Celtic Knot Designs: History, Meaning and Uses

celtic knot designsThe use of knots or knot work design is a practice that began early in human history. In the third and fourth century AD knot work designs were used in floor mosaics in the Roman Empire. Celtic knot designs developed from plait work, which was an unbroken, woven cord design used in many cultures around the world.

The true unbroken and interconnected knot work that is characteristic of Celtic knot designs began around the 7th century in northern Italy and southern Gaul. These designs were likely created by Coptic monks from Syria or Egypt to illuminate manuscripts. The style that would eventually give rise to Celtic knot design was then spread to Ireland and England. Although this type of illumination is most often associated with the Celtic people, it was also used extensively in England as well as the rest of Europe, where Irish and Northumbrian monks utilized knot work to illuminate religious manuscripts.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells, also called the Book of Columba, is considered by many to be the ultimate source of Celtic Knot imagery. It is an illuminated manuscript written in Latin and richly illustrated. The Book of Kells takes its name from The Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath where the book was housed for much of the medieval time period. The name, the Book of Columba, comes from St. Columba who was credited by some historians with creating the work. However, St. Columba died in 597 AD which is more than two hundred years before paleographic evidence suggests the book was created. The book contains the four gospels of the New Testament and some related texts and tables. It is believed to have been created around 800 AD in the Columban Monastery located either in England or Ireland. The Book of Kells is often considered one of Ireland’s national treasures.

The pages of the Book of Kells contain beautiful illuminations of Angels, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and even animals. Although the book has lost many pages over the centuries, the ones that remain are a treasure trove for those that are interested in learning how to draw Celtic knot designs. The Book of Kells has been lost, stolen, mishandled, abused, and finally protected, but what is left of it has now been copied and is available as an iPad download.

Meaning of Celtic Knot Designs

As a whole, Celtic knot designs have become a symbol of cultural pride for those with Welsh, Irish or Scottish heritage. There is a great deal of debate on whether or not Celtic knot designs have particular meanings that trace back to their origins. Although the history is questionable, many of the most popular designs have been attributed meanings over the last one hundred fifty years.

celtic knot designsThe Triquetra

The triquetra or three-fold knot is a very popular Celtic knot design. The three points are said the represent the Holy Trinity. This cannot be verified as historically accurate but it has been accepted as a modern meaning for the knot which is popular in jewelry and other Celtic inspired art work.

Celtic Cross

Celtic CrossThe Celtic cross has meaning attributed to it from both the Christian church and Pagan religions. From the Christian view point the Celtic cross is a beautifully adorned cross with all the symbolism and meaning of the cross on which Christ was crucified. To the followers of Celtic based Pagan traditions the Celtic cross symbolizes the four cardinal directions, the four elements, and the meeting place of all divine energies.

The Dara Knot

celticknotdesignsThe Dara knot is depicted in several different ways but is always symbolic the root system of an oak tree. This symbol can be used to represent personal, internal strength as well as strength of spirit. This knot is likely to be a fairly modern invention but it holds true to the endless knot tradition of the Celtic knot designs.

Uses for Celtic Knot Design

The uses for Celtic knot designs are virtually endless. Look around you at art, jewelry, clothing, and even home décor and you will find Celtic knot designs incorporated in to all of these areas. Jewelry designs now heavily utilize Celtic knots alone as pendants or as scroll work for wedding rings. Celtic knot designs are popular embossed or carved into leather that is then used for pocket books, wallets and even clothing. The art of calligraphy is often enhanced heavily by the use of Celtic knot designs. It can be used along the sides of the page and as initial letters of paragraphs. It can sometimes even show up in the middle of sentences to emphasize a point or an idea. Learning to design and draw Celtic knots can add a new dimension to whatever art form you choose.

Drawing Celtic Knot Designs

In order to use Celtic knot designs, you must first be able to draw them as patterns. There are a few methods that can help you refine your skills.

Graph Paper Method

celticknotdesignsUsing graph paper and drawing by hand is considered the time honored, right way, to draw Celtic knots by some purists. You will draw a rectangle on the graph paper that is an odd number of squares in both length and width. Any odd number per side will work just fine. Then add dots to each corner of the rectangle and to every other square on each side. Using a different colored pencil, draw a dot on the next line inside your original rectangle. Do not draw the second set of dots at the corners. When you have finished adding the rectangle of dots inside the original rectangle, you will then draw diagonal lines from inside dot to inside dot beginning with the top left. Then go to the top right and draw diagonal lines again from inside dot to inside dot. It helps to use a ruler during this step in order to keep your guide lines perfectly straight. When you have finished connecting the inside dots going both directions you will have created a grid that can be used to create your Celtic knot design. By using curving lines and straight lines in a balanced fashion on the grid you can create many beautiful and unique Celtic knots.

Computer Drawn Celtic Knot Designs

If you are not interested in doing things the old fashioned way there are several ways to use computer programs to draw Celtic knot designs. Using a computer program, such as Adobe Illustrator, allows you to experiment with color quickly and easily. It also allows you to copy a section of a design and repeat it as often as you would like. This method helps you create large, intricate Celtic knot designs quickly. You can even use a drafting program, like autoCAD, to design the knot work and do Celtic knot work jewelry mockups.

Celtic knot designs are beautiful. They have a rich cultural and historic heritage. They can convey meaning even as they convey beauty and complexity. Learning to draw Celtic knot designs, by hand or using a computer program, can seem daunting or overwhelming but it can be accomplished by anyone willing to put forth the effort. The result of that effort will be a whole new design aspect to add to your art or craft. Celtic knots can add a unique flair to jewelry, leather, cloth, calligraphy, or even tattoo designs! Once you have mastered the art of creating these intricate knots, how you use them will only be limited by your own imagination and artistic flair.