14
Oct
08

On tying ties

When I was in high school, I had a mental block about tying ties. My dad was really good at it, so instead of putting forth effort myself to learn how to do it, I just had my dad tie my ties and then I kept them in my closet pre-tied. At some point during college, I had either gotten a new tie or I had accidentally untied one of my pre-tied ties while taking it off and I found myself needing to tie a tie myself. Naturally, I did a quick web search to see if there was anything online about tying ties. What I found is really interesting and has helped me a lot over the years, so I thought I would share it with you.

What I found was the web page of Thomas Fink, who, at the time, was a physicist at the University of Cambridge in England. He and a co-author wrote two scholarly journal articles (here and here) examining the topology of tie knots. In these papers they enumerate all the possible “moves” that go into tying a tie. There are 2 ways to begin a tie knot, 6 ways to continue, and 2 ways to end a knot. By exhaustively examining each possible combination of moves, they enumerated 85 distinct ways to tie a tie (involving as many as 9 total moves not including the termination move, denoted “T”).

In addition to simply enumerating the possible tie knots, they came up with a scheme to rate how aesthetically pleasing a knot is, based on its symmetry and balance. This enabled them to identify the subset of all possible knots that people would probably actually want to use. Not surprisingly, this subset of aesthetically pleasing ties includes all the commonly tied knots, like the four-in-hand and Windsor. However, it also included some very nice knots that weren’t already in wide use. To my eye, the nicest of the bunch is known as the Hanover. It is huge but perfectly symmetrical.

If you are interested in putting this research into use for yourself, I suggest you take a look at the Wikipedia page about Fink’s book, The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie. For an exhaustive list of all possible ties, take a look at this page. I have used this page repeatedly over the years because I don’t tie ties often enough to memorize any particular knot, so each time I need to tie a tie, I have to look up the steps. I hope you will find this all as interesting and useful as I have.

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2 Responses to “On tying ties”


  1. October 14, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    My dad taught me the Windsor and I know the four-in-hand, too, but usually I tie the Windsor because it just looks sharp.

    I can also tie a bow tie, which I didn’t realize I’d remembered. A friend showed up at a wedding this summer with a bow tie, untied and asked around if anyone knew how to tie one. I gave it a shot and figured it out.

  2. 2 Colin
    October 14, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Yeah, my dad always uses the Windsor also. I first thought about posting this info this Sunday, when I decided to wear a tie to church for the first time in quit a while. Both our church and the university are pretty relaxed, so I don’t need to wear a tie very often. The Windsor won out this Sunday, but next time I wear a tie, I think I’ll try the Hanover. I’m not sure if any of the ties I have are long enough, though. It is a huge knot and it might not look good with any of my shirts.

    Anyway, I think I found tying ties hard to learn because, for some reason, the steps seemed very arbitrary and the “space” of possibilities seemed huge. If I had known that there are only 2 ways to start, 6 ways to continue, and two ways to end, I think that would have demystified things a bit. Now that I’ve seen all the possibilities presented formally, I feel like I could stand in front of the mirror and just make something up that would look decent.


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