by Marilyn Anthony
Sisters Joy Johnston Howard and Beth Johnston launched Sistercraft in 2015 to bring “beauty and love into other people’s lives.” Their handmade brooms, blankets, quilts and afghans are symbols of a clean, warm home, but the pair also see their work as a way to push back against the cold and dark of the larger world.
The company motto says it all: “To craft—to seek authenticity, to step into a life that aligns with our values, to reach for a life that brings beauty to others—is to rebel against a culture that treats women as objects, that says workers are valueless, and that taints the good with the color of exploitation.”
Joy, 36, moved to West Philadelphia 10 years ago to teach American literature and history. Beth, 34, has a BFA in graphic industrial design and a day job as a designer. Before joining Joy last year, she had been studying traditional skills like basket weaving, blacksmithing and driving an oxen team, things she laughingly describes as being “super useful for life in the city.”
When Beth tried broom dashing two years ago, it was like finding a previously undiscovered part of herself. “Broom making is the craft that we’ve chosen—the other crafts chose us because of our family,” she says. Beth the “broom dasher” combines broomcorn, wood and leather into various brooms and potscrubbers that are Sistercraft’s most popular items. No two are exactly alike. Beth feels the brooms speak to their customers, much as the wands in Harry Potter chose their young wizards.
The sisters also handcraft blankets, quilts and afghans using a stitch their grandmother taught them. These items offer fresh examples of what Beth calls the “women-centric concept of what love can do.” The sisters recall the poignant beauty of their grandmother’s funeral, when family members filled the sanctuary with her quilts commemorating decades of life events.
Mia Barrett, whose company Cicada Leather produces broom straps for Sistercraft, feels “so much of craft started with necessity. … Brooms are things you use in your daily life, and Sistercraft infuses them with their personalities and their energy… I think that’s really beautiful.”