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Drawing Celtic Knots

Age 11 to 14 Challenge Level:

Why do this problem?

The complexity in the seemingly simple patterns of Celtic knots have always fascinated people. This problem provides an accessible introduction to creating such patterns, with the chance to investigate some of the maths that arises along the way.

It could provide an excellent opportunity for forging cross-curricular links with Art and Design departments.

Possible approach

Learners could initially be shown images of Celtic knots to capture their interest. Then they could watch the videos to see two different ways of creating a basic knot.

Once they are ready to create their own knots, you may find it useful to print off some of these grids for learners to draw onto (Word, pdf).

Alternatively, it is fairly simple for learners to create their own grids by drawing faint diagonal lines on squared or square dotty paper. The straight lines needed to create the knots all go through the midpoints of the sides of the squares:

Once learners have got the hang of creating Celtic knots, encourage them to think of mathematical questions to ask - there are some suggestions in the problem. By getting everyone in the class to draw different knots, data can quickly be gathered and analysed. If learners have created their own grids, they may find that knots cannot be drawn on some grids - this is another line of enquiry that can be explored.

This website automatically generates Celtic knots and might be useful for investigating patterns.

Key questions

For rectangular knots, can you explain how the knot size determines the number of ribbons?

Is it possible to draw a rectangular Celtic knot without rotational symmetry?

Can you explain how the knot size determines the number of overlaps?

Possible extension

Introduce learners to more complicated Celtic knots - circular knots, knots with holes in, letters drawn as knots...

Possible support

Starting on smaller grids and encouraging learners to shade in where the ribbons will go can help. Suggest they use soft pencil, and be prepared to do lots of rubbing out!