Back by Popular Demand: The Art of Tying Shoes

matthew's picture

To skip ahead to what I've figured out is the best knot on the planet, go to the bottom of this blog entry.

On the bus, we had a discussion of how to properly tie a shoe. I've had problems with my shoes coming untied my whole life, and just assumed it would always be that way. Since I was about six I've double-knotted them to keep them from coming untied unexpectedly, and that's worked great for the last twenty-three years.

Richard, my neighbor, noticed the double knot, and commented that the reason they were coming untied was that I was tying them wrong. He said this vital information came to him from a former Math major at the University of Utah, who in turn had claimed that was the most important piece of information he'd learned in college. The way Richard explained it, I was simply crossing the laces backwards in the very first step of making the knot.

Try out this much better explanation of the difference in knots, and how to keep your shoelaces from coming untied at all the worst times. This is definitely one of the most important pieces of information you'll use in your life if you wear lace-up shoes. However, if you read to the end, you'll find that properly tying your shoes in a square not is not the best way to keep them from coming untied! The ultimate solution is probably cowboy boots or loafers, but until then, the Freedom Knot link at the bottom of this page comes pretty close to the perfect knot.

Do you think you know all there is to know about lacing up shoes? Then check out the mathematical proof for the most efficient lace-up patterns. Spoiler: Turns out man has already selected the strongest patterns through trial and error.

And in case you really want to build the better bow, try this shoe-tying link.

Update 9 May 2003:
Since I wrote this page, I've come across several more useful shoe-tying links. Since this seems to be the only page on my blog people come for, here is the link list!

  • Zen Elightenment and the Art of Tying Your Shoes. Warning! Pop-ups! My take: I don't entirely get Zen, but if you're into it, now there's a Zen reason for you to appreciate shoe-tying more.
  • Shoe-tying poetry and stories. No, I'm not kidding. These are mostly poems and stories to remind you of the steps to tying your shoes.
  • Understanding Robotic difficulty tying shoes. Yep, it's hard for robots, too, and this page will help you understand why.
  • The Freedom Knot. Now THIS is the best shoe-tying knot I've ever found. Period. This knot does not come undone!. No lie, no joke. This is a 7-step, amazing knot. Click the little feet images to get the step-by-step procedure. It looks confusing at first, and it's really hard to do if your laces are too short, but man it rocks. This beats the "Build a Better Bow" knot because it is easier to do, particularly for small fingers, and it's easy to remember which lace to pull -- you just pull them both!

Unfortunately, I don't have any links yet for one-armed shoe-tyers. I'm still looking for the perfect one-handed shoe bow. If you have suggestions, mail me at matthew at barnson dot org.

EDIT by matthew: Since the day I posted this on May 5, 2003, I finally received several links to one-handed shoe-tying information. The best one I've found is Jenny Stemack's Guide to One-Armed Shoe-Tying (scroll to the bottom; she includes directions both for one-handed and one-armed shoe-tying). It's really quite excellent, and based on the number of requests I've received via this site for one-armed shoe-tying information, will probably be helpful for those of us who find ourselves temporarily or permanently one-handed.


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This is beautiful.

I have my first demonstration speech coming up here at school, next week. This is very useful data! ;)

matthew's picture

Wow, I got a comment!

I'm happy to have been of service. This blog entry has been up for nearly a year (in various forms), and your comment in July was the first I'd ever gotten on it, despite thousands of people who've come to check out the page.

I'm trying to research some more shoe-tying information on the Web. Watch this space for the ultimate shoe-tying experience.

I wonder if something's wrong with me, that I actually get excited about how people tie their shoes?

Matthew P. Barnson

Thanks for the info!

Like the first person commented, this is very valuable data for my demonstrative speech in oral communications. Thanks again!

Tying your shoes.

A few weeks ago I injured my left hand/arm so it is a real bear to tie my shoes and other senstive type operations. Mine will clear up but how about others with one hand or have had a stroke? It got me to wondering if there is any market for a simple, cheap shoe tying tool.
I do engineering design and really don't see it as much of a challenge. Although a company I did some consulting for a few years went broke designing and building a machine to tie bows around hand grenades. Happy to say I didn't work on that project.
The simple answer, of course, is to change the question but shoe bows are now a part of culture. I will look under patents to see what's up with the feds.
Meanwhile I'm having one hell of a time typing with my funky hand.
A.J. Ritchie (aritchie@TDS.NET

Shoe Laces

I'm looking for an easy way for kids to tie their laces. My daughter is disabled and she finds it very difficult to tie a bow. Do you know of any special types of laces that stay tight without having a bow or long dangly ends?

Tie you laces with . . . . No knots & No Bows . . .

I thought you might be interested in seeing this video of a brand new lacing system, where you can tie your laces is a second with only one hand, and no knots and no bows.
the video is at:

Let me know what you think . .

tying laces with one hand

look at this video . . .

matthew's picture

I think...

I think if it were available as a retrofit kit to popular sneakers, it might have a strong niche market, primarily amongst the disabled (many of whom end up at this page asking for one-handed shoe-tying instructions).

But shoe manufacturers going for it? I dunno, I'm not really excited by it. May as well just go with Velcro fasteners as this gizmo :) Then again, I'm not a shoe manufacturer.

My primary worry would be the fact that all my shoelaces stretch over time. How does the gizmo account for laces getting longer over time, while still keeping the lace tight?

Matthew P. Barnson

Matthew P. Barnson

special laces

Payless Shoes sells a springy shoelace for less than two dollars. You lace them up however you prefer and the shoe laces do not dangle or tie. They stay at the base of the top hole in a springy spiral.

stretching . . .

since the tie is adjustable . . stretching doesn't effect it.

Freedom granny knot

Hey, Matt.

Did you ever notice that the site for the Freedom Knot shows it being tied like a granny knot with the loops poking out top and bottom? It can be done like a square knot by inverting the way the loops get poked through if you happen to like your loops to hang at the sides instead of front and back.


matthew's picture

Freedom Squared

Yeah, that's the way my wife and I tie our shoes all the time now: the Freedom Square Knot. It's very secure, and my shoes rarely come untied. The thing I really like is, unlike the "double-knot the loops" approach I used to always use, the Freedom Square Knot looks normal and is really easy to untie.

Definite winner.

Matthew P. Barnson

Matthew P. Barnson

Teaching Shoe Tying to Special Needs Children

Thought that this link would be good to add to your collection. :)

The Double-Over shoe tie

I invented this knot several years ago (although, I don't think I'm the only one that has come up with it). I, like you, was sick of my laces coming undone. But I didn't want some complicated thing. So, the reasons I've stuck with this one over the years are: it's SIMPLE (a very small change from the traditional method), it works for all kinds of laces (even those slippery dress-shoe laces), it works especially well for FLAT laces, it's as easy as any to untie, and my shoes have never come untied using it.

Enjoy! =>