Why lifelines and what are they?

Imagine for moment, you’re knitting a delicate lace piece with very thin lace weight yarn and all of a sudden one stitch slips right off the your needle and works its way down a few rows of k2tog’s, ssk’s, and yo’s.  Frightening huh? Or maybe all is well, but you stop along the way to check your work and “Oh my goodness” you’ve messed up a full row and it’s a very pronounce mistake. Even if it’s not a big mistake, it seems huge to you.Flying Trapeze

Although there is no easy fix up because repairs always require more work, if you had a lifeline in place before the mistake, fixing it would be much easier.  A lifeline is just that, a security net much like the net underneath a circus trapeze. It is piece of waste yarn that it threaded onto a row to hold the stitches.  If for any reason you need to undo your work, you can always go back to your last lifeline, pick up the stitches and continue your work from that point on.

I am often asked…

When do you use lifelines? How often?

My answer is, use as many as you’d like. Just ask yourself this question. If you had to unravel back to fix a mistake, how far back would you want to go without feeling frazzled? If the though of going back 10 rows gives you the willies, then surely you should be putting lifelines closer together, maybe every 5 rows or so. My personal preference is to place a lifeline after every full repeat of the pattern. If I’m working a top down triangular shawl, I usually place lifeline closer together towards the end of my work since the last rows hold so many stitches.

I also use more than one lifeline at a time because there are times when you can’t see your mistake until you’re many rows ahead. Having a few lifelines in place gives me the option of unraveling to where I want to. Whenever you place a lifeline, make sure you take note of which row you placed the lifeline on. I usually make a mark on my pattern, right next to the row where I placed a lifeline. This way if I ever need to go back and unravel, I’ll know which row I’m unraveling to.


I will show you 3 ways of placing a lifeline.

1. The first method: You will need a tapestry needle and waste yarn. Thread the needle with the yarn and draw it through every stitch on your work being careful not to thread any stitch markers if there are any. Once all your stitches have been secured, leave the lifeline in place. You can slip the yarn out later and reuse it again to place another lifeline further up on your work.

2. Second method: This is a good “after thought” method. This method only works if you are knitting a smaller project and also if you are using interchangeable needles that have the little hole that is used to secure the needle to the cable. Your stitches must be so few that you should be able to hold your stitches on one needle without dropping them.

Slip all the stitches onto the needle.  Hold them securely. Thread the lifeline into the little hold on the needle that is holding the stitches. Once its threaded, slip all the stitches back onto the cable. Pull the lifeline from the little hold. Your lifeline is now in place. If you were using stitch markers, they will be caught in the lifeline. That’s not a problem since they will be release when you pull your lifeline out. However, when using this method, make sure you have plenty of stitch markers.

3. Third method: This method will hold as many stitches as you’d like. It also requires interchangeable needles that have the little hole, same as in method #2.  Thread the waste yarn into the working needles. Knit your work as normal. In essence, you’ll be threading the lifeline while you work your row. When you come to the end, just remove the lifeline from the little whole. Your stitch markers will get caught on the lifeline, same as in method # 2.


Here’s another video on the 3rd method:  How to Add a Lifeline Using Interchangeable Needles.


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  1. debi says:

    I really like your videos on lifelines but I want to know if I can add a lifeline two rows down? I’ve made a mistake and need to frog and am wondering if I can pick up stitches of a purl row two rows down using a darn needle and thread. Your help would be great!!! I have 576 stitches on my needle!!!!

    • ncoto says:

      I’m so sorry for my late reply. I’m sure you’ve got it fixed by now. Regretfully I’m not that computer savvy and I missed this post. Anyhow, yes you can pick up stitch from below. Using an all knit or purl row to pick up is a good idea.

  2. dianed says:

    Thank you for your straight forward instructions on placing lifelines and I fully intend to use it on my next lacey piece. The methods that you show make it so sensible and easy and I particularly like the idea of marking the chart so you know which row you had the lifeline on and do not have to stop and figure it out which is next to impossible when you are all upset about the mistake. Thank you for your instructional video.

  3. Barbara says:

    Get video on when and how to use a lifeline. This is very helpful. Thanks so much for showing us. BTW, what is the lovely shawl pattern you are knitting?

  4. Cat says:

    thank you very much :)

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