What is Herringbone?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “herringbone” is used to refer to a distinctive pattern which appears in masonry, clothing design, and parquetry. The pattern has been used for hundreds of years, especially in Europe. It can be difficult to make the elements of a herringbone pattern line up. As a result, creating things with a herringbone pattern is usually limited to skilled craftsmen if the pattern has to be created entirely by hand. The advent of modular systems for things like brickwork and flooring has made herringbone easier, and therefore more common.

A twill weave.
A twill weave.

The pattern consists of very short rows of slanted parallel lines. The rows are oriented in opposition to each other, causing the slanted lines to form a dense pattern of chevrons, with each slant meeting up at the end with a slant going in the opposite direction. The pattern is named for the herring fish, which is famous for being rather densely bony. Depending on personal taste, a herringbone pattern may be made with different colors or textures to make the lines stand out, or it may be left subtle and simple.

Clothing produced with a herringbone pattern is usually intended for use as an outer layer. Tweed, a fabric well known in England, is often produced with a herringbone pattern. Tweed is a coarse woolen cloth which is worn as an outer layer. The wool makes tweed highly insulating, and also resists water so that the garment can be worn outdoors for activities like hunting and shooting. Twill fabric is also produced with a herringbone pattern, in which the alternating lines are often ribbed, creating a raised pattern.

In parquetry, more casually known as flooring, herringbone patterns can be accomplished in wood, brick, and tile. Subtle alternating colors may be used to create a distinctive floor pattern, or the materials used may be the same, causing the floor to look uniform from a distance. Laying a herringbone floor is very challenging, since the multitude of small rows must be made to line up smoothly, which can be difficult in a room which is not perfectly plumb. Small mistakes in a herringbone floor can be rather glaring because of the way the pattern lines up, so care must be taken.

Masonry also utilizes herringbone, often as an accent pattern on the sides of buildings and other structures. A floor or outdoor walkway made from stone or brick may be made entirely from herringbone, or herringbone stripes may be integrated into other patterns. Just like with flooring, the rows must be carefully aligned to maintain the integrity of the pattern.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


"To herringbone" is also a common technique used in downhill skiing, when one must climb up a -- hopefully very short -- slope while wearing skis. The pattern made by the skis on the slope is a series of ascending interlocked "V"s: an exact herringbone pattern.


Your information is usually very accurate and informative. However, as a Fashion/Costume Designer, I must beg to differ! The term "Herringbone", in the world of fashion does not "appear in clothing design", it appears in textile or fabric design.

The fabrics/ textiles produced by using a herringbone pattern are in turn used as part of the materials to construct clothing in fashion design. I hope my attempt to share this knowledge is received with the best intentions in mind and will be utilized as such. Thank you for helping us to be, "Wiser Geeks"! Dennis


Herringbone is also the pattern made by a pair of skis when climbing uphill in the snow.

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