dyed a small amount of silk, which I already started to braid for a kumihimo necklace cord.  It was in these shades of wine, which I find really appealing.

Now I can pack away these threads for another day, in another home.  Won’t I be happy when I open this box?  I didn’t get any sleep, but I gave myself a present last night.