What is a Lifeline?
Lifelines are like insurance policies for your knitting: You won’t necessarily need them, but if you run into trouble you’ll be glad you invested in one! A lifeline is a smooth piece of scrap yarn, typically a lighter gauge than the yarn you are working with, in a contrasting dye-fast color that is threaded through all the live stitches on the needles. If you find a mistake and need to undo multiple rows of knitting, you can rip back to the lifeline and pick up the stitches from the scrap yarn to try again.
I love using lifelines after I work a provisional cast on, as then when you go to rip out the cast on to get your live stitches they are all "caught" by the lifeline a ready to go!
Placing a Lifeline
Thread a smooth piece of scrap yarn (unwaxed dental floss or buttonhole thread work well, too), onto a bent-tip tapestry needle, then thread the needle through each stitch of your knitting. If you are knitting single-sided lace, work the yarn through a plain (WS) row, if possible. Place the lifeline on a row of knitting you know you have worked correctly so that if you need to rip back more than a row or two you’ll know you are on track. Remember to mark which row your lifeline is placed on so you know exactly where you are ripping back to. It’s also best to place a lifeline at the end of a repeat to help you keep track of where you are in the pattern.
Ripping Back to a Lifeline
Remove the needle from your work. (I know, this is scary!) Slowly wind the yarn back onto its ball and stop when you reach the stitches held on the lifeline. Then, with a needle one to two sizes smaller than the needle you are knitting with, put the stitches back onto the needle, making sure that the right leg of the stitch is to the front of your needle and the left leg is to the back. (It is much easier to pick up stitches with a smaller needle.) Then transfer the stitches to the properly sized working needle.
You may be asking, “Can I remove my lifeline once I have placed a second one?”
That’s up to you. Some knitters prefer the safety of having multiple lifelines in place; others find the dangling ends distracting and like to remove them as soon as possible. To remove a lifeline, gently pull the thread out stitch by stitch.
Any other questions about using lifelines? I'm happy to answer them!