Tutorial Tuesday: Lifeline

I don’t know how ridiculous it sounds, but I only learnt about what a lifeline is in knitting quite recently. We all dread the moment of discovering a mistake in our work, and I dreaded it even more so, since I’d never been able thread my needles back into the little yarn loops after having ripped several precious rows or rounds. My rather rudimentary solution had been to unknit or tink whatever was necessary stitch by stitch… this resulting in that “ripping” out a few rows of knitting could easily turn into hours of very unrewarding work. I guess this is the price one has to pay for not learning the wooly art through reading a beginners’ knitting book from cover to cover…

So, lifeline is the thing that once you learn about, you just go, ‘oh, why did this not occur to me before?’

lifeline a piece of waste yarn threaded through a row or round of stitches in a way that it holds the stitches safely when the work has to be ripped back to correct a mistake. Once the piece has been ripped to the lifeline, the stitches are placed the knitting needles again.

There are several methods to place a lifeline in your work. Wiser or more patient knitters thread waste yarn in as they go, leaving several lifelines that prevent dropped stitches to work their way deep down, or to allow ripping back the work to correct unnoticed errors.

  • One way to do this is to draw the waste yarn through the stitches on your knitting needles using a tapestry needle. When doing this, be  careful not to thread the waste yarn through your non-removable stitch markers, as they would have to stay in place until you pull out the lifeline.
  • Some swear by threading the waste yarn through the small hole on the interchangeable needles they are working with. As you knit on, the waste yarn threads itself through he stitches while you work through a row. Be aware that in order to do this, you need a rather fine thread. I’ve seen people suggest to use dental floss, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea, as it is rather sturdy.

As I’ve said, especially when working complicated patterns, it might be convenient to leave several lifelines in place as you work.

Ok, so the theory is nice, but what happens if you are a lazy knitter as myself?

  • Then clearly, the afterthought lifeline is for you. This consists of threading the waste yarn in a row below the error you discovered, or at the point until which you want to rip back. To be honest, if the piece you are working on is not overly complicated, it might not be worth the hassle going into the trouble of placing multiple lifelines, as it is not likely that you would need them.

So how do you do this? If you are working in stockinette stitch, all you have to do is to thread the waste yarn through the right leg of each stitch in the desired row.


Once you understand the trick, it is not that difficult to place an afterthought lifeline in different stitch patterns, all you have to do is give it some thought and study your stitches. If you are working in garter stitch, just thread the waste yarn through the stockinette row between two purl rows; if you are doing lace, aim pick a row with no yarnovers, as it will be easier to work. I’ve used this method when having to undo couple of rows of my Carpino, and after some trial and error, managed to place the lifeline in the lace section, so it is all doable.