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 is 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.
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.