Friday, January 6, 2017

The Art of Tying a Cravat: Noeud Gordien.

It has been my long-held belief that my husband is actually the reincarnation of Beau Brummel. He can be annoyingly precise about the fit and tailoring of his historical garments (so much so that, as his personal tailor, the thought has crossed my mind on occasion that a few forgotten sewing pins left in strategically placed seams might be warranted). One area where he lacks Brummel's skill as a fashionable perfectionist is in his ability to tie a neckcloth or cravat. But, he is okay with this deficiency since he has me to apply the finishing touch to his 'dandyism'. 

This year for Christmas I gave my husband a copy of the 1828 publication by H. Le Blanc, The Art of Tying the Cravat: Demonstrated in Sixteen Lessons, Including Thirty-two Different Styles. My thought, when purchasing this book, was he might learn how to tie his own neckcloth without following me around in a perpetual state of undress at reenactments or prior to the start of a special event at Stephenson House.  Although he did read the book, the natural dexterity it takes to tie a proper knot is a skill he doesn't possess. So, fair reader, my plight as Beau's neckcloth-tying servant shall continue despite my best efforts.

One of the many knots presented by H. Le Blanc is called the Noeud Gordien; or Gordian Knot. The original 1828 publication came with five illustrated plates for the reader to reference how to tie the various styles. Unfortunately, the reprinted book does not include the original illustrations. Luckily after some internet trolling, I stumbled across another blog that had uploaded all five original plates (and provided a wonderful article on "The Art of Tying the Cravat") which allowed me to download and print them all. Obviously, the addition of the plates makes figuring out the techniques much easier.

The Noeud Gordien is a simple knot to accomplish (unless you're my husband).  The following excerpt is taken in its entirety from a copy of the original 1828 publication by H. Le Blanc, “The Art of Tying the Cravat: Demonstrated in Sixteen Lessons, Including Thirty-two Different Styles”. The accompanying modern images are my interpretation of those shown in Plate B and are provided to aid in the visual demonstration of the original technique.

 The original illustration of Plate B from H. Le Blanc 1828 publication "The Art of  Tying the Cravat: Demonstrated in Sixteen Lesson, Including Thirty-two Different Styles".

Noeud Gordien.
[Plate B, fig. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.]
     It would be very difficult to offer to our readers an exact and perfectly intelligible explanation of this most elegant style—-of the sovereign of Cravat ties, the Noeud Gordien, the origin of which is lost in the obscurity of antiquity.

     Notwithstanding the laborious researches we have bestowed on this interesting subject, we have hitherto been unable to discover the name of the genius to whom the honour of this invention is due. We only know (and it is, we believe, generally known) that Alexander the Great, irritated at being unable to comprehend the theory of its composition, and determined not to be foiled, adopted the shortest and easier method of solving the question—that of cutting it with his sword.

     In our own times we occasionally meet with young aspirants, who, in the fullest acceptation of the term, adopt the Gordian tie; with this difference, however, that when they wish to untie it, as a sword like that of the Macedonian monarch is too cumbersome for their delicate hands, they make use of a pair of scissars, with which they are more familiar—but to our subject.

     We confess, with regret, that we can only speak imperfectly of this interesting tie ; but as theory is nothing when compared to practico, we will endeavour to address ourselves to the eyes, rather than to the judgment of our readers, in the conviction that, though we may be unable to accomplish our object entirely, we shall, at least, approach it as nearly as possible. Attention !

My version of the cravat/neckcloth shown in Plate B, Fig 6, measures 68" long by 6" wide. I have folded and pressed it to resemble the illustration. There are no measurements provided in the 1828 publication since cravat/neckcloth size was dependent on the style of the knot being tied; some required longer cloths and others shorter.


     In the first place, the Cravat for this tie must be of ample size, and properly starched, ironed, and folded (as shewn plate B, Fig. 6); whether it be plain or coloured is of little consequence; but a rather stout one should be preferred, as it will offer more facilities to the daring fingers of the beginner who attempts to accomplish this chef-d’ ǽuvre.

     It will then be necessary to meditate deeply and seriously on the five following directions.
Figure 7. My cravat/neckcloth was slightly wider than the 1828 illustration so I created a horizontal fold at the center front to make it fit the neck. The fold will be covered once the cravat is tied.

     I. When you have decided on the Cravat, it must be placed on the neck, and the ends left hanging (as shewn plate B, Fig. 7, first time).

Figure 8.  I have used a yellow-headed pin to indicate "K" from the original illustration and a pink-headed pin to indicate "Z".

     II. You must take the point K, pass it on the inside of the point Z, and raise it (same plate, Fig. 8, second time).

Figure 9. Bring "Z'" underneath "K" and out the other side. An opening will be formed between the two tails (seen between the yellow and pink pins)

     III. You lower the point K on the tie, now half-formed 0 (same plate, Fig. 9, third time).

Figure 10. Take the tail of "K" up behind "Z" and through the center of the opening created in Figure 9. My hand is holding "K" after it was brought through the opening.

     IV. Then, without leaving the point K, you bend it inside and draw it between the point Z, which you repass to the left, Y; in the tie now formed, Y, O, you thus accomplish the formation of the destined knot.

Figure 10.5. This image is not represented in the original plate but is discussed in the section below. It shows the knot after it has been tightened

     V. and last. After having tightened the knot, and flattened it with the thumb and forefinger, or more properly with the iron, mentioned in the preceding lesson (see plate A, Fig. 5) ; you lower the points, K, Z, cross them, and place a pin at the point of junction H, and at once solve the problem of the Noeud Gordien.

Figure 11. The finished knot. I did not have a nice tie pin to hold the tails together so I improvised with my pink-headed sewing pin.

     He who is perfectly conversant with the theory and practice of this tie, may truly boast that he possesses the key to all the others, which are, in fact, derived from this alone. A Cravat which has been once worn in this way, can only be used afterwards en negligé, as it will be so much tumbled by this intricate arrangement.

     The slightest error in the first fold of this tie will render all succeeding efforts, with the same handkerchief, entirely useless—we have said it.

     We would, therefore, seriously advise any one who really desires to be initiated in the mysteries of this delightful science, to make his first essay on a moderate sized block. We can confidently assure him that, with moderate perseverance, he will soon be enabled to pursue his studies with pleasure and advantage—on himself.

(A careful examination of the figures referred to in this lesson is strongly recommended).