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". Learn how to keep your shoelaces tied by creating 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.

Brief Overview

  • 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;
  • The result is a neat, balanced shoelace bow that keeps your laces tied.

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. And it's not just some "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.

Video: Why a 'Granny Knot' comes undone

You can watch this happening in detail in the following video:
Why a "Granny Knot" comes undone

Spotting "Granny Knots"

Watch for crooked bows

Reese Witherspoon with possible 'Granny Knots'

Try tying your shoelace, then either tug the sides of the shoe apart or give your shoe a bit of a shake. Now look at how your bow sits. If it's crooked (ie. with the bows lying along the shoe from heel to toe), I'd bet that your shoelaces are always coming undone.

You're not alone!

I believe that up to half the population may be tying their shoelaces incorrectly. I spot people everywhere with the tell-tale crooked shoelace bows – on the street, in newspapers and magazines and on TV. Even celebrities are not immune (see photo).

No matter who you are, where you live or what your circumstances, you could be a "Granny Knotter".

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 tucking under and over 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 "Reef Knots" stay tied whereas "Granny Knots" tend to slip and come undone.

When is a knot a "Granny Knot"?

There's many different shoelace knots – and each of them can be tied correctly or incorrectly. Even if you use one of the three most common knots – the Standard Shoelace Knot, the Two Loop Shoelace Knot or my own "Ian Knot" – you might be mirroring some of the instructions, throwing the resulting knot out of balance.

Without getting too technical, here's a flowchart that shows several possible variations of just the first three stages of the above knots – at which point the result is destined to become either a balanced "Reef" knot or an un-balanced "Granny Knot".

'Granny Knot' flowchart

Fifty-fifty odds

It can be seen from the above flowchart that there are eight paths that result in "Reef Knots" and eight that result in "Granny Knots". That means that there's a 50-50 chance that you're tying your shoelaces incorrectly!

Of the three common knotting techniques, the Two Loop Shoelace Knot (or "Bunny Ears" method) is probably the one that is most often tied incorrectly. The technique consists of one knot tied with loose ends followed by a second knot tied with loops. People naturally tie both stages exactly the same way, resulting in a "Granny Knot". This has given it a bad reputation as an inferior knot – whereas it's actually quite secure if tied correctly.

Are you a "Granny Knotter"? 'Granny Knot' Analyser

Use the above flowchart – or better still – try my 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.

You could also retain the same starting knot and choose any of the remaining "Reef Knot" techniques in the above flowchart. 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 – or even learning a completely different knot. 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.

And that's it – the one simple trick for keeping your shoelaces tied!

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 50-50 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 given you a simple 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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