A lifeline can be used with any type of knitted project, but it is especially helpful in lace knitting. Mistakes are much harder to fix in lace knitting than in other forms of knitting.
The lifeline holds a row of stitches so that if you make a mistake, you can simply drop the stitches off your needle, unravel your work back to the lifeline, and pick up the stitches that are held in place by the lifeline.
To make a lifeline, use scrap yarn or floss that is at least 10” longer than the width of your project. Crochet thread or smooth cotton yarn works great, but any smooth-ish yarn will be fine.
Use a yarn that is the same size or smaller than the yarn you are working with. While it will work, I don’t like to use yarn that is too thin. I find it inconvenient to use crochet thread for my lifeline, for example, when I’m knitting with bulky yarn. It works; it’s just a little fiddly to pick up the stitches from the thread if you need to rip back to it.
Here are the steps:
- Knit until you’ve finished the last row of your pattern repeat, or to a logical place in the pattern (i.e., every 10 rows)
- Check your work to see if there are any mistakes.
- Count the stitches to make sure you have the right number of stitches on your needle.
- If everything is OK, use a yarn needle to thread the lifeline through the stitches on your needle.
- Continue the pattern, being careful not to knit the lifeline.
- Knit another pattern repeat (or 10 rows).
- Repeat steps 1-4 and add a 2nd lifeline. Once the 2nd lifeline is in place, repeat steps 1-4 by removing the bottom lifeline and reusing it – but check for mistakes between the lifelines before removing the bottom one.
It is helpful to use 2 lifelines because if there is a mistake right below the lifeline, sometimes it is not obvious until you’ve knit a few more rows. The second lifeline is an additional measure to catch overlooked mistakes.
If you discover a mistake, drop the stitches off your needle and unravel the work to the lifeline just below the mistake. Pick up the stitches from the lifeline and continue the pattern with the first row of the pattern repeat (or the appropriate row).
Three More Ways to Place a Lifeline
Knit Purl Hunter has a great lifeline video that demonstrates 3 ways to place a lifeline in your work, as well as how to pick up the stitches when you rip your work back to the lifeline.
One method of placing a lifeline she does not address in the video is similar to the method of taping your lifeline to your needle, but easier.
If you have interchangeable needles with a hole in the connection between the cord and the needle tip, you can thread your lifeline through that hole and proceed as she does in the tape method. Simply push your stitches down onto the cord, and unthread the lifeline from the hole in the needle. Viola! Your stitches are on the lifeline.