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As you know, I’m all for saving myself headaches and frustration–especially when it comes to knitting–so I think it’s unfortunate that lifelines often go under-appreciated or forgotten, as they can save us a lot of time and trouble in the long run. “What are lifelines?” you may ask. Well, I like to think of lifelines as the Shmoon of the knitting world.

Simply put, a lifeline is a length of thread or yarn that you thread onto a tapestry needle and run through a row or round of knitting that you know to be correct, in case of future mistakes that require ripping. Should the unthinkable occur (a mistake!), your stitches will be held on your lifeline, and you will have a solid row to rip back to. Choosing the right material for your lifelines can be a bit tricky sometimes, though. I’ve used many different types of threads as lifelines over the years, and here are some tips that I’ve gleaned:

  1. Don’t use the the stuff that you’re knitting with. You won’t be able to see your lifeline if it doesn’t contrast with your work.
  2. Don’t use anything fuzzy. Unless you want your lifeline to become a permanent fixture in your work, I would suggest using a smooth yarn. At best, fuzzy yarns leave fuzzies in your knitting; at worst, they can felt into your project. (Eek!)
  3. Keep it fine. Lightweight yarns will be easier to remove, and if you need to rip back, they’ll be less likely to get in the way when returning your stitches to the needles.
  4. Watch out for bleeding. Choose your lifeline color carefully when dealing with a light-colored project, as you don’t want your lifeline to bleed into your work and leave a permanent stain. Hand-dyed and/or heavily saturated colors are the usual suspects.
  5. Please, please, please don’t use dental floss! You know that sweet, minty wax coating that helps dental floss do its job? Well, it won’t do your yarn any favors. Aside from sticking to your knitting and fuzzing it when you pull your lifeline out, it will also leave lots of little minty flakes in your work. Now, this next bit is pure conjecture, but it seems to me that if we think something tastes sweet, then moths might think so, too. Of course, you could use unflavored floss, but the stickiness and flaking issues would still be there. (Getting off my soapbox now….)

By this time you’re probably thinking, “So, what should I use for lifeline threads?” Well, here are my recommendations:

  1. Sock yarn. Leftover sock yarn makes wonderful lifelines, especially the more traditional stuff that’s machine-washable. It won’t felt, and it almost never bleeds. Stick a little ball of it in your knitting bag, and you’ll be good to go!
  2. Button thread. I discovered button thread for lifelines in a moment of desperation, and I haven’t looked back. It’s strong, smooth, and fine–perfect for projects made with lightweight yarns. (Note: Button thread is not the same as sewing thread; it’s much sturdier and easier to work with for lifelines.)
  3. Crochet thread. I don’t use this very often, as I don’t have much of it hanging around, but it does work very well for lifelines. White- or natural-colored thread eliminates the possibility of bleeding.

What about you? What do you use for lifelines? Please share below!