The collagen fibrillar architectures in the general matrix of cartilage slices removed from both normal and osteoarthritic femoral heads were examined by both differential interference light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Whereas the normal general matrix contained a finely differentiated pseudo-random weave of fibrils developed from an interconnected array of radial elements, the osteoarthritic general matrix was characterised by the presence of structurally distinct regions consisting of strongly aligned radial bundles of fibrils and associated intense tangles or ‘knotted’ features. Simple structural models were developed to explore possible transformation structures based on two different types of interconnectivity in the three-dimensional fibrillar network. These models support the hypothesis that the distinctive ultrastructural features of the osteoarthritic general matrix can develop as a consequence of largely passive degradative changes occurring in the fibrillar weave originally present in the normal matrix. This could, in principle, occur independently of any new structure that might develop as a consequence of any upregulation of collagen associated with the osteoarthritic process.