Ulser Scots linen-weaving dictionary

Ulster Scots, a linen-weaving dictionary

Part of a series on Ulster Scots across LCCC to mark Ulster Scots Language Week, 2020.

As Scottish immigrants moved into Ulster throughout the 17th century, they brought ‘distinctive’ Scots speech, spelling, vocabulary and grammar. Over 400 years later, the rich heritage of this marriage is known as Ulster Scots.   The language has gone through a series of revivals, notably in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Poetry and literature is perhaps the most significant legacy of Ulster Scots.  For example, John Hewitt’s 1974 Rhyming Weavers and other country poets of Antrim and Down, identified a body of unique, vernacular style of poetry native to Ulster, and in particular the east of the province.  As Hewitt notes, from their poems ‘we may learn a great deal about rural society and its structure’.  These poets are the Rhyming Weavers, even if weaving was only a sideline, and the name they adopted reflects the fact that the linen industry was a staple of economic life in Ulster.

To reflect the close relationship between the linen industry, life in 18th and 19th-century Ulster, and the Ulster Scots tradition, the Museum has drawn together a dictionary of Ullan-linen terms. This list is not exhaustive, and if you would like to contribute please email ilc.reception@lisburncastlereagh.gov.uk

In Column one we have the Ulster-Scots term, its meaning in column two and the source in column three.  A full bibliography can be found below.

Video: the rhythm of the loom, our master weavers at work in the Museum’s Weaving Workshop

Ulsters-ScotsDefinitionSource
Breakin’ScutchingHewitt
ClaithClothFenton
Clovin’Breaking of flax straw pror to scuthcing.Hewitt; DSL
CrabbitDifficult to handle threads, not smoothHewitt
CroppinsWasted weftHewitt
DofferDoffer, sb. a girl who doffs, i.e. takes off the full bobbins from the spinning frames. The doffers are the youngest girls employed in flax spinning-mills.Patterson
DreeperDraper
Flowans, Flouansthe light clinging dust in a flax-scutching mill; small fragments of the flax stem.Patterson
HanksMeasure of spun yarnHewitt
HeckleHackle, combs for dressing flaxHewitt
Keel manThe term for a class of illiterate buyers, who used to attend the country linen markets. When one of them purchased a web of brown hand-loom linen, he marked with a piece of ‘keel,’ on the outside lap, some obscure characters, which were to the keel man a record of the cost price, &c.Patterson
KieveTub or vat for holding bleach
LeaLea, sb. a measure of linen yarnPatterson
LineDressed flaxPatterson
LintFlaxHewitt; DSL
PirnsBobbins or spools for the shuttleHewitt
QueelQuillHewitt
ReelNewly spun yarn on a wheelHewitt
RetSteep flaxPatterson
RippleTake the seed off flaxPatterson
RockDistaffHewitt
Sarkinga coarse kind of linen;Patterson
Shows, Shoughs, Shives,flax refusePatterson
SlaysPart of a loomHewitt
SliverFlax in process of being spun by machinery is drawn out into a ribbon or long lock before it is twisted: this lock is called sliver.Patterson
SpangleFour hanksHewitt
Spirita mildew or disease to which growing flax is subject.Patterson
SpitAxis of a spinning wheelHewitt
SprigSprig, v. to embroider muslin or linen.Patterson
Stricka small handful of flax fibre. (2) v. to arrange flax which has passed through the rollers, for the scutchers, so as to make it as even as possible.Patterson
Tap o’ towTap o’ tow. Flax or tow placed on the ‘rock’ of a spinning-wheel, which if set on fire, would be all ablaze in an instant. Hence the saying — ‘He went aff like a tap o’ tow,’ meaning he got into a flaming passion in an instant.Patterson
Tenderedmade tender, as linen sometimes is in ‘the bleach.’ ‘The fibre (of flax) tendered by excess of moisture.’Patterson
Thruma threepence. A commission of three pence per stone on flax, paid by a flax buyer to a person who brings the buyer and seller together in open market.Patterson
TwittyClumsily-spun threadsHewitt
WabWebHewitt
WabsterWeaverHewitt
Waling GlassCounting glassPatterson
WarpYarn attached to the beam of a loom; interlaced with the weft.Hewitt
WebberLinen buyerPatterson

Sources

John Hewitt, Rhyming Weavers and other country poets of Antrim and Down (1974)

James Fenton, The Hamely Tongue, a personal record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim, Fourth Edition

Dictionary of Scot Language (DSL)

William Patterson, A Glossary of Words and Phrases used in Antrim and Down, (1880)