The "Granny Knot"

The 'Granny Knot'

Do your shoelace bows sit vertically instead of across the shoe? Do your shoelaces always come undone? If so, you're probably tying a "Granny Knot", and one simple change to your technique will result in a balanced knot that sits straight and stays secure.

NOTE: In some countries, the term "Granny Knot" refers to a simple overhand knot, whereas on this page and throughout this website I'm using the predominant meaning of an incorrectly tied knot.

Overview

This page explains the "Granny Knot" phenomenon in some detail. Put simply:

  • The Granny Knot is the most common reason for shoelaces coming undone;
  • It's caused when the Starting Knot & Finishing Bow don't "balance" each other;
  • It can be spotted by the tendency of the bow to sit crooked (ie. heel to toe);
  • It's fixed by reversing one stage of the knot, most easily the Starting Knot.

NOTE: This page is quite extensive and presents a lot of information on the "Granny Knot". There is also a basic video presentation.

What Causes a "Granny Knot"?

Shoelace knots are usually tied in two stages: Starting Knot followed by Finishing Bow. Each of these stages "twists" the shoelaces slightly. The direction in which each of those stages is tied (eg. "left-over-right" or "right-over-left") determines the "balance" of the finished knot.

Balanced shoelace knot with straight bow

Balanced Shoelace Knot

If both stages are tied in opposite directions, those twists cancel out each other, resulting in a "balanced" knot that sits straight (bows lying across the shoe from left to right) and that stays securely tied.

Un-balanced Granny Knot with crooked bow

Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

If both stages are tied in the same direction, those twists compound each other, resulting in an "un-balanced" knot that sits crooked (bows lying along the shoe from heel to toe) and that comes undone more easily.

What's the difference?

While there's only a subtle difference in tying technique, there's a BIG difference in security. This is not simply an "Old Wives Tale"; it's based on millennia of established knowledge. In fact, there's even a rhyme taught in Scouting:

Right over left, left over right,
Makes a knot both tidy and tight.

The difference is due to the adjacent contact points within the finished knot. In the balanced shoelace knot, tension on the bottom part of the knot (due to foot movement) will actually pull the adjacent top part of the knot tight. In the un-balanced "Granny Knot", the adjacent contact points run in opposite directions, so the same tension on the bottom part of the knot will actually work the adjacent top part of the knot loose.

Are your shoelace bows crooked?

Try tying your shoelace, then either tug the sides of the shoe apart or give your shoe a bit of a shake, then look at how your bow sits. If it's crooked, I'd bet that your shoelaces are always coming undone!

Spotting Granny Knots elsewhere

This rule doesn't just apply to shoelaces. Crooked bows due to "Granny Knots" also happen on dresses, aprons, hair ribbons, wedding invitations, even bow ties, all of which use the same type of bow-knot. Once you start looking for crooked bows, you'll see them in all sorts of places.

Technical Description

Balanced Shoelace Knot

Balanced Knot diagram

In knotting terminology, this is known as a "Reef Knot" (or "Square Knot") with "drawstrings" (or "ripcords").

(or simply a "Slipped Reef Knot")

Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Un-Balanced Knot diagram

In knotting terminology, this is known as a "Granny Knot" (or "Slip Knot") with "drawstrings" (or "ripcords").

(or simply a "Slipped Granny Knot")

Symmetry = Security

Even looking at the above diagrams, the first looks nicely balanced and symmetrical while the second looks out of balance, with bits coming out the front and back on both sides. In the real-world knot, those adjacent bits that are in harmony stay secure while those that are in discord come undone.

Rope Knot counterparts

The knotting terminology tells us that these shoelace knots have basically the same core structure as the well known rope knots called "Reef Knot" and "Granny Knot", with the only difference being the "drawstrings" (the ends that are pulled to undo them).

These shoelace knots therefore share the same strengths and weaknesses as their rope knot counterparts, in particular the fact that "Granny Knots" easily come undone.

Which One is Yours?

Chances are that you are tying your shoelaces with one of three common knots: The Standard Shoelace Knot, the Two Loop Shoelace Knot or my own "Ian Knot". If tied correctly, all three of these form the identical finished knot (a "Slipped Reef Knot").

However, there's just as many incorrect ways of tying them as there are correct ways, so there's a 50% chance that your method results in an un-balanced "Granny Knot".

Standard Shoelace Knot

Good Technique 1
Start = Left end over Right end & through
Finish = Right loop, Left end around Back
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 1
Start = Right end over Left end & through
Finish = Right loop, Left end around Back
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Good Technique 2
Start = Left end over Right end & through
Finish = Left loop, Right end around Front
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 2
Start = Right end over Left end & through
Finish = Left loop, Right end around Front
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Good Technique 3
Start = Right end over Left end & through
Finish = Right loop, Left end around Front
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 3
Start = Left end over Right end & through
Finish = Right loop, Left end around Front
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Good Technique 4
Start = Right end over Left end & through
Finish = Left loop, Right end around Back
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 4
Start = Left end over Right end & through
Finish = Left loop, Right end around Back
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"


Two Loop Shoelace Knot

Good Technique 1
Start: Left end over Right end & through
Finish: Right loop over Left loop & through
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 1
Start: Right end over Left end & through
Finish: Right loop over Left loop & through
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Good Technique 2
Start: Right end over Left end & through
Finish: Left loop over Right loop & through
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 2
Start: Left end over Right end & through
Finish: Left loop over Right loop & through
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"


Ian Knot

Good Technique 1
Start: Left end over Right end & through
Finish: Left end in front, Right end behind
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 1
Start: Right end over Left end & through
Finish: Left end in front, Right end behind
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Good Technique 2
Start: Right end over Left end & through
Finish: Left end behind, Right end in front
Result = Balanced "Reef Knot"

Bad Technique 2
Start: Left end over Right end & through
Finish: Left end behind, Right end in front
Result = Un-balanced "Granny Knot"


Worst Offending Knot

Of the three knots, the Two Loop Shoelace Knot (or "Bunny Ears" method) is probably the biggest cause of "Granny Knots" because most people naturally tie the starting knot and finishing bow exactly the same way. This has given it a bad reputation as an inferior knot, whereas it's actually quite secure if tied correctly.

TIP: Instead of trying to find your technique within the above table of variations, use my new interactive Granny Knot Analyser, which uses a series of multiple-choice diagrams to analyse your shoelace tying technique.

Fixing an Un-balanced "Granny Knot"

Okay, so you've just realised that you've wasted your whole life tying and re-tying what turns out to be a "Granny Knot". Don't panic, the solution is as easy as the problem.

Simply reverse your Starting Knot!

Left-over-Right starting knot

Left-over-Right starting knot diagram
Right-over-Left starting knot diagram

Right-over-Left starting knot

In other words, if you currently tie your starting knot: "Left end over Right end & through", simply change it to: "Right end over Left end & through", or vice versa.

From the above table of variations, if your method is listed as a "Bad Technique", the equivalent "Good Technique" corresponds to the identical technique with a reversed starting knot.

You could also retain the same starting knot and choose any of the remaining "Good Techniques" in the table, which corresponds to changing your finishing bow. This might involve passing something around the back instead of around the front or vice versa, or doing something on the left side instead of the right side or vice versa. However, most people will find it easier to re-learn the simple action of the starting knot than to re-learn the more complex actions of the finishing bow.

Important Note for Parents / Teachers

Suppose a child comes to you with shoelaces that were tied by someone else and that have come partly undone. In other words, the finishing bow has come untied, yet the starting knot is still intact.

Don't take a shortcut when re-tying!
You might create a "Granny Knot".

You should always undo and then re-tie their starting knot just in case theirs was tied the opposite direction to the way you tie yours. Otherwise, there's a 50% chance that you'll be creating a "Granny Knot", which will come undone again.

Kindergarten teachers and day care providers probably spend more time re-tying kids shoelaces than anyone else. It's important that they, of all people, know the correct way to tie. They can also help enormously by learning to spot "Granny Knots" and teaching the child and/or their parents how to correct this problem.

NOTE: Some shoelace knots are prone to coming undone simply because the shoelaces are too slippery. The solution is to either replace those laces with cotton ones or to adopt my Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot.

Summary

Hopefully this page has explained the "Granny Knot", has allowed you to identify whether or not you were tying one, and if so, has enabled you to choose a suitable solution. I also hope that you will keep your eyes open for others with crooked shoelace bows and will pass on this information to them.

See the Testimonials page to read some of the huge amount of feedback that I've received from others who have benefited from this advice.

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