GQ (USA) Interview
Sep-2007: Detailed interview on the history of my “Ian Knot”, the creation of the website, the addition of various lacing methods and knots, right up to the production of my book, “Laces”.
- Interviewed for: GQ (USA)
- Interviewed by: Ben Goldstein
- Interviewed via: E-mail
- Interviewed on: 16-Sep-2007
BEN: When did you first become interested in shoelaces and lacing methods?
IAN: One morning back in 1982, I broke a shoelace. For most people, a quick temporary fix would be in order, but the scientific part of me just had to delve further. Why was it always the RIGHT end that broke? Perhaps because the knot is tied asymmetrically? In the process of trying to make the knot symmetrical, I stumbled on a much faster way of tying, which (for want of a better name) I called the “Ian Knot”. Ever since that moment, shoelaces were no longer mundane.
BEN: What is it that fascinates you about this stuff?
IAN: First of all, this really appeals to my sense of efficiency. It's amazing to think that there is room for improvement in even those small tasks that most of us take for granted, such as tying or lacing your shoes. Secondly, I've always enjoyed taking on challenges that no-one else would bother with. Shoelaces have always been somewhat of an underdog (almost literally!). They needed someone like me who was willing to put forward their case regardless of the lack of financial return (not to mention the possibility of ridicule).
BEN: Have you ever received any sort of accolades or special recognition for inventing the “Ian Knot”?
IAN: I approached the Guinness Book of World Records in order to have my claim of “World's Fastest Shoelace Knot” officially recognised. However, they declined, saying it was “... a little too specialised ...”! Compare that with the other Guinness records to which most people can't relate, such as - (*quickly checks Guinness site under Amazing Feats*) - “Heaviest Weight Dangled from a Swallowed Sword”.
BEN: When did you start your Shoelace Site?
IAN: I first added the “Ian Knot” to my personal web site back in May 2000. The positive feedback and countless shoelace related questions that ensued prompted continual additions, until a major overhaul in 2003 when I eventually created an entire section called “Ian's Shoelace Site”.
BEN: How do you find all of these lacing/tying methods? Besides the Ian Knot, are any of them your own invention?
IAN: When I first started browsing libraries and later started searching the Internet for information about shoelace knots, the first thing that struck me was how little information there was out there, and how poorly any of it was illustrated or documented. It seemed natural that both my talent for computer graphics and ability to describe complex procedures could address this shortfall. I therefore started adding what little I could find.
When people asked questions or advice, I created solutions. I often combined ideas from several methods I'd seen, none of which I considered ideal. For example, there's half a dozen more secure ways to tie shoelaces, none of which is symmetrical, so I invented three different symmetrical, secure shoelace knots (one of which I later discovered had been invented before).
Naively, I thought that adding these to the site would reduce the questions and suggestions; instead, they prompted more of the same, as the site grew to become the world's Number One web site about shoelaces.
BEN: What's the most bizarre fan e-mail you've gotten from the site? Any marriage proposals, or photos of people naked except for their shoes?
IAN: (*laughs*) Alas, no such luck! By and large, people think of me as “Professor Shoelace”, with all the affection generally given to the “nutty thinkers” of this world.
BEN: You say that your website is the most comprehensive reference about shoelaces...is there another person, book or website that even comes close?
IAN: Besides one of two small copycat sites that present small portions of my site in other languages, the closest to anything comprehensive would be the Wikipedia entry on Shoelaces. There, the content is more encyclopedic, and in fact, much of it has been added or edited by yours truly (though I was both surprised and delighted to find that someone else had already added the link to my shoelace site).
BEN: Why is the Over Under lacing method your favorite?
IAN: To me, it's the best blend of many features: Functionality - It's easy to get fingers under the crosses to tighten or loosen. Appearance – It's symmetrical, doesn't corrugate the sides of the shoe, and looks just interesting enough without being over the top. Longevity – Over and under sections don't rub together or rub past the shoe's edges, so laces last longer.
BEN: What's the most common mistake people make when lacing their shoes?
IAN: Not lacing them themselves! When people buy shoes, they generally let the salesperson do the lacing with a “quick and ugly” method rather than taking the time to do it themselves with a neat, more functional method. In addition, the laces that come with many modern shoes are often way too long and made of cheap, slippery synthetics. This will doom the wearer to a lifetime of untied shoelaces plus struggling to adjust the excessive loops and loose ends to stop them getting underfoot, not to mention looking awful.
BEN: What's the most common mistake people make when tying their shoes?
IAN: The most common mistake is that one of the two stages of their shoelace knot – either the Starting Knot or the Finishing Bow – is tied the wrong way, which results in a “Granny Knot”. This knot will both sit crooked and come undone far more easily than a correctly tied shoelace knot. If your loops are sitting crooked or if you're regularly re-tying your shoelaces, try reversing the way you tie the Starting Knot. If you tie left-over-right, use right-over-left, or vice versa. The result should sit straight and will stay tied all day without resorting to a third stage.
BEN: How did your book Laces come to be? Were you approached by a publisher?
IAN: Being experienced in desktop publishing, it was a natural progression for me to turn the web site into a reference book. After my proposal was rejected by one Australian publisher, I decided to go ahead anyway. I also placed a page on my web site seeking contact from interested publishers, to which my first response came from Barnes & Noble (B&N).
BEN: Who's responsible for the unique triple-fold design?
IAN: That was the brainchild of Jeff Rutzky, a designer for B&N who has developed numerous Origami books. Perhaps it was his experience with this ancient art of paper folding that led him to think of this fold-out concept?
BEN: How is the book organized? Tell me a little about the content...
IAN: A book about shoelaces could get pretty boring if it was overly technical. Instead, this is more about what you can actually do with them.
More than half the book is devoted to the many lacing methods, from ultra simple and functional methods to some that are amazingly complex and decorative, plus everything else in between.
Next come the knots, which once again range from ultra simple to super complicated. While it's unlikely that anyone will ever add more than a couple of them to their repertoire, the variety is both an archive of what's available plus a useful selection for those with difficulties mastering the more “usual” methods.
There's also a section on replacing Aglets, those plastic or metal tips of shoelaces, which is useful if, like me, you're game to shorten your shoelaces to the correct length.
Finally, there's several appendices, covering such things as variations of lacing methods, guides to help you select lacing methods or knots, even shoelace length formulas for the mathematically inclined!
BEN: Tell me about one of the new lacing methods found the book. What is it and how did you discover it?
IAN: There's a few “extreme” lacing methods that I'd created in response to individual requests from web site visitors. “Star Lacing” is one classic example! The convoluted path required to form a series of stars made the result MURDER to tighten and loosen. I'd recommend using this on a low shoe that can be slipped on and off, but the stylist elected to lace up some knee-high boots with seventeen eyelet pairs, resulting in a truly stunning photo (even if completely impractical).
BEN: You say you work from home...what's your “day job”?
IAN: I actually quit my day job as a computer specialist and desktop publisher in order to devote more time to both my web site and book. My typical day as “Professor Shoelace” involves answering e-mails, dispensing free advice, adding contributions, plus preparing for the impending book launch.
BEN: How many pairs of shoes do you own? What kinds do you generally wear?
IAN: I suffer the classic sneaker-collector's conundrum of trying to keep my most fashionable shoes good enough to be photographed. Luckily, I'm both a laid-back Aussie and a de-facto “Professor”, both of which give me the luxury of adopting an equally laid-back style. Of my ten pairs of shoes, I therefore generally opt for the all black leather walking shoes or either the grey or multi-toned brown suede sneakers.
BEN: Do you ever wear shoes without laces? Flip flops, laceless loafers, etc?
IAN: No fair dinkum Aussie would be without their “thongs” (flip-flops) during the warmest half of the year, plus I'll even confess to wearing Ugg Boots (Australian sheepskin slippers) during the heart of Winter! For dressy occasions, I have but one pair of shiny black leather slip-ons. In the evenings, it's gentleman's leather or cloth slippers.
BEN: What brand/style of shoelaces, in your opinion, are the best in the world?
IAN: In theory, an ideal shoelace would be woven from a blend of fibers because no one fiber is ideal. Natural fibers (eg. cotton or hemp) have good grip but bad wear resistance, while synthetic fibers (eg. nylon) are generally the exact opposite. Natural fibers can rot, whilst synthetics won't. Natural fibers are also generally dearer, thus cheaper synthetics have generally taken over. This surge in slippery synthetic laces has caused an equivalent surge in untied shoelaces!
Many cheap shoelaces also save money by reducing the thickness of the plastic aglets, which both reduces the cost of manufacture and, when they disintegrate, encourages you to buy a new pair. Shoelaces with metal aglets are very difficult to find nowadays!
In practice, I've yet to find a brand that combines all these factors, and in fact I'm trying to get a manufacturer interested in producing some “ultimate” shoelaces. In the meantime, you have two options: Choose synthetics for looks, longevity and price, or choose cotton or hemp for grip and staying power, and either way, watch out for flimsy aglets.
As for brands, here in Australia I've tried good quality laces by Waproo (Australian), Bergal (German) or G.A. Dietz (German), but have no preference because my “Ian Knot” means that they ALL outlast my shoes!
“Knotty by nature”
By Ben Goldstein, GQ, 17-Oct-2007
(Article not available on current GQ website)
Knotty by nature
[Image of Spider Web Lacing]
Ian Fieggen has run Ian's Shoelace Site since 2003. Now, the Australian has a book: Laces: 100s of Ways to Pimp Your Kicks. Shoelace purists – and you know who you are – will be pleased to know that all the flyest methods, from the Double Helix to the Checkerboard to the Spider Web, left, (plus 100s more), are included, with illustrations. So how'd all this get started? “One morning back in 1982, I broke a shoelace,” says Fieggen, who was 19 at the time. “The scientific part of me just had to delve further.” The quest has led to a current favorite, the Over Under. Because they “don't rub together or rub past the shoe's edges, the laces last longer,” Fieggen explains. Sounds like practical advice.
$14.95, available next week from Amazon.com.
– Ben Goldstein