April 27, 2006

If The Shoe Slips, Swear At It

by peterb

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 shoeslaces 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.

Posted by peterb at April 27, 2006 09:57 PM | Bookmark This

Well I've used the double knot since ... well, since the first time my shoe came untied while walking. Untying it is rather simple - three steps. From the knot grab one of the laces where one end goes into the knot and comes out as a loop back into the knot and the other end goes into the knot and out as the end of the lace, and pull. Usually the end of the lace will come out of the knot first, followed by the loop. Now you have a poorly tied granny knot (single loop). Undo that loop as you usually would untie the granny knot and take off shoes. ~20 years of doing this, I do it easily without looking.
Given all that, you can prepare to salute :).
Perhaps I don't tie my granny knot as you do...hmm.
huh...forget all that, according to shoeknots (before double knotting) I tie a square knot. So then the question comes up why did my shoes come untied when I was younger? Or even more, the additional 2 seconds it takes to double knot my shoes all these years... how much of my life could have been saved?

Posted by Trin at April 28, 2006 01:22 AM

I've been using Ian's Secure Knot for a couple months now. I could never manage to keep my Skechers tied for more than a couple hours at a shot, often less, but now I tie them when I put them on and untie them when I take them off. It's a wonderfully liberating thing in its own small way.

Posted by Chris Hanson at April 28, 2006 04:30 AM

I tie rope into a monkey fist to beat people with.

Posted by Shelby Davis at April 28, 2006 01:55 PM

I read this article before going to bed last night. My dreams were full of me staring at my dream-shoes, tying and retying the knots. Periodically the Oblivion "level up" noise would occur and I would get better at my Shoe Tying skill (primary sttribute: agility).

I guess I didn't gain enough levels, because I tried the new knots this morning and didn't even make it down the stairs before ol' righty came untied. Video games have lied to me yet again.

Posted by Adam Rixey at April 28, 2006 06:09 PM

In one's life there are sometimes small and simple changes that have a huge and permanent impact. This entry on shoelaces has been the impetus to one such change for me. I've been struggling with self-untying knots for years. Even my double knots would slip out several times a day. I figured that I was just cursed or was selecting a too-slippery brand of laces. But no, it was the granny knot. Yesterday I put single square knots in my laces and proceeded to walk around all day with no untying. I showed my girlfriend the secure knots with pride so many times that I'm surprised she didn't pat me on the head and buy me an ice cream cone. I have to admit that even more than the pleasure of knowing my shoelace woes are behind me, I'm looking forward a bit too smugly to sharing this information with other knot-impaired friends.

Posted by Dave at April 30, 2006 11:11 AM

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