How To...

Published on February 10th, 2015 | by Amy Kaspar


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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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.

The ever-helpful lifeline - LoveKnitting blog

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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About the Author

Amy lives in Chicago and can either be found knitting, writing about knitting, designing knitted things, or watching professional hockey while knitting. There is also a necessary cup of coffee nearby at all times, Follow her on Twitter @thefiberfriend for more yarny bits.

Last updated: August 4th, 2017.

25 Responses to The ever-helpful lifeline

  1. Belinda Davies says:

    Dental floss – genius idea!

  2. suzanne says:

    Thank you! So helpful and timely – I’m doing my first lace project!!!!! Exciting.

  3. Bernadette McDade says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful tip. I’ve just started lacy knits and up to now have had to rip it all out when I’ve found a mistake – this will be sooo useful.

  4. Avril Kay says:

    What a good idea!

  5. Kerrie says:

    I have never heard of this. I am trying to knit a really pretty bolero for a baby and I have gone wrong SO many times. I just have not been able to unpick my work and rectify my mistake – each time I have pulled it all out and started again. So frustrating as I can knit all the pattern but lose concentration. Am going to give it a go but do fear picking up all my ‘yarn forward’ stitches.

    • Sally Juras says:

      If you can insert your lifeline on a non pattern row ie the wrong side, where there are no yarn forwards etc., you will find it easier. Work the non pattern row and then insert lifeline before working the next pattern row.

      • Kerrie says:

        Brilliant – thank you Sally. I do have rows that are just P9,K1 so that would definitely work. Can’t wait to get going again 🙂

  6. Sherri says:

    Great directions. Sometimes no matter how closely you pay attention to your knitting an oopsie can occur.

  7. Nadia says:

    I never would’ve thought to do this! Lifeline is right!!

  8. enid stephenson says:

    I have knit for 60yrs and this sounds so helpful. My problem is when knitting this sort or pattern on a cardigan say, trying to keep the pattern right and decrease and front shape at the same time.As i decrease and knit the pattern i sometime get more loops instead of less .Any help please !

  9. Irenin says:

    I have been knitting for more years than I care to remember (OK, at least 60) and have never heard of this tip. It is so simple, but so fantastic! I think I will be buying large amounts of dental floss from now on. I just can’t get over how easy it is. Thank you so, so much.


    I have been struggling with a Shetland lace ,ripped it out 4 times. I even tried writing out the pattern as the graph was just too hard to follow . I will try your tip,it may save my sanity.

    Thank you


  11. Maureen says:

    Thank you so much! What great advise!!!!!

  12. Sue Wilson says:

    I had heard of this before but have never used it, although I just might as I started a large lace project last night. Dental floss idea is genius.

  13. Penny says:

    What a great tip! I am going to try it next time I do a lace project as I have a hard time keeping track with lace projects & end up ripping all the way back! I decided that maybe I am not a lace knitter, maybe this will change that! Thank you.

  14. Judy Laning says:

    I learned about lifelines when I began lace knitting last year. They are a godsend. On a second project I used the untaxed dental floss. It worked fine but I found it a bit sticky. For my newest project I’m going to use a white button twist sewing thread. Also I’ve just gotten Chia Goo lace needles that have the lifeline hole built into the cable so that lifeline works into the row as you knit.

    • Yvonne T says:

      Oohhh. Never heard of the auto life line before. I use them quite often since I’m in a cabling phase and just had to remove 11 rows last night since I messed up. Thank goodness for the life line. I’m going to see if I can figure out a way to add a life line to the needle without wrecking them. Will check out the Chia Goo needles as well.

  15. claire rosenzweig says:

    I’ve just finished two Estonian Lace prayer shawls for my granddaughter and myself using silk yarn that no thicker than sewing thread. Using the lifeline was truly a life saver as the pattern was very complicated. I only had to rip back the twelve rows of pattern once, and was so glad that the lifeline was there to save my sanity. Lace knitting is challenging, but oh so rewarding when finished.

  16. Margaret says:

    I have been knitting for many years and I have never heard of a lifeline. A fantastic idea. I could have used it last year when I was knitting a jacket for my adult daughter and it had 40 rows in the pattern and I lost track a couple of times.

  17. Gabrielle says:

    I wish I knew about that 35 years ago.

  18. Letitia Lane says:

    Thank you, this is an excellent idea. I often lose my place when watching TV.

  19. nancy says:

    Brilliant. I knit in my lunch break and often find I’ve made mistakes while chatting; I could run in a life-line before I start lunch then could be sure I wasn’t going backwards by the end, even if I wasn’t going forwards!!!!!!!!

  20. Wow, all the best ideas are really simple! I knitted a complicated aran cable jumper last year and could have done with this, I ripped it freehand down to the rib border twice – I didn’t drop any stitches but it’s never an action for the faint-hearted! This would have saved me some tense moments…

  21. Marilyn says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the other “commenters”. I don’t want to add up the number of times I have lost hours of work because of losing where I am up to and having to undo. I recently completely abandoned a jumper pattern I love the look of because I lots my way twice but I’ll have another go now. Many thanks for the great idea.

  22. Jacky Cockram says:

    I ordered an amigurumi rabbit pattern from you on 13th Feb, order #200557950 and have still not received it, could you advise me please

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