knot knot

Making Celtic Knots (double strands)

When looking at Celtic knots on the Manx crosses in the Isle of Man, I found that some of them were double stranded. I enjoyed copying the patterns and assumed that these double patterns would be harder. To my surprise I found them much easier to draw. In fact I wondered if the original craftsmen had discovered this too!

You start by drawing the centre line (between the two strands). Draw a weaving pattern with a single line, with BIG gaps in the right places. Then you can draw in the strands on either side of the central line. You then neaten up the lines where they cross, and finish off any edges. You can do this without any measurement, or guide lines, or rubbing anything out.
Draw lines with staggered gaps
Draw the lines the other way to make a weaving pattern
Draw lines either side to mark the two stands
Do this for all strands
Extend the lines to meet each other
Join the ends as you wish
Here is an action replay of that! knot
In this method, colour isn't necessary, although of course you can colour them in as you wish. When carving patterns on stone crosses, you wouldn't use colour, so perhaps this is why this design of multiple strands appear on stone crosses. It's an attractive design, and the illuminated manuscripts sometimes use it, or use a line of dots down the centre of the single strand.

knot If you made a very loose pattern to begin with, with very big gaps, you can make a four-stranded design with two strands either side of the central line. On the left, there is a four-stranded knot which is tilted (click here for how to do this). To get three strands, however, you would need to start with a central strand, and add one either side.

knot knot One advantage of a Celtic knot with more than one strand is that you can make a very close knot, without any gap between the strings. If you only have one strand, a close knot produces squares in the middle of the knot, with no clue as to their direction (see left). The double strands overcome this problem (see right). I still think that a small gap improves the look of the design! The older designs on the Celtic crosses tend to have little or no gap, but the more flowing designs in illuminated manuscripts often have wide gaps, or different width lines.

knot knot Usually where the double strands cross, you get one pair of strands passing over the other (see left). However, it is possible to weave the pairs of strands together (see right). You wouldn't necessarily want to do this for all crossings, but you might use it for the central crossing.

knot However, many of the manuscripts which use double strands treat each strand separately for all crossings. The advantage of this is that then the central line does not get interrupted (see red lines, right). So you can draw the whole pattern with a line which crosses itself. Then you can draw in the lines either side with gaps, making the interleaving.

If you try to draw a Celtic knot with a single strand, the first line you draw must become one edge of the strand. When you draw the other edge, the whole pattern tends to become lop-sided. It's much easier to draw the centre of the strand, then edges either sides. You could scratch the centre of the strand very lightly on the stone, or even mark it with charcoal or washable paint, and remove it afterwards, leaving the edges of a single strand. (The equivalent on paper or a computer would be to draw the central line in, possibly in a different colour, then rub out out when no longer needed as a guideline.) However, I suspect that one craftsman decided to leave the central line in, so making two strands, and starting a fashion!

Other methods of drawing Celtic knots

Felt-tip pen method
Dots method
Copying Celtic knots
Celtic knots on computer

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© Jo Edkins 2003