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Ian's Shoelace Site Slipping Shoelace Knots? Home

Do your shoelaces always seem to come undone? This page shows why
some shoelace knots slip, and shows how to change them into secure knots.
Note that my "Ian Knot", the World's Fastest Shoelace Knot, doesn't slip!

Slipping Shoelace Knots?
A shoelace that keeps coming undone is both frustrating and dangerous!
Unsecure "Slip" Knot Secure "Reef" Knot
Does your shoelace bow twist
so that it points "heel to toe"?

Slip Knot Picture with Crooked Bow
If so, you're probably tying a "Slip"
(or "Granny") knot, and your shoe-
-laces will regularly come undone.
A properly tied shoelace bow
should sit straight across the shoe.

Reef Knot Picture with Straight Bow
Whilst there's only a subtle difference
in tying technique, the resulting "Reef"
(or "Square") knot is far more secure.
The difference in security is not just an "Old Wives Tale"; it's based on millennia of established knowledge. It arises from the forces of friction on adjacent contact points within the finished knot. In simple terms, this means that in the secure knot the adjacent bits pull from the same side and actually tighten the knot. In the unsecure version, the adjacent bits pull from opposite sides and tend to work the knot loose.

Try tying your shoelace, then shake your shoe a bit and look at how your bow sits on your shoe. If it's sitting crooked, I'd bet that your laces are always coming undone!

This rule doesn't just apply to shoelaces; it also explains why some people
can never get the ribbons on their dresses or in their hair to sit straight.

Which One is Yours?
Find out if your shoelace knotting technique results in a secure knot.
Secure "Reef" Knot
Starting Knot diagram 1
Starting Knot:
Left lace over Right lace & through
OR Left-Handed Starting Knot:
Right lace behind Left lace & through
Reef Knot diagram 1
Finishing Bow:
Left lace behind Right loop & through
OR Left-Handed Finishing Bow:
Right lace over Left loop & through
Unsecure "Slip" Knot
Starting Knot diagram 1
Starting Knot:
Left lace over Right lace & through
OR Left-Handed Starting Knot:
Right lace behind Left lace & through
Slip Knot diagram 1
Reversed Finishing Bow:
Left lace over Right loop & through
OR L.H. Reversed Finishing Bow:
Right lace behind Left loop & through
Secure "Reef" Knot (mirror image)
Starting Knot diagram 2
Reversed Starting Knot:
Right lace over Left lace & through
OR L.H. Reversed Starting Knot:
Left lace behind Right lace & through
Reef Knot diagram 2
Reversed Finishing Bow:
Left lace over Right loop & through
OR L.H. Reversed Finishing Bow:
Right lace behind Left loop & through
Unsecure "Slip" Knot (mirror image)
Starting Knot diagram 2
Reversed Starting Knot:
Right lace over Left lace & through
OR L.H. Reversed Starting Knot:
Left lace behind Right lace & through
Slip Knot diagram 2
Finishing Bow:
Left lace behind Right loop & through
OR Left-Handed Finishing Bow:
Right lace over Left loop & through
The fundamental visual difference between the four finished knots above lies in the way the laces cross over each other in the very centre of the knot. You'll notice that in the secure "Reef" knots, the crossovers at the top of the diagrams run in the opposite direction to those at the bottom of the diagrams. In the unsecure "Slip" knots, both the top and bottom crossovers run in the same direction.

Even though you may use a different technique to the standard ones shown above, the end result should be similar to one of those four outcomes (with perhaps the odd twist). In that case, there's roughly a 50% chance that your shoelace knot ends up as an unsecure "Slip" knot. The big question is, how do you fix it if it DOES?

Strictly speaking, the names "Reef", "Square", "Slip" and "Granny" knot all refer to normal KNOTS. These shoelace BOWS, which I have given those same names, differ only from their knot counterparts in that they have "ripcords" to undo them. If you pull on the loops until the loose end comes out, your "bow" will revert to a regular "knot".

Note also that a "Reef" or "Square" knot is NOT secure when joining ropes; most knotting references warn against this. As a shoelace or parcel knot, however, it is quite secure.

Fixing an Unsecure Knot
What to do if you discover that your shoelace knot is unsecure.
Okay, so you've just realised that you've wasted your whole life tying and re-tying what turns out to be a "Slip" knot. Don't panic, you won't have to learn one of several alternative "Secure" shoelace knots (such as my own Secure Knot), nor will you have to re-learn all those tricky finger movements in reverse. There's a really, really easy solution:

Simply reverse your Starting Knot!

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

You could, if you were more adventurous, reverse your finishing bow. This could be done either by swapping things left to right (changing left-handed movements to right-handed movements or vice versa) or by swapping things back to front (going around the back instead of around the front or vice versa).

So long as you reverse either your starting knot or your finishing bow, you will have changed your knot from a "Slip" knot (that comes undone) into a secure "Reef" knot (that stays tied). Of the two, the Starting Knot is the easiest to re-learn.

I occasionally receive an e-mail that tells me that my "Ian Knot" instructions result in an unsecure "Slip" knot. I've checked, and they definitely don't! However, anyone who ties their Starting Knot opposite to mine (ie. right lace over left lace), then follows the rest of my instructions exactly, will end up with a "Slip" knot.

Important Note for Parents / Teachers
Especially when re-tying shoelaces that were originally tied by someone else.
If you ever re-tie a child's laces that have come partly undone,
make sure that you're not accidentally creating a "Slip" knot!
Suppose a child comes to you with laces where the finishing bow has come undone, yet the starting knot is still intact. Don't be tempted to take a short-cut! You should always undo and then re-tie their starting knot just in case theirs was tied the opposite way to yours. Otherwise, the end result could be a "Slip" or "Granny" knot.

Note that some synthetic shoelaces are very slippery and will come
undone regardless of whether you tie a "Reef" knot or a "Slip" knot.
For those shoelaces, I'd recommend my Ian's Secure Knot.

Can't Figure Out Your Knot?
Sorry, it's not easy to explain the difference, even with diagrams.
If you couldn't relate your finished shoelace knot to the above diagrams, let's see if we can work out what knot you have from a simple description of the steps you take.

In the following table, I've listed four common ways (numbered 1 to 4) that you could tie your starting knot and four common ways that you could tie your finishing bow. Simply choose the number that corresponds to your starting knot and the number that corresponds to your finishing bow:
Starting Knot Choices Finishing Bow Choices
1: Left lace over Right lace & through
2: Left lace under Right lace & through
3: Right lace under Left lace & through
4: Right lace over Left lace & through
1: Left lace under Right loop & through
2: Left lace over Right loop & through
3: Right lace over Left loop & through
4: Right lace under Left loop & through
Now, add those two numbers together. If the result is EVEN (2, 4, 6 or 8), your knot is also "even", making it a secure "Reef" knot. If the result is ODD (3, 5 or 7), your knot is also "odd", making it an unsecure "Slip" knot.
(Eg: Starting Knot 4, Finishing Bow 2. 4+2=6 = Even = Secure).

If you're STILL not sure, yet your laces ARE always coming undone,
I'd recommend that you reverse your Starting Knot to see if it helps.

Tell Ian how you went
Ian asks: "How did you go?" Did my advice fix your problem with slipping shoelace knots? Use one of the buttons below to e-mail me and let me know how you went. Don't forget to type a quick "Hello" & where you're e-mailing from. I personally answer all e-mails (except spam!)
Terrific,
it works!
Interesting,
but...
Didn't
help
I want
the book!

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Your e-mail address will never be divulged to anyone else.

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Copyright © 2004 by Ian W. Fieggen. All rights reserved.



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