The stories attached to John Barleycorn are many and varied but all contain some common elements. John Barleycorn is the spirit, or the god of the corn and each year he must die by being cut down. He then suffers horrible indignities; being bound, thrashed, ground, mashed, burnt and boiled to make bread, beer or brandywine. The next year, when the sun starts to warm the soil, he springs up and the cycle starts again. The grain harvest was life and death to people in olden times and there were regional rites and customs to pay homage to the spirit of the corn. Occasionally, a sacrifice would be required and this might be an animal, or possibly an unwary stranger would come by just at the right time. It would not do to sacrifice a villager, as that would mean losing a worker.
The background fabric, made from scraps of fleece fabric and wool tops (roving) needlefelted on to a piece of ecofelt then machine quilted, represents the stubble and the soil.