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Variations of the field

In heraldry, variations of the field are any of a number of ways that a field (or a charge) may be covered with a pattern, rather than a flat tincture or a simple division of the field.

Table of contents
1 Patterning with ordinaries and subordinaries
2 Semé
3 Masoned
4 Diapering

Patterning with ordinaries and subordinaries

The diminutives of the ordinaries are frequently employed to vary the field.

When the field is patterned with either six or eight horizontal (fesswise) stripes, this is described as barry of six or eight, with the colour and metal specified, e.g. barry of six argent and gules (this implies that the chiefmost piece is argent). With ten or more pieces, the field is described as barruly.

Composed of pallets, the field is paly; of bendlets and bendlets sinister, bendy and bendy sinister; of chevronels, chevronny.

Note that the number of pieces is always even. A field divided into thirteen vertical stripes, alternating argent and gules, would not be paly of thirteen, argent and gules, but argent, six pallets gules. (This is the lower portion of the shield on the Great Seal of the United States of America; however, the incorrect blazon is usually used anyway, to preserve the reference to the thirteen original colonies.)

If no number of pieces is specified, it may be left up to the heraldic artist (but is still an even number).

When the shield is divided by lines both palewise and bendwise, with the pieces coloured alternately like a chess board, this is paly-bendy (there is a well-known example of paly-bendy lozengy on the flag of Maryland -- see below for more information on lozengy); if the diagonal lines are reversed, paly-bendy sinister; if horizontal rather than vertical lines are used, barry-bendy; and mutatis mutandis, barry-bendy sinister.

When the shield is divided by both bendwise and bendwise-sinister lines, creating a field of lozenges (again coloured like a chessboard), the result is lozengy. Lozengy in the field must be distinguished from an ordinary such as a bend which is blazoned of one tincture and called "lozengy"; this means that the ordinary is entirely composed of lozenges. A field masculy is composed entirely of mascules; that is, lozenges pierced with a lozenge shape -- this creates a solid fretwork surface and is to be distinguished from a field fretty, composed of bendlets and bendlets-sinister, interleaved over one another to give the impression of a trellis. (The bendlets and bendlets sinister can, in extremely rare cases like the arms of David Robert Wooten, in which they are raguly, be other than straight. Objects can be placed in the position of the bendlets and bendlets sinister and described as "fretty of," as in the arms of the Muine Bheag Town Commissioners: "Party per fess or fretty of blackthorn branches leaves proper and ermine, a fess wavy azure"[1]. Square fretty is the same as fretty, but it is composed of barrulets and pallets.[1][These are not, strictly speaking, variations of the field, since they is depicted as being on the field rather than in it.] Other similar situations are the field pappellony, showing an overlay of a pattern like the wings of a butterfly.[1]) and the Italian term "'squamoso' (akin to the French term 'ecaille' meaning 'scaly')"[1]. The town of Vilani, in Latvia, has part of its field honeycombed.[1] A field fusilly can be very difficult to distinguish from a field lozengy (in early days no clear distinction was made between lozenges and fusils); the fusil is supposed to be proportionately narrower than the lozenge, and the bendwise and bendwise-sinister lines are therefore more steeply sloped.

When divided by palewise and fesswise lines, the field is chequy. The number of chequers is generally indeterminate, but in the arms of Toledo, fifteen are specified. James Parker cites the French term equipolle to mean chequy of nine, though mentions that this is identical to a cross quarter-pierced. He also gives the arms of Prospect as an unusual example of chequy, "Chequy in perspective argent and sable"[1] [The arms of David Lawrence Charles Hunt] show that every chequer of one tincture can be charged with a particular charge.

Any of these patterns may be counterchanged by the addition of a division line; for example, barry argent and azure, counterchanged per fess or checquy Or and gules, counterchanged per chevron.

A shield that is divided quarterly and per saltire, forming eight triangular pieces, is gyronny; the first tincture in the blazon is that of the triange in dexter chief. Gyronny can also have more pieces than eight. While the gyrons of gyronny almost invariably meet in the fess point (the exact centre of the shield) the arms of the University of Zululand are an unusual example of gyronny meeting in the nombril point (a point on the shield midway between the fess point and the base point).

Any of the division lines composing the variations of the field above may be blazoned with one of the different line shapes; e.g. paly nebuly of six, Or and sable. One very common use of this is barry wavy azure and argent; this is used to represent, and may be blazoned as, waves of the sea proper.


When the field (or a charge) is described as semé of a sub-ordinary or other charge, it is depicted as being strewn over with many copies of that charge.

To avoid confusion with a simple use of a large number of the same charge (e.g. Azure, fifteen fleurs-de-lis Or), the charges semé are depicted cut off at the edge of the field.

Most small charges can be depicted as semé, e.g. semé of roses, semé of estoiles, and so forth. In English heraldry, several types of small charges have special terms to refer to their state as semé:

When a field semé is of a metal, the charges strewn on it must be of a colour, and vice versa. The charges semé do not affect the tinctures available for the major charges: they follow the rule of tincture just as they would if the field were not semé.

The heraldic furs of the ermine family appear to be semé of the "ermine dots," but they are not counted as such.


A field may be masoned; that is, it may show a pattern like that of a masonry or brick wall. This can be "proper" or of a colour; if of a colour this is blazoned with the colour of the stones first, then the colour of the cracks between the stones, e.g. Argent masoned sable. Ordinaries may also be masoned.


Diapering (covering areas of flat colour with a tracery design when depicting arms) is not considered a variation of the field; it is not specified in blazon, being a decision of the individual artist. A coat depicted with diapering is considered the same as a coat drawn from the same blazon but depicted without diapering.