If The Shoe Slips, Swear At It

It was just last year, in my mid-30s, that I learned how to tie my shoes. Yes, at a time when most other men are getting ready to buy a Porsche, get a stupid little French-style beret to cover their bald spot, and maybe start visiting a tanning salon, I finally learned how to tie my shoes properly. It’s not my fault, though: I blame society.

You Are Knot Alone

Apparently, I am not the only person this has happened to, because when I showed my newly-found power of shoe-tying to an associate, she realized that she didn’t know how to tie them properly, either.

The way I learned how to tie my shoes, as a child, is as follows: do a bunch of stuff involving a rabbit and a tree and a hole. None of it makes any sense, but at the end, your shoes look tied. Take about 5 steps, and the knot falls out.

When I’d ask relatives why my knots came out, they told me, knowingly, “Well, that’s because you didn’t tie a double knot.” And they showed me how to tie a double knot.

The problem, of course, is that double knots are stupid. They do indeed keep your shoelaces tied, but they’re impossible to undo without five minutes of fiddling. They’re a pain. It’s enough to drive a man to wear only loafers.

The funny part, of course, is that double knots aren’t necessary at all. Just make sure you’re tying the good single knot, instead of the stupid one.

Which Knot Am I Tying?

Here’s the deal: if your single knots come untied, it is because you are tying a granny knot, instead of a square knot. Change one single gesture in your shoelace-tying regimen, and your knots will be easy to undo on purpose, but will not come undone when walking.

There’s a simple test to know which knot you are tying. Untie your shoe. Tie a single knot. Lean back and look at it, and shake your shoe just a little bit. If the loops on your laces fall to the left and right, you have tied a square knot. You can stop reading now, and go do something productive. If, on the other hand, the loops on your laces lay along the vertical axis of your shoe then you, like me, naturally tie the retarded type of knot. Only intervention will save you.

granny knot

Granny knot

I’m right-handed, so the way I naturally tie my laces is as follows: I pick up both ends of the laces. I put my right hand over my left and thread the lace in my right hand around the left one. Then I make a loop in my left hand, and wrap the lace in my right hand around and through the loop. Since I went right-over-left both times, that makes a granny knot, which comes undone if a stiff breeze blows on it. You’ll also end up with a granny knot if you go left-over- right both times.

Learning to not tie a granny knot isn’t hard.

square knot

Square knot

The thing I do now is to consciously put the left lace over the right one when making the first twist. This was disturbingly difficult the first few times I tried it, sort of like trying to use chopsticks with my off hand. Now, after months of practice, it only bothers me a little bit. By doing this, you end up with a square knot, also known as a reef knot. It’s much stronger than the granny knot, yet comes undone properly when you pull on one of the laces firmly.

I discovered this from the wonderfully singleminded shoeknots.com web site. It also helped assure me that I was not alone in my shoe-tying incompetence. Ian’s Shoelace Site is also pleasingly obsessive-compulsive, and has slightly better diagrams. Thanks to them, I am on the road to recovery.

To those about to tie, I salute you.