Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can you tie your shoes?

I vaguely remember learning to tie my shoes. It was kindergarten, so I was five years old. I remember getting the hang of it, but needing a lot of help. I've gotten better at it since, but not much better.

I remember when I had just started to get good at successfully tying my shoe pretty much every attempt. Some of the other kids in my class were learning the "advanced" technique where you only use one bunny ear at the end, and you sort of loop around it and pull the lace through or whatever, but it was pretty tricky.

By this time, I had gotten pretty good at the two bunny ears method; it didn't really seem worthwhile to learn a harder way. So I just stuck with the old way, and never really thought another thing of it.

Years go by, and I keep tying my shoes and going about my business like any especially accident-prone and relatively insane child does. My laces would come untied, and I would tie them again, and they would come untied, and I would tie them again.

Once in a while, when I am attempting to take off my shoes, I untie the laces on purpose--but this happens rarely, because for the most part the laces are either already undone, or I tear my shoes off without undoing the laces. Later, I would jam my foot back into the shoe while the laces were still tied, making tying the laces an exercise that would be called upon more or less randomly throughout the shoe-wearing process.

Throughout the day, the knot in the laces would gradually loosen as I walked about. Anything beyond moderate activity (running haplessly back and forth across a soccer field, or falling down the stairs, or whatever) would encourage the knot to loosen more rapidly.

Oftentimes, if I wanted to make it through a gym period without my shoes coming untied, I would tie the infamous "double knot" into the laces.

The double knot was just another basic overhand knot (using the two bunny ears) after the shoe had already been tied. While it's dramatically bulging shape made the knot extremely conspicuous and ugly to behold, the double knot would rarely budge. A given shoe could often be worn for several days on just one double knot.

The only real downside to the double knot was how difficult it was to untie. With no slip in the knot, you were forced to pick at the knot with your fingertips in attempt to loosen it.

Sometimes while trying to coax a double knot free, I would gain purchase on the wrong part of the lace; my subsequent yanking would tighten the knot further. This and other elaborate life challenges would continually vex me throughout my formative years.

Fast forward to last year, age twenty-seven; twenty-two years and likely tens of thousands of shoe-ties after completing my first in kindergarten. By this time, I am a veteran of shoe tying. I can tie my shoes with my eyes closed if I wish, and still do a pretty good job. My shoes still come untied, but it's something I have developed an awareness about and I'm pretty good at retying them right away.

I was at work busying myself with some relatively mundane task (perhaps tying my shoes) when I overheard a coworker talk about shoe tying, and how he spent his whole life tying his shoes the wrong way, and can you believe that, and wow, you do it too? I asked what he was talking about.

Those were the last words I spoke as an unenlightened shoe tier.

What he proceeded to explain to me can basically be summarized by this: a shoe-tying knot is based on a square knot:

The knot that stupid people tie by mistake is called a granny knot:

You can tell which knot someone has tied by looking at the orientation of the bunny ears in the final knot. If the ears are pointing straight out to the sides, then the person has successfully tied a square knot (correct):

If the knot pushes the bunny ears into more of an up-and-down position, then they have tied the granny:

Hopefully your shoes are not as ugly as mine, but other than that your completed tie should look like the top photo.

The secret lies in switching the bias of the laces as you cross them the second time (left over right, tuck under, then right over left, tuck under). If you cross them the same way both times, you get the granny.

The disadvantages of the granny knot are many. First and foremost, the knot is hopelessly unreliable in all applications. The knot can wiggle loose if the load on the knot is dynamic (as it is in the case of a shoe being walked in). Granny knots can also jam up when you are trying to untie them. In the case of shoe laces, the granny knot looks kind of crooked or lopsided, while the square knot splays the laces equally to both sides of the shoe.

No one ever ties a granny knot on purpose.

When my coworker (who shall remain nameless but has something to do with this band) revealed this knotting secret to me, I switched methods immediately. It took some practice to relearn the knot, but I was at least now able to recognize when I had failed and tied the granny. I liked the look of the knot, and how the bunny ears lay symmetrically across the shoe by default. For once, my shoes didn't look like they had a cowlick.

The appearance of my laces, however, was not the most significant change that was in store for me. I didn't notice the phenomenon right away, but since that fateful day my laces have never come untied.

All my shoe-tying days I thought that you tied your laces and they came untied, and that was just a part of life that you had to learn to deal with. Never again!

If you didn't know any of this knot theory but have been tying your laces correctly anyhow, well congratulations. Maybe someone taught you how to tie your shoes properly and you were paying attention at the time. Maybe you just got lucky, and never deviated from that.

But know this: unwittingly tying the granny is a real problem that affects millions of oblivious shoe tiers all over the world.

Some people inadvertently tie a granny once in a while, and maybe don't even notice. Other people tie their shoes wrong every time, and walk around for twenty-two years tying double knots in things and thinking that normal shoes just untie themselves.

If you know someone who suffers from this terrible ailment (known to the medical community as "stupidity"), send them a link to my blog:


If you know someone who does not suffer from this terrible ailment, send them a link to my blog:


And in case you were wondering: yes, I still tie my laces with the two bunny ears method.


  1. As I read your blog about tying shoes, I was thinking, "Poor guy, it's too bad he just didn't wear velcro sneakers all those years," but if that had been the case, then you wouldn't have felt so deeply the liberation, freedom and wonderment of this new technique, you wouldn't appreciate it as much as you do. You only wasted twenty-two years or so tying them the granny way, I mean using the "granny" knot, it could've been worse, you might've stumbled onto the "square" knot twenty-two years from now or worse, never, and look at all the wasted seconds which would have added up to minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and maybe even years of retying your shoes every single day! Your coworker has given you a gift, he's basically handed you more time in your life, hope you go out there and enjoy it!

  2. I'm enjoying what you've done here...keep doing it.