Hooked on Needles

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lifelines in Knitting

Using lifelines when knitting a complex pattern is much like an insurance policy. You always hope you don't have to use it, but if you need it, it's there to help you.

When I started working on this knitted lace shawl a few weeks ago, several people highly recommended that I use a lifeline at regular intervals. I took their sound advice, and so far have not had to take advantage of this safety net.

Let me show you what a lifeline is and does...

Lifelines in KnittingThis is where my project was a little more than a week ago, and if you look closely you can see a piece of quilting thread running through my stitches about an inch from the top. That is my lifeline.

Lifelines in KnittingHere is a closer look at it. Thankfully, I was able to pull this one out once I finished the next 12 row repeat of the pattern and verified that all my stitching was correct up to that point.

Here's how I inserted my lifeline...

Lifelines in KnittingFirst, I chose a point in my pattern that would be a good place to have a lifeline throughout the project. The point I chose was the last row of the 12 row repeat. So every time I complete one repeat of the pattern, I cut a length of quilting thread generously longer than the current width of my work. I thread it onto a blunt end needle and run it along my cable through each stitch, but around each marker. I leave the ends hanging out on each side. You can use quilting thread, dental floss, cotton yarn, anything that will not leave fuzz or residue behind on your work. A contrasting color is helpful and recommended so it does not blend in with your stitches.

Lifelines in KnittingHere you can see my lifeline running through each stitch just as the cable of my circular needle does. At each marker, I made sure that the lifeline went under the marker and not through it since the markers need to be slipped from one needle to the next on the subsequent rows.

The purpose of the lifeline is to hold a row of stitches in their proper orientation in case you find a mistake and have to undo your work. For instance, let's say you are knitting a 12 row repeat and have finished the 5th row when you discover that your pattern is off by a stitch or two. You discover that the problem is not on the current row, but several rows down. Instead of trying to work all your stitches back off the needle for several rows until you get to the spot where the mistake is, you would just rip out the rows back to the lifeline. The lifeline will keep your work from unraveling any further. Then you would slide your needle back into the stitches following the lifeline. You would then begin working on the pattern again from that point. It is never fun to have to rework a section of complex knitting, but sometimes ripping out a few more rows and starting fresh takes a lot less time than trying to pick backwards to the mistake.

After you have inserted your lifeline and before you begin knitting the next row, make sure the lifeline is not twisted around the needle or cable. Pulling it from each end at the same time and making sure it is lying under the needle and cable will make it easier to knit the next row without picking up the lifeline as well.

One thing I am doing to ensure that I will not have to use my lifelines is counting my stitches frequently. I am marking each section of my pattern, and at the halfway point of each knit row, I go back and count each section to make sure all my stitches and yarn-overs are there and in the right place. Then when I get to the end of the knit row, I go back to the halfway point and count the second half of the row to make sure all of those stitches are correct. So far, I have caught a missing yarn-over a few times and only had to pick back a handful of stitches instead of having to rip out many rows of this complex pattern. I'm glad to have the lifelines, but I really hope I never have to use them!

Happy Stitching!

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  • What a fabulous idea! After knitting all these years, I have never heard of this technique. I started a lace scarf yesterday so I will definitely be using this idea! Thanks.

    By Blogger Rumi, At August 23, 2009 at 8:01 AM  

  • Mary Grace,
    What an excellent explanation of lifelines! My friend taught me about them, when I first learned how to knit...especially when you are doing lace knitting! I like using Crochet thread for my lifelines.

    Your shawl is going to be beautiful!
    God Bless You,
    Merry :)

    By Anonymous Merry Thornsburg, At August 23, 2009 at 11:14 PM  

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