The ever-helpful lifeline
Some blog posts will change your knitting life – and this is one of them. Read on and follow Amy Kaspar’s advice – try adding a lifeline to your knitting projects for an extra safety net..
Sometimes, we are watching “Downton Abbey” and then we look down to realize we were paying more attention to Lady Mary’s suitors than our yarnovers. A lifeline can be a very useful “just in case” tool that will eliminate the need to rip out and start a piece over, on the off-chance you make a flagrant mistake you cannot figure out how to fix.
A lifeline mimics a knitting needle. You are essentially dropping a thread into your knitting, so if you need to rip back, the thread will hold the stitches like a needle would. There are two schools of thought on lifelines; some people live and die by them, and other people feel they are a crutch which gives the knitter an excuse to pay less attention while knitting. You can try one and determine if this is a good idea for your future projects.
All you need is your project, a bit of smooth waste yarn one weight lighter than your current project and twice as long as your piece is wide, a tapestry needle, and an optional pair of scissors (if your waste yarn is not already cut). Your waste yarn should not be anything with mohair, a halo, or any other fibre that can get caught on the stitches of your current project. Me, I decided that instead of searching for a piece of lace yarn in a contrasting color, I would just use a piece of unwaxed dental floss.
Knit to a point in your pattern where two things are certain: you can mark your place, and you know your knitting is correct. The whole point of the lifeline is to be sure you are all good from that point below, so you can go back if a mistake happens from that point above. My lifeline is going in before the row where Row 1 of both my inner and outer chart are the same.
Thread your tapestry needle with your waste yarn. If you are on a circular needle, you can thread the lifeline in either direction. If you are on straight needles, it is easiest to go from tip to nub, so that stitches are caught by the lifeline if they slide off. Right-handed or left-handed also should not matter. You can do as few as one stitch at a time, if that is what you need to make it to the end of the row.
If your stitches have some wiggle room, you can thread from beginning to end without stopping. If you are a tight knitter, however, or if you just like to be on the safe side (as I do), then you can do a few stitches at a time. Just insert the tapestry needle beginning at either end of your work, and run it along the bottom of your actual needle so that the thread goes through the loops.
Be sure to go around any non-mobile stitch markers, as they will stay with the lifeline instead of your knitting if you sew through them. Also, make sure you are watching each and every stitch as you thread, because if you miss a stitch or a yarnover on the lifeline and have to rip back to it, the stitch will continue to unravel below the piece.
Once the thread is through all stitches, it’s time to knit knit knit again. The first row after inserting your lifeline is slightly tricky; be sure to not knit the lifeline into the next row of stitches. After that row, unless you are doing a lot of slipped stitches and mosaic work, the lifeline will not be a bother to you.
Should you need to rip back, remove your knitting needle and place the item on a flat surface. Pull out your yarn to the lifeline row, leaving the anchored row tension-free. If you pull past the lifeline row, you will need a second human to hold both ends of your lifeline taut while you pull down on your knitted piece to make your live stitches resurface, similar to a clothesline holding the laundry.
One by one, make sure your stitches all make it back onto the needle by following the lifeline exactly. If you are on straight needles, start at the opposite end of where your working yarn is hanging. Catch every knit, purl, yarnover, and slipped stitch and then go back to read your knitting. Count your stitches, and “read” the stitches to see that you are where you should be.
Then, try again! You can insert a lifeline whenever you want, so you can insert one further into your piece as well. To take it out, just grasp one end and give it a yank. It should not be sewn in anywhere. If it is, however, then just snip the line a few times without snipping your working yarn, and pull out the pieces.
This is a useful tool when you are knitting Victorian lace with yarnovers on both the right and wrong side of the work (like the piece in the photos), keeping track of a pattern repeat with an unusually high number of rows, or ensuring a front and back or two sleeves are the same length. A thin thread will not change the tension for the next row, and you will have a reminder that hey…you made it perfectly thus far! When in doubt, throw yourself a lifeline!
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Last updated: August 4th, 2017.