Going round and round

A fascinating set of four similar interlace designs, each formed of two strands of different colours. We think they were created for painting onto white china dinner or tea sets.  They reflect George Bain’s fascination with how new designs might be made. At first glance the designs look quite simple but when one tries to analyse them their varied, complex, nature becomes evident.

Knotwork from Durrow

George Bain was fascinated by the various geometric designs used in the early medieval Book of Durrow. He couldn’t refer to the original, so he copied the images that were published in 1908 in Celtic Illuminative Art.  Here Bain draws out the complex knotwork elements from the ‘carpet’ page that precedes the Gospel of St Luke. His fine use of watercolour aids the reading of what should be a continuous strand.

Bain was clearly immersed in the sophistication of the overall design. But he finds that the detail isn’t perfect. He discovers that there is no continuity. The knotwork is formed of three different strands when it should be just one. He then analysed them to find out where the design had gone wrong. 

He identifies two places in the small connecting element at the centre right of the design where mistakes have been made.  Then he works out how to correct the error, restoring a single, continuous strand. Bain was clearly focussed on perfection.

See FSH Robinson 1908 Celtic Illuminative Art

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.