I have had, for some time, a minor obsession with shoelaces. As obsessions go, it's probably fairly innocuous, and it certainly makes for a cheap hobby. I've also been known to buy people laces as gifts. It's a thing. You gotta have a thing. A gimmick.

It stemmed partially from finally finding an Army and Navy store in Cambridge which sold proper DM bootlaces in all the colours of the rainbow, and partially from being plain old fed-up with the standard, boring criss-cross way of lacing up my boots. I'd criss-crossed them since I was old enough to lace up my own shoes. Over the years, I've experimented with something like 10 different methods of lacing up my boots, but almost always come back to the standard ladder lacing or "straight lace", done in what's apparently known as the European style (straight across on the outside, up two holes on the inside...).

Nonetheless, for the time being at least, I have a new favourite: Double helix lacing, or, as the "inventor" of the lacing method has dubbed it, "Spiralacing". That should probably have a ™ symbol next to it or something, now I come to think of it...

But let's start at the beginning. "What's wrong," I hear you cry "with the standard way of lacing up shoes?" Well, there's a bunch of things. Have a look at your shoes (or at my pathetic ASCII art rendering of a shoe, below). If they're laced up in the standard manner, with the lace passing across and from the outside of the shoe to the inside on each eyelet on the way up, there's probably a couple of things you probably haven't even thought to notice.

   _____________________________
  /     | o   o   o   o----     \
 /      \__\___\___\____/\       |
|        ___X___X___X___  |      |
|       /  /   /   /    \/______/|
|       | o   o   o   o--,       |
 \                        \      |
  '========================|====='

The laces crossing over each other generate quite a bit of friction, which can make it harder to loosen the laces for donning or doffing boots. The fact that the laces have to cross over from inside to outside means that it's impossible to completely pull the boot tight shut such that the two sides are in contact with each other. The crossing of the laces from inside to out pushes the edges of the shoe alternately up and down and can, after prolonged use, permanently crinkle the shoe, depending on what material it's made from. In addition to these, and worst of all, your shoelaces look exactly the same as those of just about every other person on the planet.

Straight lacing solves some of these problems. With the laces running straight across the outside, there's no crossing from inside to out in the middle, so the shoes may be completely shut, and the material won't be damaged by the tension. It also looks damn cool. There's a downside, though. Depending on the method used, most ladder lacing methods have laces crossing each other inside the shoe, between the flaps and the tongue. This is annoyingly inconvenient because the tongue and outer flaps push the laces together, increasing friction and making it even more difficult to loosen the laces.

Yes, but what of this "Spiralacing"?

Well, I was just getting to that. "Invented" by one Monte Fisher, "Spiralacing" is a lacing method which reduces friction and speeds the donning and doffing of boots by eliminating the need for laces to cross over each other at all, and getting rid of most (but not all) of the need for the laces to cross from the outside to the inside.

The structure of the lacing method resembles a DNA double-helix, with both sides of the lace spiralling round each other as they go up the shoe. The friction of lace-on-lace is virtually eliminated, making it incredibly easy to loosen laces as well as tighten them. Tightening the laces can even be accomplished with one hand, since all the laces on the outside are tightened by pulling in the same direction.

It doesn't quite eliminate the crossing over of laces from the outside to the inside, since it still requires one transition at the bottom to establish the twisting helix at the bottom, and one at the top to bring the laces both out to the front at the same point to be tied. Let's re-lace our ASCII shoe:

   _____________________________
  /     | o   o   o   o----     \
 /      \__\___\___\____/\       |
|        _|_X___X___X___  |      |
|       / |  \   \      \/______/|
|       | o   o   o   o--,       |
 \                        \      |
  '========================|====='

To tighten up the lace, just grab any two adjacent laces (starting at the bottom) on the outside, and pull them upwards. It's rather easy and, despite the wrinkles at the top and the bottom, and the general asymmetry, it looks quite snazzy.

You can do it clockwise or counter-clockwise, or even better use a different winding direction on each foot. Unless you're superstitious, of course.

Now explain the sarcastic quotation marks

Ah yes. Though it's not something which I'd have thought would require too much thought or experimentation to come upwith , the "inventor" of the lacing method (or at least, the first one to document it and come up with the rather catchy "Spiralacing" name) applied for, and was granted, a US patent, number 6,513,211. Possibly the worst abuse of patent law since someone patented a Method of Swinging on a Swing (US Patent number 6,368,227).

I believe he probably had some sort of plan to try and convince the US armed forces to use his lacing scheme, and charge them royalties for doing so. Fair enough, I suppose, but it does seem rather an excessive use of legal brute force.

Acknowledgements and References

A wealth of shoe-lacing information can be found at Ian Fieggen's excellent site dedicated to the purpose, located at:
http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/lacingmethods.htm

Monte Fisher's page documenting the double helix lace is worth a read for the details of that particular lace:
http://www.lukefisher.com/lacing/

I blame this whole writeup squarely on ReiToei, for pointing me at Ian's site and thus getting this whole nerdy ball rolling.

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