By Meike de Nooy
As a short introduction I will tell you exactly what I want to show you in this article. First I’ll give you a short bit of history. Then I’ll show you how I go about a basic knot and how that is the beginning of a more complicated one. Also I’ll give you links to places on the net where they have approached it in a different way so you can find the most useful explanation to you.
The short history
The Celts dominated Mid and Western Europe for a thousand years. But it is only recently that the importance of Celtic influence on the cultural, linguistic and artistic development of Europe became acknowledged. The Celts as an identifiable race or ethnic group have long since disappeared, except in places such as Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. The Celts transmitted their culture orally, never writing down history or any other facts. This accounts for the extreme lack of knowledge about them prior to their contact with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.
They were generally well educated, particularly on topics such as religion, philosophy, geography and astronomy. The Romans often employed Celtic tutors for their sons. The bravery of the Celts in battle is legendary. They often spurned body armour, going naked into battle. Celtic society was typically more equal in terms of gender roles. Women were on more or less equal footing as men, being accomplished warriors, merchants and rulers.
Celtic knots or Celtic interlace are ornamental patterns that were primarily used to decorate Bible manuscripts, monuments (notably Celtic crosses and cross slabs) and jewellery. They probably were used in other media such as wood carving and textiles but these have not survived. Knot work tradition in manuscript painting possibly came to Ireland in the middle of the 7th century in manuscripts illuminated by Coptic monks from Egypt or Syria. From Ireland the style spread to Scotland, Wales, and Northumbria and, with missionaries of the Celtic Church to Europe. Viking raiders later appropriated some of the design concepts into a more chaotic style of animal interlace.
Celtic knots are complete loops with no end or beginning. Celtic animal interlace is similar in construction but the cords terminate in feet, heads, tails etc. The animal designs are very much influenced by older Saxon traditions of abstract beast forms that, when combined with the new more sophisticated knot work of the Celtic designers, became known as 'Hiberno-Saxon'. A good Celtic artist will never leave a loose end on a strand unless it is stylised into a zoomorphic element or spiral. Pure knots should always be unending.
Strictly speaking, a "Celtic cross" is not just any cross that has Celtic knot work on it. Celtic crosses are, in fact, much older than Christianity. They are equal-armed crosses, enclosed or backed by a circle. The cross can symbolize the four quarters of the earth, and/or the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). The circle is a symbol of eternity and the path of the sun in the sky. After the introduction of Christianity, it became more common to see the equal-armed cross atop a matching pedestal, which gave it a more elongated form.
Pentacles are composed of a five-point star enclosed within a circle. Pentacles can be variously interpreted as representing the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and spirit), or the five stages of Life (birth, youth, adulthood, old age, and death). In both cases, the path used to trace the star shape symbolizes the continuity and connection between the extremes. The pentacle is often used as a symbol of faith by Pagans, and particularly by Wicca’s.
When you start a knot that will become either circular or square or at least the same length on all sides you start in the middle. From there you’ll work towards the outside until you are satisfied with the knot you have made. When you draw a knot, there are some basic rules that you have to stick to. I’ve given them below. After that I promise I’ll cut the crap and get to the fun part. The actual knotting.
The cords or lines of a knot work are woven in such a way that cord intersections alternate between "overs" and "unders". In rare cases, you may see two “overs” or two “unders” in a row on a pattern that can not be drawn the correct way, but these are rare.
Uniform cord width:
The cords of the knot work design maintain a consistent width. However, if the knot work makes a transition into some other pattern or decoration, you may see some variation in cord width during the transition. Also some patterns consist of two different loops that have different width.
Knot work is intended for use along borders or to fill space; (that’s what they say on the net, in your case it might be the object your art is evolving around or the only thing on your white page.) therefore, it is a small pattern, repeated over and over. Knot work that does not follow a repeating pattern tends to look like a bowl of spaghetti.
The best examples of knot work are single, continuous cords that turn back on them self rather than several intertwined cords. Some patterns require two or more cords, but ideally a single strand should be used. In my examples you will see that I start with what at first hand seem to be several cords but in the end will always be one continues string.
When a cord turns back on itself, the turning point is generally spade-shaped, not U-shaped. That is, if you want it to be a Celtic knot according to Celtic knotting rules. I myself have a tendency to the U-shape but I suppose that is due to the fact that I’ve drawn Celtic knots before I’ve ever heard of their existence.
Lets Draw Celtic Knots
This is the most basic start for a cross.
These are based on the shapes drawn beneath.
These are based on the small shape inside: triangle, square, or pentagram
I don’t know if that is too big a step at once so I’ll show how from one of those basic shapes you can work out to form your basic knot.
Now, to show you how to finish a simple knot and make the several lines into one line all you have to do is connect the outer lines.
If you do want a bigger, more complicated knot you obviously don’t tie the ends together, you move on. It comes down to the fact that there are only two rules now.
Whatever you do to one end of the knot, make sure all the other ends do the same. So for example: If one end makes a bend to the right, so do all the others
A strand that has just been “over” always needs to go under next. If this works out for one strand usually all the others will follow without you looking at them as they cross under and over the one you have just tended to. If you find that this is not an option because if you follow this rule for one strand, the other will not live up to it, then it is likely you made a mistake earlier in the pattern, so I suggest you trace back.
Now I will show you the procedure of a knot that I made:
- The basic centre where two strands move towards each other. You’ll have to make sure that you do the same on each side before you move on.
- When the two strands cross you don’t have to worry yet about whether which strand has to go up or down. Just make them cross so a little square forms in the middle (I marked the little square with dotted lines as later on you will erase two of them and make the other two thicker.)
- Here I show the same spot but how (after you’ve made all sides the same) you can see which line goes over and which goes under.
This is how it should look like after you erased the lines you didn’t know (Yes the eraser is your dearest friend!)
- This is where I decided what to do next with the strand. It turns into a loop…
- Where I formed the loop and gave the loop a point as is a rule for real Celtic knots as the strand turned back on it self. Now I make every side the same. (If you have trouble knowing which strand to use after you’ve done the first one it might help toturn the paper so that the part you’re working on is always on the top. This way left and right will stay the same.)
- Here with the use of arrows I again show you how to see what line goes up and what line goes down (Trust me, after some practice this goes without thinking too)
- This is how it should look after you’re done.
- The next piece of strand I decided to lead through the loop I just created With arrows as I think you all are getting the hang of it now. (Of course you could also make it turn in the other direction and make it interact with the knot on the other side. Choices, Choices!)
- Is the final thing after you lead the strand through the loop and erased the lines you didn’t need.
- Seems to be the next step on the next drawing (sorry I’m human too) Wemove on to make the strands entwine in some direction.
- Is the pattern continued again with lines to show what goes under and what goes on top.
- Is the pattern of step 11 worked out.
- Is the next step where I decided to give my cross one last twist even though I could have ended my cross here, by attaching the two ends in step 12 together. (I must admit that I’m fed up with it as I’ve never redrawn any cross more than once!)
That’s how the strands look all tied together and all. Now finish the other three sides in the same way and you will have drawn a perfect cross. It is one line, you can check that!
I do these by hand with pencil and loads of eraser. Some of you may not be as confident in making every side symmetrical on plane white paper so it might be handy to use chequered paper. That way you can detect what the other strands do and how far away they are from the centre. When you do it on white paper you will find nothing is ever symmetrical but you’re always close to it and you can adjust it by making strands a little longer or shorter or bending them a little more, whatever it needs.
This one for example is symmetrical at least, that’s what it look like. Go ahead and compare some parts which should be similar (especially pay attention to the empty (in-between) spaces. In the end it is symmetrical but only because you keep adjusting the strands so that they fit. This is something you don’t think about when you use gritted paper.
If you have decided that you are confident in making knots it is also possible to make them into shapes. The basics are the same. You start in the middle and you work towards the outside. Only now you fit it onto the shape you have drawn beforehand. This takes a lot of adjusting, but you’ll see that it works in the same way as when working on plain paper. Here, I first drew the shape of the moon and then started filling it in, starting in the middle working towards the outsides. When you’re done you can put whatever you want to around it, or on to, in this case.
I often ink these knots with black Indian ink so I can erase all the pencil lines. It gives it a clean look and allows for easier colouring afterwards.
If you want to make a border to a page I suggest you use the same way as I used for the moon. Mark the space you want to fill and start filling it inside to outside. If you want to try another way (i.e.: start at one side, using dots as a guiding hand) visit this page, as it has been explained very detailed and it seems senseless for me to go over it again if you can just as well read it there. If you get very desperate you might also try their computer knotting which they suggest to you on the bottom of the page.
If you want to try another way of drawing Celtic knots because either you don’t like mine or don’t understand my explanation you can go here:
(You could also ask me to explain again)
If you want to know the meaning to Celtic knots or are interested in the animal knots this site will not let you down!
If there is anything you still want to know about the knotting as I explained it or think you need more information to accomplish a knot please leave a comment. If you feel you think something should be added you are welcome to tell me as well. I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m bound to have missed out on things.
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Let the therapeutic power of Celtic art enter your world. Follow the ever-changing directional flow of the spiral as you reflect on the experiences of life, death and rebirth. Reproduce intricate knotwork designs as the past, present, and future commingle into an endless tapestry of life. Dozens of patterns some adapted from manuscripts and stone crosses, others from rough sketches that are gradually refined are presented in a workbook format by an acclaimed Celtic artist
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