Pink key pattern

In his book Celtic Art, Methods of Construction, George Bain describes how to draw key patterns like this. In his diagrams he always uses square graph paper turned diagonally. But this is drawn without turning the paper through 45 degrees. This is so it can be used as a knitting chart.

The geometric designs can be easily made as knitting stitches, provided a fine gauge yarn is used. For thicker yarns, like double knitting, such a pattern is best worked out on rectangular graph paper. This is because knitting stitches are actually wider than they are high. On very small stitches this is barely noticeable. But the larger the stitches the more the pattern will be distorted if it is created on ordinary graph paper.

Bain wanted to encourage his pupils to create their own versions of insular art designs and apply them to different objects. Knitting was one of his own ideas. He hoped such developments would lead to a revival of Celtic art in Scotland.

Interlace knitting chart

Bain tried to reproduce a curved interlace design in this knitting chart on squared paper. Close up, it’s hard to see the blocks as interlaced strands. But from a distance, or when knitted with a thin enough wool, the pattern emerges.

Creating this design, he probably starts with two rows of equally spaced dots. Then, he breaks and joins the lines between them. This creates the interlacing strands. Bain describes this at the left of the second row in illustration 10 of his Elementary Knotwork booklet. The design can extend into infinity from both ends of the paper.

Bain made this chart for Peggy MacDonald when he lived in Drumnadrochit, after retiring from teaching. He encouraged local people to make use of Celtic art in modern craftsmanship. Whether Peggy used this chart to knit a border or all-over design is not known. However, there is a photograph of some of his students wearing knitwear that was made using his charts.

A key pattern scarf

George Bain designed this scarf pattern in August 1948 for Mr MacDonald-Taylor in Dorset.  Bain shows different colours just to make the chart easy to read. Nevertheless, the shades he’s chosen would make a lovely combination for a scarf.

The notes are fascinating. The groups 1:8:1 and 2:16:2 relate to the formulae used to lay out the key patttern design. His book Celtic Art, Methods of Construction has a chapter showing how various types of key pattern are made. There, he uses formulae similar to these.

Bain’s notes on the chart mention that it has been designed around a repeating block of 20 by 20 spaces. He’s added a border of 4 spaces. The use of the word ‘spaces’ rather than stitches suggests that this might not be a knitting chart. Perhaps the scarf was to be woven?

Key pattern knitting chart

This angular, geometric design seems to have been a favourite of George Bain’s when creating knitting charts. The straight lines of the key pattern are easily transferred onto grid-paper, unlike the sinuous curves of interlace. The stepped lines, so obvious at this scale, merge into smooth diagonals once you move back. 

This particular design is the most commonly used across insular art. Bain shows readers how to construct it as the very first example in his illustrations of key patterns.

Here we see Bain playing around, rotating and mirroring the basic cell of the design. He uses colour to create quite different panels. Were any of these ever knitted into finished items by the crafters that Bain wrote to and sent patterns? We have yet to find out.