During sit and stitch at my local yarn store last night the store owner shared that she had made a mistake in the lace border on a shawl she was knitting and wasn’t looking forward to ripping it back again.
A second knitter and I simultaneously said, “Use a lifeline.” Which caused the LYS owner to smack herself in the forehead since she hadn’t thought of that.
Meanwhile, two other knitters asked, “A whatline?” at the same time.
It surprises me when knitters who have gotten out of the “beginner” phase don’t know what a lifeline is since it’s one of the tricks I learned early on in my knitting life.
My mother-in-law taught me the basics of cast on, knit, and purl then sent me on my merry way. At that time I didn’t know any other knitters (and we didn’t live near my in-laws), so I relied on library books and the internet to advance my knowledge. One of those library books from the 70s (or was it 80s?) explained the lifeline concept.
Sit and stitch turned into an impromptu lesson, complete with visual aids, as we explained the wonders of lifelines to the group.
I will now use pictures and text to explain it to you, my lovely readers. If you are unfamiliar with this technique, I suggest you grab a swatch and test it out. If you use lifelines, share a story of how a lifeline saved your sanity.
The purpose of a lifeline to create a stopping point in your knitted fabric below the point where you are working.
There are several reasons you might want to create a roadblock in your work.
If you are working with a slippery yarn, a lifeline will prevent a dropped stitch from running very far. It will only unravel to the lifeline and not beyond.
If you are working a complicated pattern (usually lace), a lifeline will make it easier to rip back if you discover a mistake. You’ll can rip back to the lifeline without worrying about introducing more errors below it. Generally, people will either move or insert additional lifelines as they go along. If your lifeline is 20 or 30 rows back it won’t be as helpful as one 5 or 10 rows back.
You can also use a lifeline to help correct mistakes in simple patterns or as a point of reference in your fabric, such as for measuring length.
You want to use a smooth, contrasting color yarn or string. Usually it is a lighter or at least similar weight, to the main yarn in your project. You don’t want to use a thick yarn that will distort your stitches! And you want to be able to see the lifeline clearly so it’s easier to pick up the held stitches. A navy blue lifeline on a black project will be hard to see and use.
Do you have a stash of leftover sock yarn? Press it into use as a lifeline! I have an old spool of white kite string I like to use for lifelines and stitch holders. I’ve also used dental floss, in a pinch.
You can also use a knitting needle that is several sizes smaller than the one you are using, i.e, if you are knitting on a US6 needle then use a US3 as your lifeline. Generally, it is better to use a circular needle, rather than a straight needle, so you can work off either end. If you use a straight needle you might have to slip all the stitches to another needle before you can start knitting again.
Edited to add: Please note, in the pictures I’ve just grabbed a few stitches for demonstration purposes. Usually a lifeline is inserted across the entire row, otherwise it’s not much help!
The goal when inserting your lifeline is to pick up one stitch all the way across your work.
I tell people to try to pick up the right hand leg of each knit stitch, which results in the stitches being properly seated to begin knitting again. If you pick up the left hand leg of the V all your stitches will be twisted.
But, really, the goal is to get each V on the lifeline and worry about correcting how the stitches are sitting later.
If you are using yarn or string, thread it through a darning needle and get to work. You’ll want to insert the lifeline in the row below your error.
Putting it another way, if your error is five rows back, you’ll insert the lifeline six or seven rows back.
Don’t worry if your life line wanders a row up or down, picking out half a row stitch by stitch isn’t as back as introducing additional errors because of dropped stitches!
Some newer sets of interchangable needles have a hole through which you can thread the lifeline yarn before you start a row and it gets carried along as you knit.
Oh, that reminds me, when inserting your lifeline, don’t pass it through your stitch markers or they’ll get trapped by the lifeline and you’ll have to abandon them and add new ones.
Once you’ve inserted your lifeline, and are sure you’ve captured each stitch, remove your knitting needle and rip with abandon!
Then use your needle to pick up each stitch from the lifeline yarn. Again, it might be easier to use a needle a few sizes smaller than your working needles.
If you used a circular needle as your lifeline you can rip, then skip right to slipping or knitting the stitches back onto your working needle.
After all the stitches have been moved from the lifeline back to your working needles you’ll want to take a few minutes to examine the active row. Are all the stitches properly seated and not twisted? Is your working yarn in the proper position to start knitting? Are there any floats on the wrong side of the fabric where you picked up a stitch in the row below?
Take a few minutes to check for and correct any of those errors before you start knitting again.
In the picture above, you can see that the stitches on the orange yarn are all facing the same direction with no skipped stitches. However, on the gold knitting needle the right leg was picked up on the first three stitches, but then the left leg was picked up on the fourth and sixth stitches. That’s fine for inserting the lifeline, but will need to be corrected later.
As you can see, a lifeline is a simple, but brilliant way, to make your knitting life easier.