Lace Knitting: A lifeline can save the day

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I have always loved knitting lace, whether by hand or on the knitting machine. I love the mathematical precision of the patterns, the astonishing designs that can be achieved simply by placing holes and doubling stitches at defined intervals. Most of all, though, I love the thrill of the ‘reveal’.

Once all the knitting iimg_20160920_114849578s done, and you take what is a crumpled pile of yarn all looped together and block it to open up the fabric and make it lie flat, it’s one of those ‘chorus of angels’ moments. I am transported by the beauty of it, every time.

As with so many techniques at the knitting machine, lace can be both a joy and a terror. With automatic needle selection it is ever a thrill to watch the myriad littles holes being created as you operate the lace carriage back and forth, back and forth, transferring stitches from one needle to the next and then knitting across to create the many yarn overs (as they are called in hand knitting) that will leave behind precisely placed holes that are another row in your lace design.

alpaca-lace-closeup-of-holes

All good and wonderful, until . . . dun, dun, duhhhhhhh! a dropped stitch. Because the fabric is always stretched taut from side-to-side, with hanging weights pulling down, a dropped stitch can run very quickly down the work. And while other kinds of knitting can be ripped back and placed back on the machine, this can often be nearly impossible with lace.

Enter the lifeline. Used in both hand and machine knitting, the lifeline is a separate piece of cord or yarn that is threaded through one complete row of stitches. It serves the dual purpose of stopping a run dead in it’s tracks, and providing a stable row of knitting that can be rehung in the needles so that the entire piece doesn’t have to be scrapped. However, weaving the lifeline in does take some time, so it’s an inconvenience. The balance one must strike is between the time spent putting in lifelines (ie how often to put a new one in) and risk of a dropped stitch and having to unravel the knitting to the previous lifeline, or even the beginning of the piece and starting over.

Here is my technique for inserting a lifeline. (There are other techniques equally valid.) The thing to keep in mind is that a lifeline cannot simply be knitted into the fabric along with the regular yarn, as it would also run, right along with the regular yarn if a stitch is dropped.

Try to put the lifeline in on a knitted row. This assures you will get all the stitches, and make it much, much easier to rehang if necessary.

Thread up a needle with a firm cord or yarn and bring the needle up from below into each heel below the active stitch.
Thread up a needle with a firm cord or yarn and bring the needle up from below into each heel below the active stitch.
Here's another view showing the tip of the needle pulling out on the heel stitch below the active stitch.
Here’s another view showing the tip of the needle pulling out on the heel stitch below the active stitch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The lifeline goes through every stitch in a row
The lifeline goes through every stitch in a row

 

The lifeline is in place, time to add a new one.
The lifeline is in place, time to add a new one.

 

 

 

7 Responses

  1. Cynthia
    | Reply

    Neat! I’m knitting lace right now – a hap shawl – and it drives me crazy. I’ve made so many mistakes i wonder if my brain is working right!!! 😀

    • Tanya
      | Reply

      Funny, I was just looking at a hap shawl – the The NutHap – wondering if I could convert to machine knitting. Lace knitting is a “no chat” knitting for me! Good luck.

      • Cynthia
        | Reply

        That’s really neat- a lifeline. I’d never heard of that before.

        • Tanya
          | Reply

          Very useful, even in hand knitting.

  2. Judy Poll
    | Reply

    Thanks for the tip about putting the lifeline in the heel of the stitches. I’m new to machine knitting and recently made a sweater that covered the entire bed of 200 stitches and after having to start over twice with almost 500 rows on already, the lifeline became my new best friend. But I was putting it through the live stitches on the needles. Putting it through the heels of the stitches sounds so much easier.

    • Tanya
      | Reply

      Judy, I certainly know that feeling of starting over. Even if you have to rip back to the lifeline, it’s better than losing the whole thing. Thanks for your comment, and good luck with your knitting.

  3. Renee
    | Reply

    Thank you for this! I’m working on my first lace project and was wondering how to save myself some heartache!

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