Arguably the black sheep of knitting techniques, tinking and frogging* are often times unavoidable. While no knitter wants to rip out stitches, never mind rows of knitting, the difficult task is made easier when a knitting lifeline is in place.
A lifeline is a strategically placed piece of yarn thread through the stitches of your work that serves as a place marker or “insurance policy.” If you make a mistake in your work, you can “cash in” your lifeline, by simply picking up the stitches that the lifeline holds and ripping out your work until you reach your newly placed needle. Voila! Live stitches! This technique minimizes your chances of dropping a stitch, ripping back too far, or losing your place in your project.
Good practice is to place lifelines after a section or repeat in your pattern. For patterns that don’t have a defined section or repeat, you can choose to place one every 10 or 20 rows. For more complex patterns that increase your chance for mistakes, you may want to place them more frequently.
Here’s how to add a knitting lifeline:
Using a contrasting piece of scrap yarn (or even unwaxed dental floss!) and a yarn/tapestry needle, start at the beginning of the row/round and thread your lifeline through all the live stitches. Note: if using stitch markers, do not thread your lifeline through them. Always go around them so that they can move with your knitting.
Ensure that you leave 2-3 inches on either end of your lifeline so that it stays in place as you continue knitting. Before continuing on with your knitting, document where in your pattern you placed the lifeline. You can create a tag with a piece of tape and write a note to jog your memory.
Alternatively, you can make a note directly on your pattern. This option is particularly helpful if you are using multiple lifelines (in a multi-piece sweater project per se) or designing your own pattern. Use different color lifelines and color coordinating mark on the pattern. In the picture below we used a pink lifeline and indicated where we left off in the pattern with a pink line. The next lifeline and mark could be yellow.
After placing your lifeline, continue knitting as you would, leaving the lifeline threaded though the stitches you are knitting.
If you ever need to cash in your lifeline, locate your lifeline and pick up the stitches it holds with your empty needle, as shown in the picture below. Then begin ripping out your work. You’ll eventually hit your needle(s) and have live stitches ready to start knitting. Just in case, leave the original lifeline in place.
When you’re finished with your project, lifelines are easily pulled out of your project.
While they add an extra step to your knitting, lifelines can save you time in the long run. We recommend lifelines for knitters of all skill levels – you just never know when you’re going to make a mistake.
*Tink is “knit” backwards and is the act of working backwards to reach your mistake. Frogging is when you have to rip out rows of work. When you say, “rip it, rip it,” outloud you sound a bit like a frog.