Celtic Knotwork

Distributed in the United States by Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. 387 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10016^8810

Printed at Oriental Press, Dubai, UAE


Introduction 7

How to draw Celtic knotwork (in under an hour) 10


The lines 14

Square sections 18

Crossovers 19

Drawing knots 20

The three rules 23

Smoothing the curves 25

Horizontal knotwork 28

Vertical knotwork 34

Names and numbers 39

A sidenote 43

Freehand/shorthand 44

Non-rectilinear areas (strange shapes) 47

DecQrating the knots 53

Where to draw the line - and how 56


Charted patterns 61

The sections 62


Sourcebook 164 PART 4

Appendix 1 The Sections 178

Appendix 2 Grids 182

Appendix 3 Writing with knots 187

Index 191


This book is for the novice who wants to be able to draw knotwork in the Celtic style without months of practice. It is hoped that you will be able to doodle Celtic knots within a very short space of time. Those who have studied the traditional methods for several years can do so, but most of us just do not have the time to dedicate to an all-absorbing hobby, so can only dream of such things.

This method is designed to be as basic as possible, while still giving the groundwork of the complexities of knotwork. After all, you only have to draw nine very simple shapes to do all regular knotwork, and once you have grasped these, irregular knotwork is almost as easy. If you can draw the grid, you can draw a knot to fit it. I have tried to keep the instructions as simple as possible, though as has been said 'the simpler an idea the harder it is to describe simply', so if there is a part (or parts) that you can not follow, just try drawing it and you should soon see what it is all about.

This book is not intended to be a manual on how to recreate Celtic manuscript pages, it does not contain reproductions of ancient manuscripts to marvel at and make you wonder why you ever thought that you could do it; there are several very good books for that. It will not tell you the history and development of knotwork and make oblique references to the great Celtic civilisation which lasted two thousand years. It is not even intended to teach you how to draw knotwork the way the Celts did it. This is an all-new, simplified method which I believe is more appropriate to the needs of creators now.

Since the publication of George Bain's book Celtic Knotwork - the methods of construction, artists and craft workers have been exhorted to create new designs in this timeless art form. Unfortunately this has led to thousands (maybe millions) of copies of Mr Bain's drawings (often direct reproductions of his original images with his signature removed) and very few new designs. Even those who have pushed the limits a bit, though creating beautiful things, have tended to overlook the most basic rules of knotwork, such as the fact that the lines should go alternately over then under when crossing.

It has been said that knotwork is a visual language, and that once you understand the language you can invent new forms. The 99 sections in this book (pages 64-162) are maybe best seen as the letters of the alphabet of this language, and it is up to you to make up your own words and phrases using them. A word of warning: if you are thinking at any point of cataloguing all the different possible knots, say the border knots up to 5 by 5 sections large, think again. There are 3Z0 or 3,486,784,401 variations of a 5 by 5 border knot so, while it may be a worthy exercise, it would take more than a lifetime unless you use a computer, and the memory required would be absurd.

This method was, in fact, discovered while trying to write just such a program for a computer. It works, but is slow and rapidly becomes pointless for anything other than cataloguing the variations. A revised version, for the user to design their own knots, is now on the market. In this, each of the sections is a letter of the alphabet, so that regular knotwork will be able to be drawn in any program that uses type on any computer. It can then be printed out at any size required, making it possible at last to make knotwork as tiny and intricate as the ancient manuscripts. Irregular or freehand knotwork, however, is still the province of those with paper and pencil.

The discovery of a limited number of sections for all knotwork makes possible much more in terms of craftwork, the obvious being the creation of stencils. Using only about 30 stencil shapes, all regular knotwork can be drawn, thus enabling entire knotwork stencilled walls and floors to be completed.

I hope that this book will help you create perfect knotwork without the limits of a preconceived idea of what the final product should look like. This way knotwork can grow again, full of the life that it illustrates. And it need not stop with what is in this book, which concentrates mostly on the diagonal sections. Once you have played with these for a while, you can always play around with the other two-thirds of the variations - the horizontal and vertical sections. There are some interesting spirals there waiting to be done. Then there are the three-dimensional knots which can be extrapolated from the maths. And so on. Experiment and enjoy.

Celtic Knotwork Edge

How to draw Celtic knotwork

(in under an hour)

First, draw a square grid, with half-width squares down each side. At the corner of each square, lines go out either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

Where the corners meet, the lines must go in the same direction in all of the squares, so you draw double lines, like so:

Don't draw these bits.

So to draw a knot in your grid, draw one of these three shapes over each empty corner like

Then join the lines in the top left-hand corner of each square to the lines at the bottom right. Try to draw smooth curves and keep the lines the same distance apart all the way along:

When you have done this for all the squares, join the lines in the top right-hand corner to the lines in the bottom left-hand corner of each square. When your line meets one of the lines that you have already drawn, stop and start drawing from the other line, trying to keep the line smooth. This gives the 'over and under' of interlaced knotwork.

Don't draw these bits.

Now you try it, using the same corner pieces as in the example.





1 1 V

V H ^--



M4 _ *

1 1 ^








And now draw your very own knot. There are 531,441 possible variations of this shape, so there is a reasonable chance that you have created a knot that no one else has ever seen before, your own unique Celtic knot.

To find out how this method works, read on...








Drawing Knotwork Video

The lines

This method was devised in order to draw knotwork using square sections.

On cutting up traditional knots into squares, the lines all tend to leave the squares at roughly the corners.

The lines also tend to leave the sections in roughly one of three directions - diagonally, horizontally or vertically.

Each corner can join each of the other three corners, creating three more variations:

horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

The second line in each section, of course, joins the other two points:

Making this method as simple as possible means limiting the number of shapes that you need to draw to a minimum. Because there are three choices for each of the four corners, the number of variations is 35, which is a rather unhelpful 243. Luckily, the diagonal sections are by far the most commonly used, which gets rid of two-thirds of them, so the number of variations becomes 34, a much more manageable 81.

But that is not all, because each line can only, in the diagonal sections, join the opposite corner. This means that there are really only 32 different lines, and these are the nine simple shapes that you will need to be able to draw almost all Celtic knotwork.

The other two corners are joined by the same nine shapes reflected.

Diagonal Diagonal Diagonal Horizontal Diagonal Vertical Horizontal Diagonal Horizontal Horizontal Horizontal Vertical Vertical Diagonal Vertical Horizontal Vertical Vertical








Diagonal Diagonal Horizontal Diagonal Vertical Diagonal Diagonal Horizontal Horizontal Horizontal Vertical Horizontal Diagonal Vertical Horizontal Vertical Vertical Vertical

And if you look at these lines you can see that there are only really three different shapes to draw:

The other six lines are all just reflections or rotations of these three lines:

/rotateV /rotate^ /rotate^ /rowe^i


/rotateV /rotate^ /rotate^ /rowe^i



These are for the diagonal sections only. For the horizontal and vertical sections (which are just rotations of each other anyway), these are the nine basic shapes:

As you can see there are only six really different shapes here.


So, believe it or not, almost every possible Celtic knot (and there are an infinite number) can be drawn using only eight different shapes (a straight line is a straight line in all three sets). It's easy when you know how.

Width of the lines

Now the lines shouldn't touch each other (unless they are crossing), so the horizontals and verticals should come away from the corners to stop the lines touching when two sections meet. Also the width of the line in knotwork is important, so we must now move the line from the edge of the section and draw the outer edges of the line, rather than the centre line. So this... becomes this.

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  • Fre-Swera
    8 years ago

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