Ask Madelyn: What is Barleycorn?

Dear Madelyn,

I like weaving tweed for clothing and have just bought some yarn from a mill on the Scottish island of Lewis: the local weavers (on foot-pedal Hattersley looms) weave a pattern they call Barleycorn, which I think is an 8-shaft twill variant of some sort. If you know of this pattern, could you possibly send me the threading and treadling draft for it, please?

Best wishes from Scotland,

Hi Derek!
I’m thinking that what the Scottish are calling Barleycorn is not the same thing that we have been calling Barley Corn here (theirs must be a name for a specific twill pattern). The greatest number of words I can find in weaving literature about barley corn are in Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, page 83. She really doesn’t talk about its structural characteristics, but gives examples on the eight following pages of drafts that have been labeled Barley Corn in early sources (Weaver Rose, for example). She attributes its origin to Germany. She also points out that Mary M. Atwater calls the same drafts Bronson. The threading drafts Davison gives for barley corn are almost all Spot Bronson threadings.

Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles (Dr. Isabel B. Wingate, 6th edition; New York: Fairchild Publications, 1979, pp. 47–48) calls “Barley Corn or Barlicorn: a class of small figured basket weaves with a geometric appearance. The warp and filling are distributed regularly; the ground weave binds the warp and filling firmly without affecting the appearance of the basket weave.” (I’m not sure how to interpret all that.)

The treadling drafts for the threadings in Davison seem to fall into two categories: in the most common one, there is a tabby weft and a contrasting pattern weft. In the other, a single weft is used, as there would be for huck texture or Spot Bronson, but in a contrasting color to the warp (these drafts happen to have German names, such as the example shown here).


My guess is that the 8-shaft twill mentioned in Scotland is not at all related. Do check out Davison to see what I mean and let me know if you find a source a barley corn that is different from those in Davison.

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