Having ripped back on a number of projects recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes. Some mistakes are easy to fix, involving just a single stitch or maybe three or four. Or there are the mistakes that require you to rip back rows and rows of knitting. In detailed lace knitting, knitters will thread a lifeline every few rows or every pattern repeat. A lifeline goes through a specific row of stitches so that when you have to rip back, you know which row you’re on and it’s easy to put the stitches back on the needles.
Well, most of us usually don’t put in lifelines as we’re knitting. I sometimes think about it and then am too lazy to do it. So what I end up using is what I call the afterthought lifeline. Like an afterthought heel, it’s put in after the fact to save you from pain and heartache. It’s easiest when done on stockinette stitch, pretty straightforward on ribbing, and can take a little practice with fancier stitches. I’m not sure what it says about my knitting, but I’m now practiced enough to do an afterthought lifeline pretty well on cables and lace.
Placing an Afterthought Lifeline
This is a swatch of stockinette. We need to decide which row we’re going to rip back to. I like to use a spare needle to help me keep track of columns of stitches.
Now I’ve placed the needle at the bottom of the row where I want to put my lifeline. Remember that a knit stitch forms a V; each V lines up with the one next to it.
Using a tapestry needle threaded with some scrap yarn, pick up the right side of each stitch. If you pick up the left side of the stitch, the stitches will be twisted when you put them back on the needle. It can take a little practice to pick out the next stitch in the row without a guide; try practicing this on a spare swatch to get the hang of it.
Yes, I am using the world’s largest tapestry needle. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let me take that thing on a plane- it’s 3 inches long and thicker than my size 1 needles!
Once the lifeline is in, take a deep breath, pull the needle out and rip back with gusto. The lifeline will keep you from ripping back to far. If you ended up loosing the row and threading some of your lifeline through the row above your chosen row, you can transfer the stitches back to the needles and tink from there. Or move the lifeline around, or whatever works for your knitting. Depends on the project and the number of stitches from the wrong row. Experiment, there’s no wrong answers here.
Put the stitches back on the needle and return joyously or resignedly to your knitting.