We have all experienced the bitter sting of knitting betrayal, where you thought you were knitting along splendidly, then look down and realize that something has gone horribly wrong. If you haven’t had this dubious pleasure, just wait, it’s coming. Yarn is a fickle friend.

In this Knitting Rescue series, we will explore several of the MANY ways that knitting can go wrong, how to fix them, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

On today’s agenda is the lifeline.

The first real lace project that I ever knit was a mystery shawl knit along on Ravelry.com. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t a very good choice for a beginning lace knitter, but I was cocky and thought “I haven’t had any problems with any pattern I’ve knit so far. How hard can it be?!” You can only imagine that the knitting fates promptly replied “Oh, this is going to be FUN!”

I made just about every rookie knitting mistake that could be made in that shawl, and ripped out the first section enough times that the yarn became quite ragged. When I finally vented my frustrations to the knit along group, the wonderful, helpful, experienced lace knitters said “Oh! next time, use a lifeline. They are magic!”

A lifeline huh? What on earth was a lifeline?

In my mind I pictured some kind of life saving knitting tool that would somehow keep me from dropping stitches, or prompt me if I had misread the chart, or by some other magical means keep me from screwing up my knitting yet again.

What I discovered, though, was that a lifeline was just a piece of string.
A piece of string pulled through your stitches.
A piece of string that keeps your stitches from unraveling too far.
That’s it.

Honestly, it was rather disappointing. It didn’t seem magical at all.
True, I could see the use of it, but I didn’t really believe all of those knitters who said it was so important.
That is, until I actually USED it.

Let me tell you friends, lifelines ARE magical.

They provide a kind of “save” point in your knitting, where you can always unravel to if things get too hairy and you need a “do over”.
If you ever get into a situation that you simply can’t fix, just unravel down to the lifeline, pick up all the stitches conveniently caught on the lifeline, and re-knit.

When used regularly, lifelines provide an easy reference for how many rows or pattern repeats you have worked so far. (If I always put a lifeline in at every pattern repeat, and I have 5 strings hanging off my knitting, I have obviously worked 5 repeats).

And you know the funny thing?
I have found that the more lifelines you put into your knitting, the less likely you are to need to use them (probably because your’e paying better attention to your work).
It’s like a handy little charm to ward off evil knitting vibes.

So how do you use this magical lifeline string?

Note: Before placing your lifeline, make sure that you previous row was knit correctly! 
You don’t want to go back to a “save” point only to struggle because it was wrong to begin with.

Option 1 – Needle and String Method

  1. Thread a darning needle with a length of string twice the width of your knitting.
  2. Carefully pass the needle between each stitch and the needle so that the string runs next to the needle and through each stitch on the needle (make sure you don’t accidentally split the yarn) 
  3. Remove the darning needle and allow the lifeline to remain in the knitting (tie the ends together if you like so it won’t easily slip out)
  4. Continue knitting your pattern

Option 2 – Interchangeable Needle Method

  1. Thread a length of string twice the width of your knitting through the tightening hole of your interchangeable knitting needle tip
  2. Knit across your row as normal
  3. Be careful not to accidentally trap any stitch markers on your lifeline. Use locking or removable stitch markers if possible. If using solid ring stitch markers, remove them as you come to them and replace them on the next row.
  4. Pull the string out of the tightening hole and allow the lifeline to remaining in the knitting (tie the ends together if you like so that it won’t easily slip out)
  5. Continue knitting your pattern

So you’ve got a lifeline.
What do you do with it now?

Here’s the thing, everyone will tell you that you need a lifeline, but no one ever tells you what to do with it once you have it.

To use a lifeline:

  1. Remove your needles and unravel down to the lifeline, where you can’t unravel any more.
  2. Starting at the end of the knitting AWAY from the working yarn, begin picking up the stitches that are trapped on the lifeline.
  3. Once all the stitches are picked up, double check your knitting to make sure that it matches up with your pattern. Check to make sure that all yarn overs are accounted for and that everything is oriented on the needle in the correct direction. 
  4. Begin knitting again from the lifeline point (leave the lifeline in the knitting).

There you are dear knitter!

You now know the way of the magical lifeline string. Go forth and knit!