Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (50) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Designing Celtic Ornament


Amazon Books

“I want to design my own embroidery projects, but I’m not sure where to start.” I hear this a lot – design questions frequent my inbox just about as often as technique questions.

Right off the bat, you should know that I’m not a terrific artist. I can doodle, and I can draw “ornament” (roughly!), and I can even color with crayons! But if I sit down with the notion of sketching up a realistic portrait, I’m the type of draw-er that ends up with stick figures or caricatures.

Source books are a great aid when it comes to getting a little nudge of inspiration on drawing your own design. And books that actually teach you how to draw certain types of designs are even better. When you understand the basic structures that make up ornamental designs and how those structures developed, it’s a lot easier to doodle up your own ornaments.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Designing Celtic Ornament by David Balade is a book that will teach you the development of basic design elements in Celtic art, and show you how to draw your own. It’s a nice book! I found it enjoyable to read, captivating to look at, and instructive.

If you like Celtic art and ornament, this book will take you pretty far in being able to design your own.

Designing Celtic Ornament

The book is a combination of art history, design source, and how-to book. The introduction and brief historical overview of Celtic art is well written and enjoyable to read. I think it’s always good to know where an art form comes from, how it developed, what influenced it, and where it spread when you’re delving into any type of art, and Designing Celtic Ornament lays this all out very nicely.

Designing Celtic Ornament

The book is divided into five sections. The first section is on spirals and triskels (defined as “a design consisting of three branches with interlocked spirals and propelled by a gyratory movement”).

Designing Celtic Ornament

A pictorial history of these elements shows us how they evolved in Celtic art. The designs range from simple to complex, and the colorful drawings whet the appetite for the more complex designs to come.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Since animals play a large part in Celtic art, the author touches here on animals used in spirals. But the really complex designs featuring animals are yet to come!

Designing Celtic Ornament

Here we see the triskel emerging as a design element. They were simple at first, but, just like other design forms, they became more and more complex.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Here, the triskels and double spirals are merging with foliage, for fuller designs.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Of course, Celtic crosses come into the picture!

Designing Celtic Ornament

This illustration of how the different elements in Celtic art developed and evolved from simple to complex takes place in each section of the book. The next section is on interlace – that elaborate form of knotwork that is typically associated with Celtic art.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Again, we begin with “simple” (!) interlacing, and gradually move up to complex interlacing. The chapter includes these subsections: 1. Interlace and trees of life; 2. Single ribbon interlace; and 3. Interlace with animals.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Each sections is thoroughly illustrated, and many of the illustrations show how the designs are “built” to make up their complex interlacings. As the reader absorbs all this – both through reading and the visual aids throughout the book – the whole mechanics of Celtic design become much more understandable and even doable!

Designing Celtic Ornament

When the interlacing starts to get really complex, things get fun! There’s a good bit on lettering and on the inclusion of animals.

Following the section on interlace, the author covers labyrinths in Celtic art, touching on circular labyrinths, medallions with labyrinths, crosses, carpet pages, lozenge-shaped labyrinths, diagonal labyrinths, and carpet-page elements.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Next, we’re into the bestiary elements of Celtic art – these are animal designs that include interlacing, spirals, triskels, and labyrinths as elements in the overall design. Symbolism is also discussed a little bit, which is helpful for the aspiring designer. It’s nice to know what certain images are equated with in art!

Designing Celtic Ornament

The final section of the book shows us how to draw the motifs that dominate Celtic art.

Designing Celtic Ornament

The reader is taken step-by-step through drawing different types of Celtic designs that include the various features illustrated throughout the book. The drawings are somewhat basic, but they give a starting point for learning how everything works together in this highly-recognizable style of art.

Designing Celtic Ornament

Even the dogs from the Lindisfarne Gospels make an appearance!

Speaking of Lindisfarne, if you haven’t seen Ruth O’Leary’s interpretation of the Lindisfarne dogs in embroidery, you really should! They’re a wonderful example of how Celtic art just works as embroidery.

Designing Celtic Ornament

The book closes with an excellent glossary of technical terms, as well as some summary information about the development of Celtic art, including a timeline, maps, and a chronology.

Designing Celtic Ornament is a fun, intriguing, and useful book on design, and if you have any interest at all in Celtic art and imitating it in your own artistic endeavors – whether embroidery or otherwise – you’ll find it an invaluable resource for your design library!

Where to Find It

Designing Celtic Ornament is available through the following book affiliates:

In the US, Designing Celtic Ornament is available here, through Amazon.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(9) Comments

  1. This is a really nice book review, Mary, and I had begun to see the connection to Ruth O’Leary’s work just as you mentioned her! This will be a very nice library addition. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the write up on this beautiful book
    I love anything celtic knotwork and the instructions on how to draw your own is very useful
    Thanks again
    Shell B
    Norfolk UK

  3. This book looks wonderful and as I am interested in Celtic art and it’s representational and abstract qualities I may well add it to my small collection of art books.
    One book I have which I thought may also interest yourself and other readers (whether you are interested in Celtic design or not) is a book called “Celtic Art. The methods of Construction” It was written by a man called George Bain who was an art teacher for many years and in a time where everything had to be drawn by hand. All the illustrations in the book were drawn by Mr Bain who produced the book for schools and art colleges in the 1940’s. He was a brilliant draftsman and was also commissioned to design carpets and other goods. The last chapter “applications of Celtic Art, Ancient and Modern” shows images of Celtic design used by classical artists, (Durer, Leonardo da Vinci), the author researching designs, embroidery samples, primary sources etc. The only thing which might put people off is it is all in black and white but it is still a lovely, inspiring book. Celtic art seems to be making a revival at the moment so it could be worth looking at this book or even searching for works by George Bain although I don’t know how available they are. There was an exhibition about him last year in the Scottish National Art Gallery showing posters he had hand drawn and coloured for use in his art rooms.
    The quality of which was amazing. Anyway I am probably going on too much now, but I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in design techniques and Celtic Art.

  4. Dear Mary

    Yes that is one of my problems I’m not able to draw. This book is great for those who like Celtic art and reasonably priced and very detailed. I see that graph paper is used for designing perhaps I should doodle with that to see if I can create some patterns. Anyway it looks like a very informative book.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  5. Hi Mary – thanks for the nod! The book I usually use is ‘Celtic art: the methods of construction’ by George Bain, but I’ll be sure to check this one out – it looks very clear.

    1. Hi Ruth – I came down to the comments to thank Mary for the link to your blog, so I’ll go ahead and tell you how wonderful it is! So inspiring!

  6. I know this is quite old, but does this book distinguish between the designs of different regions/peoples or does it just lump everything together as ‘Celtic’? (I’m aware, of course, there are commonalities here, but there are differences, too!)

  7. When I try to follow the link to O’Leary’s blog, I see the intended page – I *think* – for a second or so. Then the page refreshes and gives me a content listing with no sign of the interpretation in question.

    1. Yes, it’s called a re-direct, because she changed her blog. You can use the search feature on the right side of her blog. When I get a chance, I’ll update that link.

More Comments