Friday, 15 July 2016

Celtic Art

Last December, I went to the British Museum exhibition 'Celts: Art and Identity'. It is a fabulous exhibition and is now in Edinburgh.     On the web site you can view some of the wonderful items in the exhibition.  I was particularly fascinated by the Gunderstrup Cauldron; an object that I had seen many times in books and at last, I could view the real thing.

The book accompanying the exhibition is comprehensive beautifully illustrated.

Celts Art and Identity: ISBN 978 0 7141 2835 1
Here is the back of the cover.

I have been interested in Celtic art for many years.  Many years ago, I fulfilled a long standing wish to go to Dublin and see the Book of Kells.  This wonderful book can now be viewed online.  .  Here is the link.

There is a special IPad app which can be purchased which has the entire manuscript in high definition.

Close up of the beautiful knot pattern in the Book of Kells.

 While I was in Dublin,  I bought a book about how to construct these wonderful Celtic swirling patterns.

This book was first published in 1951.  At the back of the book there are a number of pictures of items made in the 'Celtic' style.  One of them is a rug.

The Celtic Hunting Rug, designed by George Bain

The black and white photograph does not do justice to the complex design.  It was made by Messr.Qualyle and Tranter in Kidderminster. I thought that I recognised it. My Aunt had one in her bedroom and I inherited it when she died. 

Here it is.

The Celtic Hunting Rug

The centre pattern of the Celtic Hunting Rug

Isn't it wonderful. I love the swirling, sinuous patterns. It has pride of place in the centre of my lounge.

Celtic swirling patterns are very evocative. The interlaced patterns appear in many different art forms

Stone Carvings

This is the base of a cross from 800 CE in the Great North Museum in Newcastle. 
This base of a cross is highly unusual in that the name of the maker is carved onto it. 

 Book covers

In Durham Cathedral there is the shrine of St Cuthert.  St Cuthberts Gospel is the oldest intact European book.  It was made in the 8th century and is a copy of the Gospel of St John. When his coffin was raised in the year 1104, the monks saw a book of the gospels lying at the head of the board. This precious book is now in the British Library in London. 
For a short time, it was on display in Durham as part of a book exhibition.  It was lovely to see it returned to the place where it was found.

Here is a image of the binding. Click here to see the British Library details.

St Johns Gospel. The oldest intact European book from Durham.

Look at the beautifully designed leather cover.  The scroll work is lovely.

Ivory Carving

Knot and meander patterns were also carved in wood, bone and ivory.  Here is a lovely example from the Lewis Chess set.  They were probably made in Norway between 1150 and  1200.

Ivory knot pattern on one side of a King piece from the Lewis chess set. 

Do check out my Pinterest board on Knots and Meanders.

Weaving Knots and Meanders.

I enjoy translating knot and meander patterns into weaving drafts.  Knots and meanders occur so frequently in weave patterns. 

Here are two variations of interlacing.  One pattern gives the illusion that there are separate threads interlacing with each other.  The second pattern is more like a grid. The graphs for the two patterns show the difference in construction. 

Shading can be use to enhance the pattern.  Here the blue is lightest in the centre of the band and shades outwards to the darker colour.

Interlaced knot pattern.

Interlaced knot patterns occur in many cultures.  There are many variations of this motif in the Sámi tradition from Norway in Kautokeino.  This book is out of print but gives several variations.

Haugen, A (1987) Samisk Husfild I Finnmark, Oslo, Norsk Folkemuseum
ISBN 82-529-1073-4

Here is the band pattern for a single interlaced knot.  I am weaving this pattern on the YouTube video:
 Using the Sunna heddle to weave patterned bands.  There are 16 picks for the pattern repeat. Note that pick 16 has no pattern threads showing on the top of the band. Raise the heddle on the odd numbered picks and lower the heddle on the even numbered picks.  On the Sunna heddle there is a maximum number of border threads.

Here is a chart showing the threading if you are using a standard heddle or an inkle loom. The hole is for heddled threads on an inkle loom and the long slot is for the unheddled warp yarns. It is important to remember that the centre pattern thread is always threaded through the centre hole in the standard heddle - or is a heddled warp yarn on the inkle loom. Start threading in the cnetre and work outwards.

There are two background threads in between each pattern thread. This threading is also known as the Baltic threading as it is common to many countries.

Here the weft travels over two warp threads then under two warp threads. The base structure of this band is a variation of panama or basket weave. The background threads are threaded alternately through a hole and a slot on either side of a pattern thread. If the pattern thread is threaded through a hole, the background thread on either side of it is threaded through a slot.

The border threads have a different weave structure.  They are threaded alternately through a slot and hole and so weave warp faced plain weave.  You can have as many border threads as you like.

Threading chart for a standard heddle or an inkle loom.

For this pattern the knot motif is repeated with a blank pick in between each motif.  It is possible to design your own connecting pattern.

Chart for interlaced knot pattern
I hope you enjoy trying this traditional pattern.

My previous blog has been very popular and I have received many interesting replies to my questions.  I will be following up the information and publishing another blog on the subject of medieval and modern equipment later in the year.

Happy Weaving

Susan J Foulkes July 2016


  1. Thanks a lot for posting this lovely pattern.
    Watching the video I noticed that there´s another know in between those of the pattern you posted.
    Was that something you made without a pattern, or is there a pattern to that knot as well?
    Thanks again and all the best,

    1. Yes there is another knot pattern in this sequence. It compliments the knot in this blog.

  2. Informative article, just what I was looking for. I really love these hand crafts arts. If you've a video related to this please also share it with us, so it would become more easy for us to design these kind of art.

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