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Tying the right knot | Manolo for the Men

Tying the right knot

Left over right. Right over left. Any sailor or boy scout can tell you that’s the way to tie a square knot. But is that the way you tie your shoes? I’ll bet not.

At two years of age I learned to tie my shoes. My big sister, four, had not yet tied her own. After suffering parental mockery and humiliation she delivered me a prompt beating, one that became an invaluable, lifelong lesson in Realpolitik.

But despite my cleverness my shoelaces always came undone unless I tied them double.

Now thanks to Verlyn Klinkenborg, editorial page sage of The New York Times, I tie my shoelaces in square knots that do not come unraveled as I walk.

From Verlyn I learned why it has been that for decades when in a crowded locker room or busy Zen temple for precious minutes I struggle to untangle knots.

Verlyn transformed my life. Overcome with gratitude, I floated the idea of naming the family hound “Verlyn Klinkenborg.”

In single voice my wife and child rose up in anger. “Dad, that’s stupid.” explained Little Henry.

Registering her standard and customary observation, Mrs. Henry added, “You just don’t have practical good sense.”

Perhaps they have a point after all. It is true that Klinkenborg’s three Teutonic syllables do not trip off the tongue melodiously like Lolita or Postlewaite or any number of more appropriate dog names.

In my town’s junior high school a boy named Klinkenborg would not have had an easy time. Might it be the same for a dog?

Worse, with Verlyn for a first name his prospects for health and happiness would have been compromised substantially further, unless, of course, he were a strapping giant with an earnest interest in fist-fighting, in which case he would have been called “Bud,” or “Buzz,” or possibly “Bubba.”

Perhaps I’m simply envious of V. Klinkenborg’s cynosure on The New York Times editorial page, an employ obliging him on occasion to write feelingly about grasses, fences, and seasons. Hoarfrost circling his wizened temples, he chronicles our stately course from bright innocence to dusky death. He is the poet of barns and hay, an unexpected contributor to the Times editorial page, to be sure.

Do newshounds, skeptics and smart-alec journalists really accept Verlyn in all his many parts? I wonder.

I wonder, as well, what sort of shoes V.K. wears. Are they crusty, yellowed old stompers with hard rubber soles, the kind you get at the hardware store? When he shows up at the Times’ 41st Street tower, if indeed he shows up at all, does he sport a sensible pair of academic-issue, English working-class, no-longer-trendy Doc Martins?

Choice of footwear must pose difficulties in the morning. “Let me see. Today, shall I be poet, sage, farmer, professor or New York Times editorial grandee?”

I’ll bet he phones it in.

And then, of course, each and every day Verlyn Klinkenborg must bear the burden of his august name. To achieve manhood despite this permanent handicap cannot have been an easy journey.

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16 Responses to “Tying the right knot”

  1. elevatorshoes May 24, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    Excellent post. I guess its a sign of manliness of how many knots ye can tie .

  2. peter May 26, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    so excited that this blog is active again.

  3. Jennie May 26, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Ahhh! My magnificient Mr. Henry gives the sartorial advice as well as he writes on the gastronomic wonders of the world!!! I am content.

  4. Mary-lynn June 12, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    His shoes, they are fabulous, however.

  5. Don L June 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    Of course the diagram is that of a square knot, which every fisherman and sailor knows tightens -but is the last knot to use in your shoelaces as it becomes near impossible to untie.

    I do recall (I’m a giant of a man) having a little five year old once open a jar lid that I couldn’t muscle off (she banged the bottom) Embarassing -no, enlightening!

  6. Jeff June 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    I personally like velcro. No knots whatsever. Doesn’t come undone unless very well worn. Easiest way I know…

  7. KBK June 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    It’s called a reef knot because it was used to tie the reefing lines around a furled sail. The advantages were it can be snugged up fairly tight while tying, and it’s easy to untie.

    Just pull hard on one end and the knot will capsize and can be quickly slid off. That works better with sails than with shoes, so with shoes it’s usual to slip or double slip the knot (that’s the bow or bows, kids often tie with only one).

  8. KBK June 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Another way to tell – the granny version lies fore and aft, rather gross, while the reef version lies athwart the shoe.

    In my experience, the reef version comes untied just as often.

    If you want a bit more security, take an extra wrap around the left bow before tucking the right bow.

    But if you want the ultimate, then there is no substitute for the Turquoise Turtle knot – the king of shoe knots:

    Make the double slipped reef knot (that’s the knot you’re used to) as usual, but leave the center loose and open. Now tuck the right bow and end through that center again.

    Snug up the knot, and then further snug and fair it by grasping the center in your left fingers and the right loop in your right fingers – snug it up. Now do the same with the left loop.

    You can hike all day with this one. I’ve never seen it untie. And note how pretty it is!

  9. RT June 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    I did not learn to tie my shoes until I was 4 or 5 years old. I think my parents were getting frustrated. One night my dad was taking my three older brothers to see the Dallas Chapparrals (now the San Antonio Spurs). I whined and cried to go. Finally, my dad said that I could go but by the time he got home from work the next day I had to know how to tie my shoes. I spent the next day trying over and over but by the time my dad came home I could tie my shoes!

  10. BQ June 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    I’ve been using the square/reef knot (no bows) to tie my hunting boots since I was 12 or so. I cut the laces so there is only about an inch and a half of “tails” after the knot is tied. They won’t come untied in the nastiest brambles, or miles in the tall grass.

  11. Bill June 12, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    I believe the shoes are called “Doc Martens”, not “Doc Martins”.

  12. Mr. Henry June 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    Quite right, Bill. Many thanks.

  13. Megaera June 12, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    If, when tying shoes or boots with bows, you use one extra turn around the first loop of the bow and pull the second loop through both of them the bow will NEVER come untied on its own, but will untie effortlessly when you pull on one of the loose ends to release it the same way you have always done. I realize this sounds confusing, and don’t know how to render the explanation properly in knotting terms, but it is a very simple solution to a problem and works with (so far as I know) almost every kind of shoe or bootlace, even the newer kinds which are prone to untie on their own.

  14. sevenbark June 13, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/knots.htm – nuff said.

  15. Trust Me June 13, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Pictured is a reef knot. If you tie it with a bight, it is called a slippery reef knot. Tied with two bights, it is the common shoelace/gift package knot.

    It is very easy to tell if this class of knots is tied correctly by the way the free ends of the knot lie. In line with the working parts, they are a proper reef knot; if they come away at 90 degree angles, they are the treacherous granny knot.

  16. Sigivald June 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    What Trust Me said – and if you ended up tying a granny (“my shoes keep coming untied!”), solve that by reversing what half is over and what is under, on the second half of the knot.