“Creativity often consists of merely turning up what is already there. Did you know that right and left shoes were thought up only a little more than a century ago?” -Bernice Fitz-Gibbon
Yes, I have a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Yes, I’ve spent years as a professional scientist, an award-winning physics teacher and professor, and a professional science communicator. And earlier this month, I learned that all of that hasn’t kept me from tying my shoes incorrectly for the past 29 years. Not only that, but if you put as little thought into tying your shoes as I did, you’ve got a 50-50 shot of tying them wrong yourself! Widespread Panic has their own advice about how you gotta
Now, as we all know, the first step is the old “criss-cross and tuck” of the shoelaces, where you cross the laces together, tucking one under the other, and pull them tight.
We don’t often think about it, but — maybe it’s because I’m left-handed — I always cross the left lace over the right lace before tucking it under and pulling. I could’ve just as easily crossed the right lace over the left, and that would be just as good; either way could give me a nicely tied shoe.
Or a very poorly tied shoe, as we’ll see in a minute. Either way, this leaves you with one lace on either side of the shoes. The next step is to make a loop with one of those sides.
Again, maybe it’s the left-handed thing, but I always made the loop with my right hand, leaving the left hand free for what comes next. Of course, you can make a loop with either the right lace or the left lace, and either way you’ll end up with tied shoes.
It shouldn’t make a difference, right? Well, that all depends on what you do next. Because the next step is to wrap the unlooped lace around the loop, before pulling it through the new loop you just created. But — for the third time — you’ve got two choices here.
You can wrap the shoelace underneath the loop and then up and around back towards you, before pulling it through, which will tie your shoe. But you could’ve also gone the other way.
You could have wrapped the shoelace over the loop, and then down and around back towards you, before pulling it through and completing the tie.
This is what I’ve been doing my entire shoe-tying life. And, much like this unsuspecting fashion blogger, my shoes have looked like this.
Tied, sure, but with these weak, skewed bowties that — for some reason — either come undone after a few hours of standard walking, or wind up in some heinous, difficult-to-undo mess of a knot. In addition to not being a very good knot, my shoes never looked nice and neat like some people’s. I’m talking about knots like this.
Knots that are square to the laces. Knots where the tied bow runs parallel to the criss-crossed-and-tucked laces that they sit upon. Knots that self-tighten as you walk, and that always come out when you want them to with just a pull of either loose lace. Going in for a closer look, here’s what a nicely tied shoelace bow looks like.
How hard could it be to make a knot like that? And why don’t my laces look like this?
It turns out that what’s going on, in terms of the two sides, is the difference between a Reef Knot and a Granny Knot. And all I had to do, all these years, was switch any one of the steps I took, and I would have been tying my shoes in nice, well-tied Reef Knots instead of these lousy, impossible-to-stay-tied Granny Knots!
I went and put together an infographic to help you follow along and get the good (Reef) knots out of your shoes. Have a look!
You can see what I’ve been doing: left over right for step 1, loop with the right lace for step 2, and wrapping the lace over the loop for step 3, giving me the dreaded Granny Knot in my shoes. And I never even knew!
As soon as I learned of this, I tried tying my shoes in a Reef Knot, and the difference was immediately noticeable. Not only did my shoes look different, with the laces neatly aligned, but my shoes wore differently as I walked throughout the day. The knot didn’t loosen or unravel over the course of the day, and no double-knotting was necessary to keep it tied! My biggest peeve about the whole ordeal? How did I make it until my 30s before I found out about this?
But it wasn’t until I stumbled across this video that I even considered I’d been tying my shoes improperly.
So don’t let your kids (or yourselves) suffer through another day of poorly tied shoes! Yes, you’ll feel like a fool, taking an extra 10 seconds to tie them as your fingers fumble with one of the seven-out-of-eight ways you’re unaccustomed to tying them, but the payoff is worth it!
Hope this helps at least a few of you, and hope you have a great one this weekend!