Ready to sew on your square knot? Here’s how to wear it

You worked hard to earn that Scouting square knot and should wear it with pride.

You also should wear it right-side up. (Unlike the Hornaday Award knot pictured above. It’s shown upside down to illustrate my point.)

Quick refresher: Square knots are rectangular representations of a variety of Scouting awards. Most of these awards are for adult volunteers, but there are some awarded to Scouts and Scouting professionals. The square knot itself isn’t the award; it is a convenient way to wear the award — usually a medal or a plaque — on your uniform. You don’t want to carry around a plaque, do you?

You can earn awards (and the representative knots) for service to Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, Sea Scouting or Venturing. You can earn awards for getting trained. There are awards for Eagle Scouts, Venturing Summit Award recipients and Quartermasters. There’s even a new award and knot — the Scouting Service Award.

For a guide to the more than 30 different knots, check out this unofficial, volunteer-created site.

Up or down?

Today’s post presupposes that you’ve received a knot and are sitting at the sewing machine, stumped. Or maybe you’re taking a look at those knots already on your uniform and wondering whether they’re on the right way.

Because you probably aren’t going to sew while wearing the shirt, each step assumes you’re looking at the shirt as it hangs in your closet or lies on your sewing machine.

Step 1: Look at the right pocket. This is where the knot will go.

The knots go above the right pocket (wearer’s left). That’s the pocket that doesn’t have the words “Boy Scouts of America” above it.

Knots are worn in rows of three. The BSA recommends that the number of knots be limited to three rows of three (a total of nine knots).

The order for wearing knots is up to you, but most Scouters place their most treasured knot in the lower left position as you look at the shirt. (That’s where the purple Youth Religious Award knot is shown above.)

Step 2: Look at the knot and find the “standing part.”

Above is how the Guide to Awards and Insignia explains it. Let’s look at some practical examples.

Look at the Eagle Scout knot above. Notice how one of the loops appears to be on top of the other?

That top loop should always be on the left as you sew the knot onto the shirt.

This is a little more difficult with the single-color knots, but if you look closely at the Adult Religious Award above, you’ll see that one loop is again above the other.

Step 2 (alternate): Find the “distinguishing color” and make sure it’s on the left.

Many knots have a nonwhite “distinguishing color” that can be used to quickly determine the proper orientation.

Here’s the Silver Beaver Award knot, a council-level honor that is blue and white. Look at the two strands of blue that extend to the left. Because blue is the distinguishing color here, we know that blue should point left.

Yellow points left on the regional-level Silver Antelope Award.

And red points left on the national-level Silver Buffalo Award.

Step 3: Sew it on and wear it with pride.

Note: The image below doesn’t include the new Scouting Service Award.


  1. What about the District Award of Merit? That’s not a square knot. Mine is attached with the loop down, crossing parts up.

      • I’m going to be honest…
        When I sewed-on my world crests to my uniforms, I cheated…
        I took 3 knots and went from the top of where the 3rd knot would be to draw my line.
        It looked a little high for the first few years, but now that I have 3 rows, it looks pretty accurate…
        Not to mention that the WorldCrest is not my favorite patch to sew on as the edges are not rolled, much like the knot edges are no longer rolled; unless you buy from an outside dealer…

  2. I’ve found that unless there are two distinct colors or it has a knot such as an overhand knot, it is extremely difficult to distinguish which side was which. So, I end up guessing.

  3. I look at the tails for knots of the same color (Scout Leader Training Award, religious, Doctorate of Commissioner Science, etc) and put the longer tail toward the buttons. I personally find that easier than the loop rule.

    • That’s my method too. There are three braids on the (wearer’s) right side of the square knot and only two on the (wearer’s) left. I wish the illustrations (from the Guide To Awards And Insignia) were drawn to look like the actual patches.

    • Not everyone’s scout shop does tailoring. Besides, sewing is a life skill that is easy to do. And I encourage teaching youth to sew their own patches too. After all what are they going to do if on a week-long trek, and their pack rips? They are going to need their sewing kit to fix that pack.

  4. Reminds me of when I’m guiding a hike and ask all the Scouts to point North. “Okay, 1, 2, 3 POINT!” and then we discuss navigation….

    Which way is right? Left? Wrong? Port? Starboard? Larboard? 🙂

  5. .I have been sewing uniforms for over 15 years probably easy over a 1000 shirts. When it comes to knots. If you look at the ends of the knots the ones with the larger tips goes closest to the buttons (the right). Doing the sewing is how I earned 3 James E West Awards I ask for a donation made to my Council. I am starting on my 4th for my 3 Eagle Scout Son

  6. Bryan said: “… most Scouters place their most treasured knot in the lower left position as you look at the shirt.”

    Honestly, across three councils as an adult scouter, and I can’t recall a single scouter who wears them that way. As best I can tell, the most common seems to be order earned.

    • With the exception of the Eagle knot. Oftentimes it will be given a position of prominence in some way, and rightly so.

  7. Sea Scouts only get to wear 2 rows of three so I pin on the metal miniatures on the “Scouter’s Key” that was earned in Cubs and UC. I’ve also seen the DAM award sewn on “capsized”. It was said I looked like a South American Admiral when I had 9 on at a national training event.

      • I also put on a Square & Compass device on the Community Organization Award Knot that I was awarded. It has a screw backing and a diamond chip that belonged to my father and I am very proud to wear it. “Dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

      • …too much “Bling”! We are allowed “Only five suspended metals may be worn at a time, pinned in a single row immediately over the seam of the left pocket. Now that’s way too much “Bling”!

  8. Oh my, Bryan, I don’t believe that your guidance is wrong, but I fear it is confusing. The National Uniform and Insignia Guide (p 61) says that knots with a distinguishing color should be worn with the distinguishing color to the wearer’s right. You have written it should be on the left which is true if one looking at the shirt the way a viewer would (rather than as the wearer would.) I believe that your picture is the same as the National Guide, but I believe your wording does seem confusing.

  9. No need for a guide. I have found that there is always someone willing to invade my personal space to tell me I’m wearing them wrong.

  10. Why? I don’t see why this matters. A square knot is 3-D with no right side or wrong side. Either direction looks fine. If someone wants to see it another way, they can tilt their head. I say—congratulations to all square knot recipients, thank you for your service to scouting.

  11. I have a question. A Scout earns, as a Cub Scout and/or Webelos, their faith’s religious award/medal and are awarded the silver with purple background religious square knot. The Scout crosses over into Boy Scouts. Are they still allowed to wear the silver with purple background religious square knot that they earned as a Cub Scout and/or Webelos on the Boy Scout uniform? Or do they needed to earn the faith’s religious award/medal that relates to the appropriate age of Boy Scouts BEFORE they can were the silver with purple background religious square knot on their Boy Scout uniform?

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