How to lace and tie your shoes

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Shoes are an ancient and established piece of technology in most of our lives. Those of us over the age of 5, with normally developed skills and faculties, are also well acquainted with shoe laces, both from the perspective of lacing the shoes and from tying the laces. Given that everyone clearly manages well enough in this respect on a daily basis, I could just stop right here and proclaim that “this technology works, no need to look further at this!”. Yet, I plan to not do that at all, and hopefully teach you something new today.

Now, you’d have thought growing up among titled, land-owning toffs, being schooled at a well known public school from an early age, and from there to an easy existence among the wealthy and noble would have instilled in me certain automatic and inbred skills in the footwear department. On the other hand, my background is not anything like that mentioned, so I’m trying to work out these level B life skills the same way you are.

Laced as you would lace your trainers, with the traditional knot all kids learn.

Laced as you would lace your trainers, with the traditional Granny knot all kids learn.

First, how do you lace your shoes? The vast amount of shoes you see are laced up in the same way, a typically straightforward way that sort of works for most shoes. Sort of. Why doesn’t it work really well?

To be honest, I’d never even considered this until I got a pair of shoes back from resoling at Shoe Healer. Now these are guys that obviously see a metric tonne of proper shoes on a daily basis, so I wasn’t about to disregard their skill in lacing shoes. Thus I took a moment to consider why they had done it like this. And looking on Ian’s shoelace site, I see there are many different ways of achieving this, such as the Straight Easy method I have chosen:

Straight Easy lacing, as most excellently show on Ian's Shoelace Site (sneakily borrowed image)

Straight Easy lacing, as most excellently show on Ian’s Shoelace Site (sneakily borrowed image)

Because you’re only tightening the laces from the one end, the eyelets are only drawn together at that one end, and at the other end the distance between the eyelets remains the same as before you tried to tighten. To look really neat the two rows of eyelets should be parallel and doesn’t make much of a difference on a pair of trainers, but on a nicer pair of shoes it becomes more obvious. It’s not only a visual thing though, and let’s be honest and say it out loud that if you’re obsessing about the lacing of your shoes at this level you may be lacking content in your life, it also makes a difference on how you can tighten your laces. If you can tighten at both ends you are more likely to get a nice and even tightening, rather than trying to ratchet it all up at the one end. This means something to you, the wearer, and that has actual importance.

Laced in a more proper way for decent shoes, with an attempt at a Turkish Cable Knot.

Laced in a more proper way for decent shoes, with an attempt at a Turkish Cable Knot. You will have longer laces and manage a better one!

So, with the lacing sorted, how about the actual tying of the laces? From an early age we are learnt to tie a basic know. Two loops, knotted. If you want a more playground proof one, you double knot it. Works just fine and certainly saw me through decades of use. What would you say if I told you there might be a better know? I did actually ask a representative sample of people I consider to be more than averagely interested in footwear and the response was perhaps a little underwhelming. This only spurred me on though, and I will now present you a couple of alternative knots.

fig37

A random photo of a knot I found by Googling “complicated knots”

 

The first example I heard about when reading the latest book by friend and Norwegian author Lars Mytting. One of the characters in his latest novel (which incidentally is a cracking story, so you may hope it is translated to English toot sweet), a well-bred Scottish girl, teaches the farm-bred Norwegian man characters, the proper way to tie his laces on the very proper shoes she has given him. The knot is described as a Turkish Cable Knot (translated back from Norwegian, albeit possibly not correctly in The Arcane Language of Knots, as Google can find no references to a knot by this name). According to Lars, this knot has been a life-changing element in the life of at least one person that has learnt to tie it. Can a knot come with a higher recommendation than that?

In the form of a show and tell, I will cleverly used laces in two colours to illustrate the process of tying this know. While initially totally incomprehensible, after a little practise it becomes quite natural and quick. Trust me.

Step 0: Lace your shoes and ensure laces have equal free length. For purposes of instruction my shoes are unlaced and I've made a special lace of different colours.

Step 0: Lace your shoes and ensure laces have equal free length. For purposes of instruction my shoes are unlaced and I’ve made a special lace of different colours.

Photo 22.03.15, 12.40.52

Step 1: Cross the left (purple) over right (black) and wrap purple twice around black as shown.

 

Step 2: Make a loop of either side and let the lose ends be on the inside of the loops.

Step 2: Make a loop of either side and let the lose ends be on the inside of the loops.

Step 3: Thread the right hand loop under the left hand loop and tighten a bit as shown in step 4.

Step 3: Thread the right hand loop under the left hand loop and tighten a bit as shown in step 4.

Step 4: After tightening, make sure there is a little room to sneak the right hand side loop and free end under the purple loose end as illustrated by my finger on the photo in step 3.

Step 4: After tightening, make sure there is a little room to sneak the right hand side loop and free end under the purple loose end as illustrated by my finger on the photo in step 3.

Step 5: And then tighten carefully by pulling both loops and with a little care you end up with a knot something like this.

Step 5: And then tighten carefully by pulling both loops and with a little care you end up with a knot something like this.

Step 6: Once you've practiced a bit, the final result should be something like this. Pretty good, eh, even in two-tone laces?

Step 6: Once you’ve practiced a bit, the final result should be something like this. Pretty good, eh, even in two-tone laces? Now imagine it with the shoes properly laced up and the laces in a single colour that matches the shoes. Whoah!

There are really two advantages to this, one that will be invaluable in your daily life, in that this secure know will stop your laces coming undone at inopportune moments, thereby saving your dignity, your style, and also prevent your tripping on an undone lace. The second, and more for your inner satisfaction, is that the know sits at a perfect 90 degree angle on the lacing, thereby ensuring all is present and correct in your little world. The latters is a major point of you are a little on the obsessive compulsive side. Many will find it sufficient not to have the enduring worry of tripping on their laces sorted one and for all.

 

The Turkish Cable Knot, professionally done by Dew Pawson (stolen from his book of knots)

The Turkish Cable Knot, professionally done by Dew Pawson (stolen from his book of knots)

Oddly, this know is very similar to one on the incredible tome of all things shoelace-related, Ian’s Shoelace Site. Ian has various knots he recommends, both traditional ones and ones of his own innovation. Reading through it I found myself drawn to the one named the “Surgeons Knot” and also Ian’s own “Secure knot”, and was surprised to find they are both quite similar to the know I’ve attempted to show above.

The Surgeons Knot (image borrowed from Ian's shoelace site)

The Surgeons Knot (image borrowed from Ian’s shoelace site)

Ian's Secure Knot (image borrowed from Ian's shoelace site)

Ian’s Secure Knot (image borrowed from Ian’s shoelace site)

And there you are! If you’ve made it this far, well done. Now practice your knots and see if it doesn’t improve you life a little. Oh, and do send me a photo of your endeavours and I promise I’ll publish the best 500 readers shoe knots.

For more knots and laces, visit Ian’s Shoelace Site, it really is an awesome and impressive resource for  all things related to laces and the tying thereof.

The shows used to illustrate this post are the Brigstock model from Joules.

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3 Comments

  • Bart De Vuyst 28/07/2017 at 11:53

    Hi Nick, once again, lovely article.

    Noticing the first picture in the article I thought about the tie direction of your knots. If you tie the knot in the other direction (clockwise vs counter clockwise for instance) the knot will sit nicer and horizontally on your shoe and won’t loosen that fast.

    Here’s a video about the concept which really works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0agjH13f9KU (not a fan of that channel in particular but you get the idea).

    Reply
    • nick 28/07/2017 at 16:18

      I think it’s a case of learning to do it one way it’s really hard to unlearn and then learn again! I agree though, done right it looks that much neater!

      Reply
  • Michael Cousins 28/07/2017 at 16:12

    Hi
    I agree with Bart, a granny knot twists under tension to sit vertically but a reef knot sits horizontally and is stronger. A half hitch around the loop is smarter than a double knot and gives a nice (to me anyway) asymmetry.

    Reply

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