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Left Handed Shoelaces?

Tying shoelaces left handedLeft handers naturally tie bows for shoelaces in a different way to right-handers and that can make it very difficult for a right-hander to show them how to do it.   I (Keith) remember having great difficulty with laces as a child until I was sent off to a left-handed neighbour who showed me how to do it in no time!

The problem arises because left-handers make the first loop using their left hand rather than their right and then the whole knot works backwards.   It ends up being effectively the same, but is tied using a different method.   For a right-hander to teach a left-handed child to tie laces, we recommend they sit opposite them and get them to follow as if in a mirror.

If you want a guide the child can use themself or to teach them from, try our download “Shoelace instructions for left-handers” with a series of photos and instructions for each stage of tying the knot.

Which knot to use?

Our instruction sheet is for the “Standard” shoelace knot, but there are many different knots for tying shoelaces and we wanted to find out which is the best.   The worldwide expert on shoelaces (though right-handed), is Ian Fieggen who lives in Australia and has a website with a huge section on shoelaces and everything to do with them.   We got in touch with Ian to ask a few questions and get advice.   He deliberately doesn't provide left-handed instructions and diagrams on his site because of the amount of extra work it would take to re-draw everything backwards and not wanting to confuse his right-handed visitors, but he still has a lot of very useful information.

His advice is (if you are right-handed) to either sit opposite a left-hander to teach them the Standard Knot or, even better, learn the Ian Knot, which is a bit more complicated to do at first but faster to tie and does not have a hand bias.

The Ian Knot

Ian invented his knot back in 1982.   As he says…

“One morning, after breaking yet another shoelace, I noticed that it always seemed to be the right end of my lace that broke. Because the regular method of tying shoelaces is not symmetrical, I figured that the end that experiences the most movement simply wears out more quickly.   When I examined the knot and found that it could be made symmetrical, I discovered quite by accident that the resultant technique was also much faster, as a lot of time was saved by working with both hands simultaneously.”

The Ian Know for tying shoelaces

The Ian Knot for tying shoelaces

(diagrams reproduced from Ian's Shoelace Site with his permission)

The resulting “Ian Knot” is the World's Fastest Shoelace Knot – you make a loop with both ends and simultaneously pull them through each other to form an almost instant knot.   Because both hands work at the same time, it can be done in the same way by either right or lefthanders.   Ian also found that when his shoelaces used to break, it was always the same one that broke – the right one – and he thought that was because of the uneven wear created by tying the standard knot. (Keith – yes! I find that it is usually the LEFT lace that breaks, and also my laces keep coming undone – see further down for the answer to this).

Use this link to see Ian's instruction page on how to tie the Ian Knot

And here is the video he produced about how to tie the knot and its various advantages.

Do your shoelaces keep coming loose?

We had a comment on our “Is It Me?” page recently from Paul who said:

“To this day, my shoelaces always come untied. (A properly tied knot works with the twist of the lace to keep from unknotting.) No wonder I have always preferred loafers!”

This is a problem that we also encounter and has been mentioned by others before, but we have never really known why.   We were not sure about the lace construction idea so Keith contacted Professor Shoelace, Ian Fieggen in Australia to see if he could help.   This is what he had to say:

“Great to hear from you. The whole subject of left-handedness as it relates to shoelaces is *very* interesting to me. I've never considered that possibility. Interesting! However, I think it's unlikely because most shoelaces have a symmetrical weave. That is, there are just as many threads crossing in one direction as the other.   In recent years we've seen laces of the type made by Mr Lacy that actually do have a noticeable angle to the weave on one side. However, this is negated by the opposite angle to the weave on the other side.

It is far more likely that your laces are coming loose due to you inadvertently tying a ‘Granny Knot'

The Granny Knot is the most common reason for shoelaces coming undone and is caused when the Starting Knot & Finishing Bow don't “balance” each other.   It can be spotted by the tendency of the bow to sit crooked (ie. heel to toe) and is easily fixed by reversing one stage of the knot, most easily the Starting Knot.”

The mechanics of the Granny Knot are explained by Ian here

Tying shoelaces left handedAnd lefthander Keith found on checking his knotting technique that he was doing the starter knot RIGHT-HANDED (that is crossing the left lace over the right then pulling it back under, ending up like the picture on the right), then doing a LEFT-HANDED bow on top of that (ie making the first loop with the left hand) but it seems to result in a good flat knot exactly the same as if it had been tied right-handed, but does still seem to come undone too easily.

Tying shoelaces left handedWe tried a fix of changing the direction of the starting knot, making it by crossing the right lace over the left and then pulling the end of the right lace (now sitting on the left) back under, so it looks like the diagram on the left.

Now adding a bow in the left-handed way produces a strange knot that sits flat but comes out twisted round and needs to be rotated 180 degrees anti-clockwise after it is finished to make it sit properly.   We are not convinced this is any better!

We also tried the Ian Knot using the standard method exactly as shown in the video above and on Ian's website.   This IS a lot quicker once you get the hang of it and we found it easy enough to tie using the standard method.   It results in the same looking knot as the Standard Knot, but it also seems to be a bit tighter and hold better, though we don't know why.   There must be something about tying the bow left-handed that twists the laces out of position somehow and results in a weaker knot.   We followed this up with Ian and he said:

“One other thing that some people do is to pull the loops the opposite way. For example, take at look at my diagrams. The blue loop is emerging out the front of the knot while the yellow loop is feeding out the back. Instead of pulling the blue loop to the *left*, it can be pulled to the *right* while the yellow loop is pulled to the left. This results in a finished knot with different twists and different holding strength.”

So, if your laces keep slipping, try changing the direction of your starter knot to see if it fixes it for you.   If not, you had better learn the Ian Knot!

As always, we are very interested in your thoughts and feedback so please add your comments below.

 

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23 comments on “Shoelaces
  1. Tracey says:

    The “Ian knot” is something I have being using since kindergarten. Our teacher sick of having to tie children’s shoes up decided to teach us how to try our shoes. I do not know if I did then or before then but do know I tried my laces up with two loops as it was easier then the way teacher was showing us. This was back in 1966 and still do it as it is easier to do. As one of the first children to do her/his laces up received an early mark , not much good as I bused it home.

  2. Ron and Pat Wagner says:

    When I was single, living w/my parents, when I’d tie my shoe laces, the bows would line up w/the length of my shoe instead of lying across my shoe. (see picture……shoe on right is how my bows looked when
    I tied them the way I used to…….the shoe on the left is how they look now.)
    Thanks to him, being a natural, left-alone , lefty, he’s who figured out my shoe lace issue that always drove our mother nuts. She hated how the bows of my laces wouldn’t lie across my shoes the right way.
    Ron, tho, is who figured out why the bows turned. He asked me to tie my
    shoes, watching me as I did it. He said “You’re doing it both left & right-handed. Do it either all one way or the other .” That fixed it.
    I was probably doing it in the combination way in order to (subconsiously)
    appease my Dad who didn’t like left-handedness.

  3. Chrissie says:

    LOL!!! A left handed Mother (me) had to teach her 3 right
    handed children to tie their shoe laces! LOL! I didn’t think about it
    until years later, but I always wondered why it took them so long to
    get the hang of it. I suddenly realised it was because I was a leftie!
    Oh, bless them. The things that parents do to their children ..

  4. Lucille says:

    When the round laces on my SAS shoes start to become frequently undone, I take them out of the shoes, wash in suds, rinse thoroughly, dry overnight, and find they hold nicely again.

  5. Sally says:

    I’m a single parent & left handed, my son being right. His uncle tried to show him but he just couldn’t get it. So I taught him the left handed way, he got it instantly. So I find it amusing when he ties his laces & he ties them tight.

  6. Monica says:

    I have another way of thinking about the process. Some years back, I bought a pair of Kaepa athletic shoes and they came with instructions on how to get your laces to lie straight. After awhile, I figured out it was a square knot that achieves it; the ‘common’ way is a half knot. Anyone that knows macrame or tying knots for sailing would probably be familiar with the knots. It’s a square knot that you don’t pull the thread through. The ‘common’ way is to make the second loop exactly the same. Doing that makes the tied strings curl. Think of a macrame hanging basket that has flat cords (square knot) and the ones that twists (half). When I would teach it in a class, I would tell everyone to use their R for everything that I did with my L lol. I think it’s the same thing this guy does. Another way to do it is: make the first tie by laying the L string over the R, reach through the middle and pull the string from the L through; make a loop, like making a big bow, on both strings; do the same thing as on the prev step, crossing with the R on top first; tighten and straighten.

  7. Monica says:

    I have another way of thinking about the process. Some years back, I bought a pair of Kaepa athletic shoes and they came with instructions on how to get your laces to lie straight. After awhile, I figured out it was a square knot that achieves it; the ‘common’ way is a half knot. Anyone that knows macrame or tying knots for sailing would probably be familiar with the knots. It’s a square knot that you don’t pull the thread through. The ‘common’ way is to make the second loop exactly the same. Doing that makes the tied strings curl. Think of a macrame hanging basket that has flat cords (square knot) and the ones that twists (half). When I would teach it in a class, I would tell everyone to use their R for everything that I did with my L lol. I think it’s the same thing this guy does. Another way to do it is: make the first tie by laying the L string over the R, reach through the middle and pull the string from the L through; make a loop, like making a big bow, on both strings; do the same thing as on the prev step, crossing with the R on top first; tighten and straighten.

  8. joe stern says:

    I never had much trouble until recently (I’m 70), and I think part of the problem is the material the laces are made from. Especially problematic are the nylon laces on shoes like New Balance. Cotton laces have never given me a problem.

  9. Enid says:

    I pass the loop through twice to hold the bow in place. It undoes easily unlike tying the two loops together (doesn’t help if one end is left long and you tread on it!)

  10. Mary says:

    My left handed father was tasked with teaching me (left handed) how to tie my shoelaces before starting kindergarten. We spent the whole afternoon on the floor with no success. It wasn’t until my older sister came home from school and saw us that I finally learned. She (right handed) had taught me the bunny ear method. Years later when we were in our teens she witnessed me tying my laces with bunny ears and responded “you’re still doing that!” So I learned how to tie my laces the ‘normal’ way and though I can tie laces that way I have always found it awkward and prefer the bunny ear method to this day (I’m now 28). Personally I see nothing wrong with this method of lace tying as an adult except perhaps having an argument about them and having to refer to them as ‘bunny ears’. It’s a very left/right hand friendly method that requires little thinking and is also quick as you use both hands at the same time as the argument above discusses for the Ian knot.

  11. Paul Cumbers says:

    Here’s another interesting video on tying shoelaces:

    “Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAFcV7zuUDA

  12. Carol Hamblin says:

    Both my eldest son and I are left
    handed. My mother taught me to tie my laces right handed, but my son ties his left handed and folk are always telling him to tie his laces. It was a standing joke when he was at school, that every time his teacher saw him out of school she would look at his feet to see what state his laces were in. He is now 36, and still has problems with them

  13. Mike says:

    My father taught me to tie my shoelaces (rather badly as he was right handed, and I left handed), but because my laces kept coming undone, he showed me what turns out to be the Turquoise Turtle Knot, on Ian’s site! This was shown to my father back in the ’40’s as a secure knot for silk shoelaces, and I find it one of the easier secure knots to tie as you just pass the loop through an extra time!

  14. Hannah says:

    My 10 years old left-handed son has finally learned to tie his laces, thanks to a tennis teacher (who noticed that he never opened his shoe laces when putting on his tennis shoes) and taught him how to do it by doing it face-to-face. My son is very proud of himself! (Up until now he’s just been using shoes with velcro straps or double knotted laces that he didn’t ever open.)

    We must both learn this knot, for I too have problems with my knots coming undone, and I’m (in most things) right-handed! So far I’ve just done bunny ears and then a new big double knot grabbing both the ears and the endings. I guess I do it in some weird way, because my son didn’t ever learn to do it face-to-face with me. I can’t figure out why on earth would anyone want to make rounded shoe laces that always come undone, for the flat ones rarely do so.

  15. Gary says:

    I quit buying shoes that had shoe laces in them, as I got tired of them breaking on me just as I needed to go somewhere. So, now I buy loafers, they are comfortable to wear, and nice looking. I also save on money by not having to buy shoe laces. Funny you should mention all those things that right-handers do to annoy us left-handers. I have never had those problems. I am able to use my right hand just as easy as my left-hand.

  16. Lois says:

    My father who was right handed sat and faced me while I followed how he tied his shoes only I did it left handed and it has worked fine for eons.

  17. Saralinda says:

    Until I was 9, I could not tie my shoes at all. I also don’t know if I do it right or left handed, I just do it. My right handed little sister tells me she had a hard time learning to tie her shoes because I taught her. I wanted to be sure she could tie her shoes so she would not have to be humiliated like I was by my 3rd grade teacher.

  18. Tera says:

    I now understand why I had such a hard time teaching my kids how to tie their shoes! I am LH and they are both RH. It never crossed my mind I was doing it differently.

  19. Vicki Campbell says:

    My dad (a right hander) tried and tried to teach me (of course a left handed person) how to tie my shoes and I remember getting really frustrated when I couldn’t do it. My mother (also left handed) showed me once and I have been tying my own shoes since. : )

  20. Stacy ball says:

    I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was in 4th grade. The teacher asked my mom why? And my mom said cause my daughter was left handed and had trouble finding a way to teach me. So the teacher suggested the mirror method, sit me across from from her. And it worked… Even though I’ve learned to use both hands now I know how to teach my right handed daughter.

  21. Laura says:

    I love Ian’s site. Thanks to him I have much more comfortable lacing on my trainers and 8 hole ankle boots – both different. The man deserves a medal! 🙂

  22. Rachel says:

    When I tie laces I always double knot them so the rarely ever come undone. This can sometimes make it hard to undo them again but is usually alright.

  23. Katy says:

    When I walk the dog tonight in my trainers I will deliberately tie one my normal way and one Ian’s way and see if one loosens.
    My normal method of tying starts with wrapping the lace TWICE before tying the bow. This ensures that the laces never ‘slip’ while tying the bow.
    It’s worked for me for the past ‘lots of years’.

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