Pesky shoelace? Don't listen to your granny

  • 12/04/2017
pesky shoelace
'It's provided scientific backing for what people have long suspected: that the traditional way of tying laces is pretty rubbish.' (File)

Always at the most inopportune moment does a pesky lace come undone - racing for the bus, or striding through the office, and, as it turns out, the tried and true method taught as a child isn’t the most fail proof.

A leading researcher on a study of the superior method of the art of shoelace-tying said his curiosity about unravelling laces was piqued after teaching his own child how to tie their own.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal, focused on the elusive event whereby a lace, once deftly tied and secured, nearly topples you over as you stride.

It seems the cursed rouge shoelace will get the better of you despite your best efforts.

In a series of experiments involving a runner on a treadmill, and a mechanized leg built to swing and stomp, the scientists found the unravelling of a lace occurs in a matter of seconds, enacted by a myriad interaction of gravitational and kinetic forces.

Oliver O'Reilly, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California Berkeley, and senior author of the study, said it's unpredictable but when it happens it's in "two or three strides and it's catastrophic. There's no way of coming back from it".

The study found the stomping of the foot conjunct with the whipping forces of the swing acted like hands tugging on the end of the laces.

The findings also revealed what knot professionals such as tinkers and tailors have suggested; that the traditional granny knot we frequently use comes undone far quicker than other, less complex methods.

Or, as a physicist at Aston University in Birmingham neatly summed up: "It's provided scientific backing for what many people have long suspected: that the traditional way of tying laces is pretty rubbish."

Mr O'Reilly was inspired to examine the question after spending decades                   considering why laces automatically untie themselves. Teaching his daughter the skill further confirmed the necessity of his research, and he enlisted the assistance of several PHD students to uncover the finicky mystery.

The scientists tested two basic versions of the standard knot and bow.

In a square knot, you start by crossing the lace in your right hand in front of the one in your left, and then threading it under the left one.

For the bow, this process is the same, but instead you cross the end that’s now in your right hand behind the one in your left.

In a granny knot the same overhand motion is repeated for both knot and bow.

Mr O'Reilly said with the square knot "you might be able to get through the day without it failing".

However, despite the combined power of the brightest minds and strongest research, Mr O'Reilly admitted he himself still uses the granny knot out of sheer habit.