How To Design Celtic Knotwork By Hand

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.



51 thoughts on “How To Design Celtic Knotwork By Hand

  1. WOW what great work you do! I wish I was talented with the drawing, but my talents are alas left to stick figures. You are really making some lovely work there. Keep it up!

  2. @ Andrea- That’s the thing though, you don’t need much artistic talent for this, you just need to be able to draw straight and curved lines 🙂

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  5. Well done you!! I have always admired celtic knotwork, but have never done any. Do admire your tenacity it tackling it by hand!

  6. Great tip! Thanks for that. I would love to try my own designs. Thanks for your pics – it makes it easy to follow. I’ll give it a shot.

  7. @batikmania- Really? That’s awesome. I’m happy to help out a teacher ^_^ Glad you got something out of this.

    @Dan Wade- Oh totally email me pictures. I love looking at tattoos and it would be really cool to see what other people come up with using my little “how to” guide here.

    @Moranna- Yea, I do things the hard way, heh… but it paid off pretty well. I was looking to design knotwork in the first place to paint onto the handles of baskets I was going to give The Keeper’s family for Christmas the first year we were together. Let’s just say they were sufficiently wowed 😉

  8. very impressive!! you are very talented!! I have tried your tutorial but I failed- could not do as well as you did:((

  9. Aww. Maybe your graph paper was too small? If the squares are really small then by the time you get to the step where you draw lines inside the outline of the design you’re gonna be screwed because there’s not room for it.

    And don’t worry about doing as well as I did, I’ve been practicing for over a year 😉

  10. Hey, one of my FIT professors is trying to teach us this in class, and I guarantee that this will be 100% helpful. Thank you so much for the post, if it turns out to be a success in school I will definitely let you know!

  11. Very very cool. I’m going to give it a try. (Found your blog at Freshly Pressed ( home page – Lucky you!)

  12. You came up on the ‘hot today’ front page for WordPress, and I’m super impressed! I got a book on this a while back that showed a technique using dots and an almost “connect the dots” method, but it was very limiting unless you only wanted to do the designs in her book; it didn’t really show methodology for creating original designs. Your tutorial really opens the doors for more original knotwork designs.

    Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    Would it be possible to create the grid paper using Excel’s diagonal borders?

  13. Yea, I saw a website when I was originally looking for “how to”s on this that used the weird dot matrix method. I didn’t understand it, so I didn’t try it. I’m sorry you spent money (or someone did anyway) on a book focusing on that method.

    As for using Excel to create the graph paper, I have no idea. Sorry. I barely got it to work in Paint and I don’t know much about Excel. I haven’t quite got my version to work perfectly yet (been having some printing issues), but if I get it just right I’d be willing to email the file out to people. Just email me about it.

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  15. Hi, IP, loved your post. Designing Celtic knotwork is one of those obscure things that I will never — well, probably never — do, but am oddly glad that someone else did. I’ll be back : )

  16. Thank you for posting this! I have been trying to draw Celtic Knots for years, but I always get discouraged with it. You explanation breaks it down simply, step by step.
    I’ll have to give it another try! 🙂

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  18. aloha IP – thanks for such clear and easy to follow instructions. like a lot of people Celtic Knot work appeals to me but has always been a challenge to create. your blog entry was too intriguing to pass up so i gave it a try. …altho i did mine all in Photoshop Elements 6 – and to be clear i didnt use a mouse – i have a wacom cintiq which makes it a lot easier (it’s like a tablet and you draw with a tool that is like a pen in shape) – altho i have done complex things using a mouse as well.

    creating a file of dots on photoshop would be relatively easy. photoshop has a grid system built into it in case you are unfamiliar with it. the diamonds would be a little more challenging but not too difficult either. there is a free version of a program that is similar to photoshop called Gimp – on line. i’ve not used it but several people i know have and it sounds like it is very similar to photoshop. photoshop elements is the lite version of photoshop and a lot less expensive. i’ve used the more expensive version but have found the lite has plenty on it for me for a fraction of the price.

    thanks again – aloha – Wrick.

  19. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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  22. This is really cool – I’m going to go try it right now. Thanks for posting 🙂

  23. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  24. What fun! I am looking for a unique pattern to use for a latch-hook rug. This gives me new ideas. It’s a very clear explanation. Well done and thanks.

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