Interlaced strapwork, meaning knots and woven motifs, is the next level of complexity in Islamic geometric patterns, and was originally inspired by the abundance of Roman-era knotwork in the Levant, in architecture, mosaics, window grills and handicrafts.
This strapwork is sometimes referred to as girih, from the Persian word گره for "knot". Yet such patterns are hardly exclusive to or even typical of Islamic art, and they abound in the arts of other cultures, most famously Celtic art.
Strapwork is not a different kind of construction, but an extra step that can be added to pretty much any pattern, either finite or infinite, to turn the lines into shapes, which can then be coloured, made to look like interlaced bands, and/or treated with any degree of ornamentation.
Today we will learn two very different-looking knots made on exactly the same grid, and then convert a basic pattern into an interlaced one.
Seven-Circle Knot (Rose-Shaped)
Start by drawing a circle divided into six (cf. Working With 6 and 12). The parts of the outside circles that are within the central circle can be omitted in order to make the construction clearer.
Reduce the compass opening slightly, and return the dry point to the centre of one of the circles to draw a smaller circle inside it, again leaving out whatever crosses over into the central circle.
Do this with the other five circles.
Now we'll create the central knot. Place the point of the compass on one of the outermost intersection points, and set the opening as shown here. Draw the arc contained within the central circle. It links up smoothly with two arcs on the outside of it.
Repeat this around the circle, keeping the same compass opening.
Now, returning to the first point in step 3, increase the compass opening to match the measurement shown. Be very careful not to reduce it, an easy mistake to make since we did just that in step 2!
Repeat around the circle.
The groundwork is ready, and all that's left to do is to ink the final design. Here's a way to pick out the lines to achieve the original knotted motif.
Another possibility is to only ink the outer lines, for a cloisonné effect. Each enclosed area can then be coloured separately.
Seven-Circle Knot (in Circle)
Draw a circle divided into six, again leaving out the arcs that cross into the central circle. Work large, because we'll need to draw very small circles later on.
Reduce the compass opening slightly, and return the dry point to the
centre of one of the circles to draw a smaller circle inside it. So far the steps are the same as in the previous knot.
Repeat around the circle.
Using the points on its circumference, draw an extended diameter of the central circle—we only really need the section that is not
dotted, at the top here, to define a few points with precision. Place
the dry point where this line cuts the outer circle, and set the opening to where it cuts the inner one. Draw a circle.
Now, return the compass to the original centre, set the opening to the centre of the small circle, and draw the large circle that circumscribes (surrounds) the whole
Open the compass to reach the point defined by the small circle cutting the extended diameter, and draw another large circle. Notice what happened: using this small circle as measurement allowed us to create an outer band that is the same width as the bands formed by the six circles.
Use the following lines to mark intersections on the outer circles. We also need just one point on the central circle. As usual, the dotted lines can be left out for clarity, but feel free to draw them if you find them helpful.
Place the dry point on the intersection shown here, and set the opening to that point we just marked on the central circle. Draw the part of the circle that is within the largest circle.
Repeat all around, keeping the same compass opening.
Return the compass to the opening of the small circle, but place the dry point as shown here and draw another small circle.
Use this latter as a reference to change the compass opening and draw smaller circles inside the six we drew in step 7.
Now set the dry point and compass opening as shown here. Make sure you catch the right points. Draw the arc contained in the central circle.
Do this all around.
With the same centres as before, but with the opening below, draw another arc...
... and repeat all around. This completes our groundwork.
Ink as follows for the full knotted effect. If you look carefully (and this is more visible when coloured), you can see that the central part is made of three slightly hourglass-shaped units that are interlaced together, and with the outer part that is a single unit looping over itself.
A cloisonné-type of inking is also possible:
Converting Flat Patterns Into Weaves
The previous motif introduced the idea of using small circles to give width to the lines. This simple device is actually the key to turning any geometric pattern into strapwork, or at least to widening the outlines so that the space between the shapes becomes itself a shape, to be filled with anything from a plain colour to freehand arabesque. A simple construction can then lead to a highly ornamental and multi-layered final product.
Of course, this can take a certain amount of time, depending on the base pattern, but it is not difficult. To illustrate this conversion step, we'll revise a pattern we learned previously in our lesson on Working With 4 and 8.
Breath of the Compassionate (Woven Version)
Remember this pattern? Let's give it that extra level of detail.
Start by drawing the full five-circle grid described step by step in Working With 4 and 8, including the horizontals and verticals which we added in the first two steps of the Breath of the Compassionate pattern. Make sure to use a hard pencil throughout and switch to something slightly softer for the lines that are darker here, as they are the ones we need from this point on.
Place your compass point on one of the outside intersections, and draw a tiny circle. The diameter of the circle determines the width of the bands, and the opening must be set to half that! A high quality compass is needed for this kind of detail work, but you can also find circular templates (among architecture supplies) for very small circles. Only bear in mind it is tricky to achieve real precision with them without some practice.
Draw similar circles centered on all the equivalent points around the pattern.
Connect the points marked by these circles on the original grid, to produce new sets of diagonals. First from one angle...
... then the other.
The reason we placed our reference circles on the outer edge of the composition is that the more distant the two points we are connecting, the more accurate the result, as the line cannot deviate between them. If we try to extend it beyond the two points, on the other hand, we can't guarantee it won't deviate a little.
Repeat the marking of circles (same diameter) on the intersections of the straight lines.
Connect the horizontals...
... then the verticals.
You can now ink the pattern, either with a woven effect...
... or cloisonné.
Now that you're familiar with the technique, why not try to convert the following patterns?
From Working With 6 and 12:
From Working with 5 and 10:
We've now been introduced to a way of adding dimensionality and/or complexity to a pattern by turning them into strapwork. Next we will try our hand at some more complex, classic Islamic patterns.