Sanity Saver: 7 Times When You Should Use a Knitting Lifeline

Have you ever heard of a knitting lifeline? Knowing how to use a lifeline in knitting can be a real life saver when it comes to making mistakes.

A knitting lifeline is simply a strand of waste yarn (or dental floss, or whatever else you might have hanging around) that holds stitches in place for you. If you make a mistake, then you just have to rip back to that knitting lifeline and start over, instead of starting over from the beginning.

Not quite sure how to use a lifeline in knitting? It’s easy. Here are a few circumstances when a knitting lifeline can save your sanity.

A lifeline in a knitted sleeve

A stitch-holder-turned-lifeline in a contrasting yarn on the sleeve of a sweater

1. Sleeves

I just finished knitting Eunny Jang’s Wedge Lace Yoke Pullover from her Choose Your Own Sweater Adventure class. When you divide the yoke for the sleeves, Eunny’s pattern has knitters hold the stitches on waste yarn until it’s time to work the sleeves. Instead of pulling that waste yarn out when I worked the sleeves, I left it as a lifeline. That way, if my sleeve didn’t fit correctly or I was unhappy with how it looked, I could just rip back to the lifeline and start over, rather than trying to deal with live stitches or accidentally ripping back too far. Check out the photo above to see my green lifeline woven through the place where the sleeve divides.

2. Fitting garments

Have a particular area that’s a pain when it comes to fitting? For me, that area is the bust. Instead of working a sweater and finding out way too late that the fit is off, I use a lifeline. You can place that lifeline at the beginning of where your fit problems usually happen. So for example, if you’re working a top-down sweater and you always have fit issues in the stomach area, you can put a lifeline just after you’ve worked the bust. Try the sweater on as you work and if there are issues with the shaping, just rip back to that lifeline and alter the pattern.

3. Any complicated stitch pattern

It’s not just lacework that benefits from a lifeline. Any complicated stitch pattern is a reason to use it. Have you ever worked a stitch pattern that repeated 12 rows to achieve the look? Stick a lifeline at the beginning of each repeat and you won’t have to guess where each pattern repeat began and ended. Remember that rows without shaping are a great place to add a lifeline.

4. Knitting patterns for beginners

Even good old stockinette stitch can benefit from a lifeline. If you’re a beginner, a lifeline can save you a lot of frustration when you’re working on your first big project. As your skills improve, you won’t need to use a lifeline for, say, a basic stockinette stitch scarf. But until you learn how to fix those dropped stitches and other basics, it’s a real life saver.

Life Cycle Shawl knitting pattern

Photo via Craftsy instructor Laura Nelkin

5. Lacework

Oh, lacework. You are so intricate and have made me swear in frustration many times. The first shawl I ever made had one little mistake in it, and when I wear it I’m constantly focused on it. If only I’d known about a lifeline back then!


6. When you see a mistake

Lifelines don’t have to be inserted in the row you’re knitting. You can go back and add a lifeline to your work at any time. When I see a mistake in my work, whether it’s an intricate lace or just a basic stitch, I can go back and insert a lifeline. This way, when I rip out my work, I don’t have all kinds of live stitches hanging there. (If you’ve ever messed with live stitches, you know anything can happen!)

7. As a reference point

Let’s say your pattern asks you to work stockinette stitch for an inch, knit a row with some increases, then knit three more inches in stockinette stitch. It can be difficult to figure out where exactly you need to measure from. Instead of taking a guess, use a lifeline to mark that very first row and measure from there.

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One Response to “Sanity Saver: 7 Times When You Should Use a Knitting Lifeline”
  1. Michelle

    Just learned about this technique recently and this is a great explanation of the many uses of a lifeline. Thanks!