A couple years ago I decided to try designing my own Celtic knotwork. After some internet searching I found a website that explained with step by step instructions how one can design knotwork by hand as well as how to use knotwork fonts to create different designs. At the time I didn’t have the money to buy a knotwork font, plus I didn’t want my knotwork to look as perfect as it would using a computer program to produce it. My intent was to transfer my designs onto wood and then paint them, and I wanted it to really look hand crafted. So I chose the hard way and learned to design knotwork by hand.
A while back I went searching for the website where I’d learned this new skill and was unable to find it. That got me thinking- what if someone else wants to learn to do this and the other "how to" sites out there don’t work for them like they didn’t work for me? So, I’ve decided to put up a "how to" of my own, including some of the shortcuts I’ve found and examples of ways you can play with the basics to make more than just square and rectangular knots.
But we’ll start with the basics. You will need graph paper, a pencil, and tracing paper. Once you have these things, here’s what you do:
First you take graph paper and lightly draw diamonds inside the squares that are already on the paper. You can draw them each inside individual squares if you want a small, tight design or you can draw diagonal lines in four separate squares to make larger diamonds which will produce larger, looser knots.
This is pretty easy to do for smaller designs, but can be a pain in the ass for bigger knots. Which is why I’ve used Microsoft Paint to make my own graph paper with the diamonds already printed in.
Creating the Paint file is also a pain in the ass, but you only have to do it once (or, until you get it right anyway) and then you can print as many pages as you want.
After you’ve got your diamonds, either drawn by hand or with the help of a computer, connect the points of the diamonds along the outside of the area of your knot.
Now comes the design part. You choose places inside the pattern of diamonds for there to be breaks. Breaks are added either vertically or horizontally between diamonds. The breaks ARE the knotwork. They’re the spots where the lines bend and loop, and if you choose bad breakpoints you’ll get a crappy knot. But it’s not hard to figure out through a little trial and error what will work and what won’t.
At this point, for the sake of showing variety, I’m going to add different breaks to each of the designs. By the end, the small design should look obviously different from the bigger design.
When your breaks have been added, take a pen or a marker or just bear down harder on your pencil and trace around all the lines of the diamonds, curving away from the breaks and picking the pattern back up at the next straight diagonal.
Once you have your design outlined, you need to flesh it out. In the instructions I used originally, this involved a bunch of erasing of the earlier, underlying lines. That didn’t work well for me though, so I incorporated tracing paper. Lay the tracing paper over your outline. It can be helpful to tape the tracing paper in place, but not always necessary. Then draw an outline of the design, following the lines along the outside of the design area. Do the same for the inside of each internal shape.
When you’re finished, you should have the fully formed shape of the design.
Now all you have to do is add the over/under markings. Choose a place to start on your design and connect a "string". Then follow that string throughout the design, alternately connecting the string you’re following and then connecting the next cross string so that it looks as though the string you’re following is weaving over and under the other strings.
When you’ve connected all the strings in their over/under pattern, your knotwork is done.
After you’ve got the basics down, you can experiment with different shapes.