ABC Radio (Australia) Interview

ABC (icon)

Nov-2006: Lengthy on-air interview during which the host browsed my website and discussed my “Ian Knot”, the “Granny Knot”, lacing methods, aglets and other info that she encountered.

Interview Details

Interview Transcript

ANNIE: Now, have you gone to that website yet? fieggenF-I-E-double-G-E-N dot-com forward-slash shoelace forward-slash – that's it.

Now, how many ways do you reckon you can tie a shoelace? Well, believe it or not, Ian – Ian Fieggen – says – strictly speaking, it's in the trillions! If you've got a standard pair of trainers or boots with six eyelets on either side of the shoe.

And how do you tie them up? What's the best way to tie them up? Well look, let's – without further delay – let's meet Ian Fieggen. Hello, Ian.

IAN: Hi, Annie. How are you?

ANNIE: I'm very well, thank you. Now, I'll just tell people a little bit about you. Ian came to Australia as a tiny tot from Holland when he was little, although he was born in New Zealand. Lives in Melbourne now. Has had a– an interesting life. Computer graphics ... bit arty as well, done a bit of graphic design ... computer programming ... but he says that he's probably– what he's interested in is efficiency. Now, is it this interest in efficiency, Ian, that's led you to become so knowledgeable about good shoelace tying and led you to set up this fascinating website on it?

IAN: I guess that's one of the main reasons. I've just always tried to find a better way of doing things and that's what led me to invent the “Ian Knot” in the first place.

ANNIE: Ah yes, the “Ian Knot”(chuckles). Wha– how does that work?

IAN: Well ... it was simply a matter of one morning when my shoelace broke, I noted that it was always one side of the shoelace that tended to break, so I think on my one it was always the left end of the shoelace that broke. And I thought: “Why is that? It's probably because it's wearing unevenly.” So, in the process of setting about trying to invent a symmetrical way of tying shoelaces, I inadvertently stumbled on a fast way of tying shoelaces. And ... you know, for many years that was just a bit of a novelty and I used to amuse family and friends and so forth with it – and the occasional shoe shop assistant. And then when the mighty Internet came along a few years ago I thought: Well, I– I'll stick it on a website and just have a bit of fun with it.

ANNIE: Now, people can see that, I'm opening up your lacing shoes website at the “Lacing Methods”. Now, as I recall, 'cause I've– having a good look at your– your website earlier today ... which illustrates lots of these different methods. So we've got “Criss Cross Lacing”, “Over Under Lacing”, “Straight or European Lacing”, “Straight or Fashion Lacing”, “Straight Lazy Lacing”, etc etc etc. Now, is the “Ian Knot” – where did I see the “Ian Knot”, Ian?

IAN: Well there's– there's three main sections of the site. The first section is the “Lacing Shoes”, which is all about the different ways of running the laces through the eyelets. Then there's the section on “Tying Shoelaces”, and that has about sixteen different knots, that you– different ways of tying the– the shoelaces into knots, and the first one of course is my “Ian Knot”.

ANNIE: Ah, there it is, of course.

IAN: And the third main– the third main important section on the site is about checking whether your shoelaces come undone because there's a large number of people – probably 40 or 50 percent of the population – who are actually tying a “Slip Knot” inadvertently, so this one gives them simple advice on ensuring– or first of all, identifying whether you are doing that, and secondly how to fix it – which is a very simple solution also.

ANNIE: Well, there's your “Ian Knot” now. Mmmm. Mmmm. It's almost impossible to put into words, well I– I can't do it!

IAN: I think it'd be hard to describe on the radio, yeah, you're right, but it's ... it basically involves creating a couple of loops and sort of magically pushing them through each other so that it actually forms the ... traditional looking knot ... but of course it's much quicker because both hands are pushing one side of the loop through the other side simultaneously.

ANNIE: Yes. Yeah, you really do need to see the picture –

IAN: (laughs)

ANNIE: – to get your mind around that one. There's “Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot”. Oh, here's your “Standard Shoelace Knot”. Is that the standard shoelace knot? I see the “Two Loop Shoelace Knot”, ah yeah. I just tie one of those “bows”.

IAN: Mmmm. Well, funnily enough that there's several different ways of tying what forms exactly the same bow, so ... what a lot of people call a “Standard Shoelace Knot”, other people go: “Mmmm – I tie it differently to you.” So, as I discovered when I first put this stuff on the– on the website, people started ... giving me feedback and were saying: “Hmmm – hey – I do it differently” and– and so the– the sixteen different ways of tying shoelaces gradually grew.

ANNIE: Mmmmm. I'm sort of mesmerised here. Okay, well there's the knots. Millions and millions of knots – well, not– not literally, but – few dozen. Now the – methods of lacing shoes, now you've illustrated here – oh, how many – lacing methods, here you go.

IAN: From memory there's 32 different methods at the moment.

ANNIE: But you will say that theoretically – mathematically – there could be up to two trillion ways of lacing shoes.

IAN: That's right, in fact ... a few years ago there was ... some renewed interest in the number of ways of lacing when ... an Australian mathematician by the name of Burkard Polster ... investigated this and put a– a mathematical theorems into the “Nature” magazine [journal] and ... he became ... famous around the world by ... you know, everyone picked up on this and this increased popularity of my site also because everyone was looking for the different ways of lacing and suddenly discovered my website with many lacing methods. But ... yes it's– it's simple mathematics that can come up with an answer like two trillion. In real terms it's probably quite a few less than that because, you know, prac– a lot of those two trillion methods would be just jumbled messes of course.

ANNIE: Yes, they're not necessarily good or sensible ways to –

IAN: No (laughs).

ANNIE: – lace your shoes. Well, in fact, there's a picture there, which shows that you're not simply transferring the lace from one hole to another, are you? Even– I mean, there's obviously a lot of different holes you can put any one end of the lace through.

IAN: Exactly.

ANNIE: But you're actually tying the laces around each other on the way and making intricate patterns with them before they get anywhere near the hole.

IAN: Mmmm. There's– there's a few different ... decorative lacing methods and probably the ones that interest me also are the practical methods that have been used by, for example, the military. They've got various preferred methods of lacing for– for comfort or ... one of the common things is for the military to lace with the– the top part of the lace that comes out the top of the eyelet to be running straight across the top. The reasoning behind that being that if a– if a infantry man or someone injures a foot, such as stepping on a land mine – God forbid – they could then ... cut through the laces with a knife very quickly thus making it easier to remove the shoe from the foot. So these types of practical methods are always of interest.

ANNIE: Mmmmm. Well another such is your “Riding Boot Lacing”, where one lace– the– the laces start at the bottom of the shoe and the top of the boot, respectively, and make their way down towards the middle of the boot and sort of tie there so that you un– you loosen the tie in the middle of your boot.

IAN: Exactly, yeah, that– that's really specifically for riding boots, which actually have– the top of the riding boot is– is joined like the bottom of the riding boot and only the middle is where it widens out towards the ankle, so those ones have to have this special lacing that ... opens up in the middle.

ANNIE: So you take your foot out through that hole in the middle?

IAN: No, no – it still comes out the top, but ... if you can imagine the riding boot, towards the top it's much wider because it– it goes up your calf, so to speak.


IAN: The calf of your leg is much wider than down the bottom, so it's sort of like a large funnel. Now, when you undo the middle– that middle of the lacing, the whole funnel sort of widens out and becomes wide enough for your whole foot to slip out.

ANNIE: So, what's the point in– in tying it up in the middle?

IAN: Well, because that's– (chuckles) that's where the middle of the ... of the– oh, hard to describe really in real life.

ANNIE: (chuckles)

IAN: On– on the site you'll see there's a photo of ... of an actual riding boot and you'll see what it– what the difference is that the riding boot actually ... widens out in the middle there.

ANNIE: But why– why not tie up a riding boot in the traditional way?

IAN: Oh, I guess that's probably just for appearance, that–

ANNIE: Oh, okay.

IAN: – that way it can have a– it can have a uniform piece of– of leather around the top of the boot.

ANNIE: I see. Yes. Yes.

IAN: Very attractive boot.

ANNIE: “Knotted Lacing”, “Twistie Lacing”, “Roman Lacing”, yes. Which is alternate– alternating an X-I-X-I pattern. “Checkerboard Lacing”, ahh–

IAN: Checkerboard's extremely popular, actually.

ANNIE: Is it?

IAN: A lot of people ... wear that and–

ANNIE: Do you–

IAN: – always get asked by other people: “How on earth did you do that?”

ANNIE: Do you have a pre– preferred style of lacing?

IAN: Yeah, well, I'm a fairly boring person, actually – I tend to go for something that's simple and efficient, as always. So the ... my preferred lacing is the “Over Under Lacing”, where there's crosses of lacing on the top of the shoe and there's crosses of lacing underneath the [sides of the] shoe. The idea is you can very easily get your finger under the crosses at the top of the shoe to pull it tight.

ANNIE: Mmmm.

IAN: And – just as equally – get it under there to pull it loose.

ANNIE: Mmmm. Yeah.

IAN: So that's my preferred lacing – and it's moderately decorative, but ...

ANNIE: (chuckles) Yes. And you've– there's ah– I notice that you've got on your website a feature called: “Shoelace Photo of the Week”.

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: (chuckles) How do you choose those?

IAN: Well, the most interesting one that's been sent in to me this week, so there's ... I get a number of photos sent to me every week and whichever one of those catches my eye that's– that one gets put onto my front page.

ANNIE: What are some of the “Frequently Asked Questions” that people frequently ask?

IAN: Oh, dear, there– probably the most common one is: “What do you call the end of a shoelace?” (laughs) Which is called an “aglet”, believe it or not.

ANNIE: An “aglet”, yes I've heard that.

IAN: You have the “eyelets” that the shoelaces go through and the “aglets” are the little plastic or metal bits at the ends of the shoelace.

ANNIE: Yes, yes. And when they go, I've just chucked away a pair of trainers, actually, which is a hard thing to do because you become quite attached to them, your comfy shoes. And I've washed the shoelaces I don't know how many times because they're outdoor shoes and they're always getting dusty and dirty. And– I– it occurred to me that I was putting up with all sorts of difficulty getting the– the aglets– relacing my shoes, getting the aglets back into the– through the eyelets because the aglets have gone all– sort of– you know – ratty –

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: – from long use. So, chucked the whole lot out – laces, shoes, the works.

IAN: Mmmm. Oh, it's not very good for recycling ... perspective, but ...

ANNIE: Ooops! (chuckles)

IAN: I– I like to try and keep things running as long as I can and with– with the laces– in fact, one of the most common things nowadays is that laces seem to be too long. I don't know what the manufacturers are doing but ... most people are complaining nowadays that laces come far too long for the shoe.

ANNIE: Right.

IAN: I've had ones that are probably more than a metre too long for my shoes, which makes it very awkward. Now, what that happens– what then happens is that you– you tie your shoelaces, they're often too long and you end up stepping on the aglets and of course you end up with little broken aglets. So my solution is to actually cut the shoelaces to the correct length and put new aglets on.

ANNIE: Can you do that?

IAN: Yeah, I've put a whole section on my website under the “Shoelace Tips” section and there's a section called “Aglet Repair”, on which–

ANNIE: Oooh! I haven't come across that.

IAN: Yeah, have– have a look at all the “Shoelace Tips” section.

ANNIE: Right. But it's what I did when my aglets started to go ratty was cut the ratty bit off the end. But that didn't seem to work so well, there seemed to be something about the manufacturing process which had them sort of crimped neatly at the end –

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: – so that they went through the eyelets easily. So, it didn't really work for me. And another time I tried ... cutting off the– the ratty aglets altogether and wrapping sticky tape tightly around the end of the lace as a sort of new home-made aglet. But that didn't work terribly well either.

IAN: Well, it'll work short term, and in fact that's one of the methods that I have featured on the site there –

ANNIE: Have you? Ahhh.

IAN: – but I've got ... like I say, there's eight different methods ranging from simple to quite complicated – you can replace them with bits of metal tubing. My most popular method is the “Heat Shrink Tubing Aglet”. Heat shrink is a type of thin rubber– polyethylene tubing, I think it is, and it's designed mainly for electrical joins, the concept being that when you join two bits of wire together you put a little bit of this heat shrink tubing over it and heat it with ... a soldering iron or a– a blow gun or something like that and it'll actually shrink inwards and insulate the join. Now, I've found this heat shrink tubing is fabulous for making little aglets as well.

ANNIE: (chuckles)

IAN: So you cut a little section just to the right length ... slip it over the end of your shoelace and warm it up with a very hot hairdryer or – say – you can even hold it over a match flame so long as you're careful not to burn it, and it will neatly shrink to shape and ... make an almost ideal little aglet.

ANNIE: Mmmm.

IAN: So I normally do this with every new pair of shoelaces that I buy, I cut them to the right length, fit them out with new aglets and then I never have a problem again.

ANNIE: Mmmm (chuckles). Now tell me, Ian – do you have a preference for any particular type of shoelace, 'cause as we know, there's the ones which are– sort of round, which have a round profile, and they're quite thin, and then there were the flat ones, which you often see in trainers, sport shoes.

IAN: Yeah, the– the flat ones– especially the very wide flat ones, are having a bit of a resurgence nowadays as one way to sort of “dress up” your shoes somewhat. With narrow shoelaces ... no matter how fancy a pattern you do, it's not that noticeable, but with wide shoelaces it really stands out. Some of the patterns, like there's one called “Lattice Lacing” that's very popular, sort of ends up looking like a– a lattice on a window, for example. And that with wide laces looks really nice, so I'd say that would be my preference.

You can also ... you'll find that kids prefer the wide laces too, especially when kids are first learning to lace because they can grip them more easily in their small hands.

ANNIE: Mmmm.

IAN: So ... that's one thing I recommend when people are teaching their children to tie shoelaces to ... fit them out with nice comfy, easy-to-hold shoelaces and ... therefore make it a bit easier for them to learn.

ANNIE: Ahh – now look – continuing to browse your website – here's another issue. I came across this earlier in the day, but one that's been for too long ignored – the question of bows tying crookedly, so that when you finish the tie, the– the bow sits not across your foot but vertically or diagonally sort of across it, looking non-symmetrical.

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: Is that a problem?

IAN: It is indeed! In fact I find myself watching television programs and watching people in the street – wherever I see someone with a– a crooked bow, it's almost a sure sign that that person is tying what we call a “Granny Knot”.

Now, a traditional shoelace knot is – in knotting terms – it's called a “Reef Knot” with “ripcords”, which are basically the ends that you pull on that it makes the knot come undone. Now, a– if it's tied correctly, you form a “Reef Knot”, which is symmetrical, it'll sit nice and straight and it won't really come undone. Now, for all those people that are finding that they've got their knot sitting crooked, they are probably tying what's called a “Granny Knot”. And a Granny Knot – besides sitting crooked – also comes undone a lot more easily. There are many people that will find their shoelaces come undone two, three, four times a day, and invariably they're tying a “Granny Knot”.

So, if you find that your shoelaces are sitting crooked, by all means visit the site because the solution is very very simple. It simply involves tying your “Starting Knot” the opposite way. So, if you tie your starting knot by putting the left end over the right end, simply reverse it – put the right end over the left end. And the end result will be an almost idet– identical knot except that it's symmetrical and it's secure. And it's what I call a “balanced knot” .. you know, the balance between the starting knot and the finishing knot is the difference between a– a Reef Knot and a Granny Knot that stays tied or comes undone!

ANNIE: Mmmm. Well, you're a marvel, Ian Fieggen.

IAN: (laughs)

ANNIE: (chuckles) You're a boon to humanity (chuckles). Do you get much feedback?

IAN: I do indeed, I– I get fascinating letters from people all round the world. There's ... probably the most heartwarming are the ones where ... for example, people that have had the solution of the lifelong problem of shoelaces coming undone. Or the other most heartwarming ones are ones where– there's a lot of people whose children, for example, just simply cannot get the hang of tying a shoelace knot. There are people either with ... some sort of a– a physical difficulty or an emotional difficulty or whatever – they just simply can't get it. And occupational therapists have various techniques that they teach to these kids to try to – you know – get them to learn how to tie a shoelace knot. And I've had a few people who've had success using the “Ian Knot” because – besides being faster – it's actually a little bit simpler, that there's fewer steps involved. And I– I've had some really lovely letters from, you know, a– a kid that had been trying for a year to learn how to tie a shoelace and just couldn't get it, and having tried the “Ian Knot”, they– within 15 minutes or so they had it going and the pride on this kid's face to see that: “Mum! I can actually tie my shoelace!”

ANNIE: (laughs)

IAN: It's those stories that are just fabulous.

ANNIE: (chuckles) And tell me, Ian – does it drive you mad when you see teenagers walking down the street with their shoelaces left undone?

IAN: Yeah, I don't know what this “fashion trend” is, but ...

ANNIE: Ohhh, I can't bear to see that!

IAN: It bothers me to think what they've been dangling in as they walk down the street.

ANNIE: Yeah – but I– I keep thinking that they're going to trip over any minute.

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: That sense of impending disaster.

IAN: Oh, there've been some interesting stories. There was a story in the news – about, oh – six months ago, about someone whose shoelaces came undone and they tripped over in a museum and destroyed two Ming vases.

ANNIE: There you go!

IAN: So ... had they used one of these more secure knots, that wouldn't have happened.

ANNIE: (chuckles) Yeah, but you do get the sense that they don't care, that it's a matter of choice, don't you?

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: “I– I'm too cool to be bugged about something as petty or daggy as shoelaces.”

IAN: Mmmm.

ANNIE: Something like that.

IAN: The amazing thing is that kids even want [to] go skateboarding [or] run with their shoelaces untied, now there's an accident waiting to happen, surely.

ANNIE: Oh. The tears before bedtime (chuckles).

IAN: (laughs)

ANNIE: Ian – gotta let you go. Thanks very much for your time.

IAN: Oh, you're welcome! I hope a few people have learned a few things about shoelaces.

ANNIE: Yes, yes. Well, I'll remind them of how to find your website because it's very very – very illuminating. Thanks again, Ian.

IAN: You're welcome, Annie.

ANNIE: Bye bye.

IAN: Nice to talk to you.

ANNIE: Ian Fieggen there. He lives in Melbourne. His website's fieggenF-I-E-double-G-E-N dot-com forward-slash shoelace. So, if you still haven't managed to get that down or that you think later on: “Oh, actually, I might have a look at that website” – probably if you Google “shoelace” would be good enough, but F-I-E-double-G-E-N is the gentleman's name.

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