This page includes affiliate links. When you click on any link from Don’t Be Such a Square to Amazon, I receive a commission on the sale. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support the site.
What is a knitting lifeline?
A knitting lifeline is just that, a lifeline, that can save you so much time and work if you learn to use it. And the best of it all, it doesn’t take much time or effort to learn!
The lifeline is a piece of waste yarn, or thread if you prefer, that you add to all your stitches on one row to be able to rip back effortless.
Why use a lifeline in knitting?
The lifeline is added to your knitting to save you time and trouble if you have to undo your knitting. It’s there to ease your mind!
Just think about it, if you don’t have to worry about dropped stitches or how tedious it will be if you have to unravel your work then you will feel much more confident.
For example, if your knitting a complex lace pattern. These kinds of patterns can be almost impossible to rip out a few rows to go back and fix and error because of the intricate stitch pattern.
But, if you have added a lifeline to your knitting project, you can just pull your needles out and rip back to the lifeline.
Your stitches will be safe on that piece of waste yarn and you can just pick them up on your needle again and continue knitting. The lifeline mimics a knitting needle and no stitches will be lost or twisted.
When is this needed?
There are two scenarios when you can have good use of a lifeline.
- When you have recognized a mistake and need to unravel your knitting.
- And when you drop a stitch. This can be accidental or on purpose to fix an error on a previous row. The stitch will be caught on the lifeline and can easily be picked up again.
––> How to use a crochet hook to pick up dropped stitches, correcting errors and much more!
This is especially useful when …
- … Knitting lace. Lace patterns are beautiful but complicated stitch patterns and even small mistakes will be very visible. And hard to fix.
- … Using fussy yarns like mohair, effect & novelty yarns can be hard to rip back simply because it’s hard to see the stitches.
- … If you’re working a large project with many stitches on the needle it’s easy to make a mistake. But hard to catch sight of it, as there is so much fabric bulking up. It’s also very much work to rip back a large project with a lot of stitches.
When to add the lifeline
Pattern repeats, if you work a project with pattern repeats it makes sense to add the lifelike on the last row before a new repeat. This way you know what row to start knitting on if you have to use the lifeline.
Before you start knitting a difficult part of your pattern or if you’re going to knit something for the first time.
But do not despair if you haven’t added a lifeline when you realize that you really gonna need one. You can add one afterward. More about that further down!
What yarn can you use?
Any yarn that’s no thicker than your working yarn will do. It’s good to choose a smooth yarn that won’t get stuck in your stitches.
I like to use plain 8/4 cotton crochet yarn in a varying color. Cotton yarn is smooth and strong and I always have it on hand as I’m a crocheter too!
There are other things you can use too, like dental floss or embroidery floss. But I like my cotton yarn.
Adding a lifeline with interchangeable knitting needles
I always knit on my interchangeable knitting needles from HiyaHiya simply because I love everything about these needles.
One of the perks with them is that these needles really are thought through and have a small but lovely feature that I’m going to show you now!
This is so insanely simple and clever! The cables in my set of interchangeables have a little hole in the fitting for adding a lifeline. Isn’t that great!
Adding a lifeline is so easy to do and you will feel so much safer if you do this! Especially for those complicated stitch patterns that are so tricky to rip without messing up.
Let me show you how easy this is!
Add your lifeline to the cable
You will need a piece of scrap yarn that’s about twice the width of your project if you’re knitting in the round. Or three times the width of your project for knitting flat.
I like to use a cotton yarn as it’s smooth and doesn’t get caught in my stitches. Cotton is also a strong fiber and it won’t break easily. I always pick a color that stands out from my project to make it easier to work with.
Start by adding the piece of scrap yarn to the little hole in the cable. Then knit one round or row if you’re knitting flat.
The scrap yarn will run with your cable the whole round, or row, and create a lifeline.
Image 2. The lifeline is added!
This is what it looks like when I have worked a whole round with the lifeline attached to my cable. I have removed the scrap yarn from the hole in the cable and tied the ends together with a bow to prevent them from slipping.
I use a bow because it’s easy to remove. Then I don’t have to cut the thread and get a new one every time I wish to move it up.
When knitting in the round your start end and are at the same place. But for a flat project, the start and end of the row are on opposite sides and therefore you need a longer lifeline to be able to tie them together without your fabric getting crammed up.
Knit your first row after adding the lifeline
Be careful to keep your scrap yarn at the bottom of your stitches when you knit the first row, to ensure that you don’t knit it into your stitches.
If this happens it’s not the end of the world, but it will be trickier to remove the lifeline when you are ready to move it up.
If you want to know more about this type of cables, read this article.
If you want to check these needles out or get a set for yourself, this is my affiliate link to Amazon. I may get a small commission if you use it, at no extra cost for you.
Adding a lifeline with a wool needle
This is basically the same method as the one described above. The difference is that you have to add the scrap yarn to a wool needle and go through every stitch on your row or round with the needle.
You can use the images above as reference if you like, as the result of these two methods is the same.
You need a wool needle and scrap yarn, about three times as long as the width of your project. If you’re working in the round you will manage with twice as long as the width of the project.
- Begin at the start of your row, or round
- Use the needle to insert your scrap yarn to every stitch on the row. If the stitches are tight it can be easier to insert the needle at the bottom of the stitches. If your working on a circular needle, slide the stitches to the cable as I did on the image above.
- When you have gone through all the stitches, pull your scrap yarn to make sure you have yarn left on both sides. Tie the ends together with a bow to protect them from slipping out of your knitting.
- Keep the scrap yarn below the needle to avoid it beeing knit into your stitches on the first row after inserting it.
How to add an afterthought lifeline
An afterthought lifeline is just like a regular lifeline. Except that you add it after you realize that you have made a mistake.
You need a wool needle and a piece of scrap yarn.
And as for the other two methods I showed you, you need a piece that’s about three times longer than your knitting is wide if knitting flat. Or two times the width of your knitting if you’re working in the round.
Start a couple of rows below the error and thread the needle behind the right leg of every stitch on that row, or round. Be careful not to miss any stitches!
Thread a few stitches at the time and pull the scrap yarn with you.
When you have thread into all the stitches, pull the threads and tie them together with a bow. Now all your precious stitches are safe and you can pull out your needles and unravel your knitting.
Pick up the stitches from the scrap yarn and start over. Leave the lifeline in case you make another mistake!
Tips for using lifelines in knitting
💜 Take a break now and then, look for errors and fix them in time if you find some. This way you won’t have knitted so much before you have to rip back. Therefore you won’t have to do as much work twice.
💜 If you don’t have any mistakes for a while. Pull out the lifeline and relocate it, if you don’t move it up it kind of loses its purpose! Move it every other inch or so, depending on your project. If you have a thinner yarn and smaller needles you may want to move your lifeline up with shorter intervals.
💜 Pattern repeats? Add your lifeline to the last row of the repeat. This way you know you should always start a new repeat if you have to unravel.
💜 Stitch markers will be caught on the lifeline causing your knitting to bulk up as you knit. This can be a bit frustrating. On the other hand, the markers will be in place if you have to rip back. And when you pull out the lifeline, the markers will be free again.
If you add the lifeline with a wool needle you can avoid the markers. But if you have to rip back you will have to reattach all the markers afterward. If you have just a few markers this won’t be a problem. If you have a large project and many markers, I suggest you let them sit on the lifeline…
💜 Sticky or stiff yarns like wool and linen are easy to rip back as they won’t unravel to fast. If you’re doing a plain stitch like stockinette in these types of yarns there’s no need for lifelines. If you drop a stitch it won’t run down to the cast-on, but sit nicely a row down and wait for you to pick it up.
Intricate stitch patterns in these yarns, on the other hand, is another story. It’s a risk that you pick up the stitches twisted or miss a YO if you have to rip back these kinds of patterns. So use a lifeline!