Sandi’s Lace Lifeline Tips (and a free lace project!)

I've been promising photos of my version of the Leaf and Nupp Shawl, a pattern out of Interweave's new lace knitting book, Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush.  (Want more info about this nifty book? Go here!) So: Photos! I'm more than half-done with the center section; the four-sided border will be added after the center is done.

I initially began this project for the post with Eunny's video on provisional cast-ons, and then I decided to practice a few nupps after watching the Knitting Daily TV video with Nancy Bush on making nupps, because that looked like fun, and so of course I had to knit the first few pattern repeats to GET to the nupps…right?

And then I had to knit a little more, because the pattern was indeed pretty darn fun. And then I wanted to see if I could improve on my first nupps and make BETTER nupps. So I did a little more.

Note that I never made a gauge swatch–because the project started out as sort of one big gauge swatch! The result? My gauge is smaller than the one specified in the pattern, so that my shawl is coming out narrower and shorter than the one in the book. I'm making it longer by adding additional pattern repeats to the center section…which is great, except that more pattern repeats means more border stitches to pick up around the edges. I estimate that my border will have over 1,400 stitches in it…yikes. I was contemplating making the shawl wider by adding more border rounds…but at more than 1,400 stitches per round, I might have to contemplate that idea just a bit longer.

As I knit the center section, I started throwing in lifelines at the end of each repeat, out of habit mostly. (I still wasn't admitting to myself that this was a Real Project for some reason.) Because there are so many pattern repeats for this long-and-lovely shawl, I'm using a lot of lifelines–and here's a few new things I am learning along the way.

Sandi's Lace Lifeline Tips

1.  Thread the needle through the live stitches on your knitting needle, instead of trying to pick out stitches in a row already worked.

2.  Turn your knitting over so that you are threading from right to left across the back of your knitting. Lots of purl bumps make it easier to see the stitches. Also, if the thread runs through the back of each loop, there is plenty of room in the front loop when you are knitting the next row.

3.  Do NOT thread the lifeline through your stitch markers! (Ask me how I learned this.) Thread your needle through the last stitch right before the marker, bring the lifeline around across the outside of the marker, and then thread your needle through the next stitch after the marker.

4.  Place a lifeline in the last row of each pattern repeat as an easy way to count repeats.

5.  Use a thin, smooth yarn–such as a cotton crochet thread–so that the lifeline will pull out easily when you are done. I've heard of many knitters who use unwaxed dental floss…clever and inexpensive.

6.  Cut the lifeline long enough so that it won't pull out at either end when you spread the stitches out.

7.  Secure the ends by tying each one around a stitch marker to help keep them in place. (You can see this in the detail photo of my scarf.)

8.  If The Worst happens and you have to rip back: Take the knitting off your needle, and carefully rip back to the row BEFORE the lifeline. Then slowly rip back a few stitches at a time as you put the live "lifeline stitches" back on the needle, using the lifeline to guide where your needle ought to go. Count stitches as you put them back on, and insert stitch markers as needed. Once everything is back on the needle, re-count just to be sure, and then off you go!

If you have more tips for lace knitting, leave them in the comments so we can all learn from each other's experiences.

Oh, and by the way: The shawl became a Real Project once my mom saw it while I was visiting her in Chicago last month. She wanted to know who it was for; I told her it was "just for fun," so it wasn't really for anyone just yet. She frowned, and I realized that I had given the Wrong Answer. I thought a bit, and said, "Maybe Liz (one of my sisters) would like it?" The Motherly Frown deepened. Finally, I got the point. "Oh. Wait. This is for YOU, Mom!" Big Motherly Smile, and we all burst into laughter now that I had finally answered her question correctly.

 Happy Weekend Knitting!

— Sandi

Hankering for something lacy, but don't have the time to commit to a scarf? How about a pair of lovely fingerless mitts? Download this free pattern for the Wild and Warm Guanaco and Vicuña Lacy Fingerless Gloves and you'll be all set for a little lacy treat for yourself or to stuff into someone's stocking. The instructions give plenty of detailed information for using either your own guanaco*/vicuña** handspun yarn, or any commercial laceweight yarn you fall in love with at your local yarn shop! 

Download the free pattern for the Wild and Warm Lacy Fingerless Gloves

* A Guanaco is a camelid, relative to the llama and alpaca. It's a native of the high Andes mountains in South America; and grows to be about 4 feet tall. The fiber of a guanaco is incredibly soft and warm, and is considered a luxury fiber. However, a guanaco can run at speeds up to 35 mph, so you have to catch it first!

** A Vicuña is another camelid. Its fiber is reputed to be the finest in the world, which led to its near extinction in the last century. Vicuñas are protected now in their native South America. Alpacas are close relatives; there is a mixed breed called "paco-vicuña" raised by a few breeders here in North America.

Learn more about spinning guanaco and vicuña fibers in the Winter 2008 issue of Spin-Off magazine.


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.

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61 thoughts on “Sandi’s Lace Lifeline Tips (and a free lace project!)

  1. Great tips Sandi! I have been using crochet cotton for my lifelines too. It is inexpensive and thin enough not to interfere with knitting the stitches. I have not tried tying the life line to a stitch marker but I can see the value in it.

    Ha ha, I too learned the “hard way” about not threading the lifeline through the stitch markers.

  2. I love the tips, Sandi! I, too, use crochet cotton for lifelines, in a bright contrast color, and put them in at the end of pattern repeats. BUT I’ve had the experience of pulling them out when I spread out stitches, and wonder why I didn’t think of the ring marker tied to the end idea. GREAT! Thanks. Your nupps are lookin’ good!

  3. Your mom is FUNNY!! 🙂

    I use stitch markers between lace pattern repeats. That way I can make sure that the correct number of stitches are in each repeat. If there’s an error, I count the stitches in each repeat and can find it right away!

    Happy Knitting!

  4. Your idea of tying a stitch marker to the end of a lifeline is pure genius! I’ve used unwaxed dental floss as a lifeline before, but it can sometimes get splity our interfere with my knitting. I am going to nab some crochet cotton before I start my next lace project! Thanks for this amazing post! – CG (p.s. your mom really reminds me a lot of my mom…)

  5. I suggest putting the lifeline in when you finish the last patterned row of the repeat so that you will next be working (purling typically) a plain row. It is much easier to work a plain row if the row below it (the patterned row) holds the lifeline than it is to try to make all the pattern stitches out of a row of stitches that has a lifeline threaded through it.

    Also, because I’m cheap, I only use two or three lifelines, I keep taking out the bottom one and moving it up to the next finished repeat. There is no need to have every repeat marked with a lifeline once the next repeat is finished and the lifeline is successfully threaded.

  6. I’ve taught a Charlotte’s Web Shawl class and the secret to lace knitting is stitch markers, stitch markers, and stitch markers. And understanding that in some lace projects you need to move the markers over after a row as lace doesn’t always have the same stitch count at every row. Does that make sense 😉

  7. I’ve been kniting “forever” and never heard of lifelines. What a clever and logical idea. And what a lot of headaches that would have saved over the years! Thanks!!

  8. If you are using Boye or Knitpicks interchangeable needles, you can thread your lifeline through the hole where the tightening key goes. Voila: a self-threading lifeline. But you do need to be careful of the markers, as you say.

    Very cool tip about fastening the lifeline to stitch markers: call it a life ring!

  9. I’ve been knitting since my father taught me when I was about 10 years old. That’s 55 years ago and I’ve never heard of lifelines before. What a wonderful idea and I wish I had known of it before.

  10. Hi Sandi, BTW ~ Love the new hairdo!
    Yeah, I learned a good lesson about lifelines when I really needed one and it wasn’t there to grab! I circled the drain while trying to figure out how far back the boo boo went, and had to rip back 5 inches of non-repeating lace pattern… so I now know that lifelines can and should be thrown in regardless of whether or not the pattern has repeats. And, your comment about making them l o n g is right on! For goodness sake – what’s more important – being thrifty with your crochet thread ending up with a lifeline that isn’t really doing the job – or maintaining your sanity? I usually make them long enough so I can tie the ends together and still spread my knitting out, if needed. Preserve your SANITY, not your thread :o)

  11. I haven’t tried this yet but the suggestion was passed on to me that when using interchangeable knitting needle points with detachable cable, some brands have a small hole where they are tightened and the Lifeline thread or fine crochet thread could easily be threaded through before knitting the row for marking. Then remove and secure with markers, etc. I suppose this could be used for any kind of knitting where a row needs to have a lifeline or marker.

  12. I too have to comment on Sandi’s great new hairdo! LOVE it! I know what a decision it is to cut it off, but it’s very, very nice!
    I love love love this lace shawl, too — I’m going to try it! I mostly crochet, but this makes me want to pick up my needles again! Beautiful!

  13. I don’t think it actually makes much difference if you add rows in the middle section to make the stle longer, or add rounds on the edge. It is probably not much difference in the number of stitches you actually knit. So long as you have a reaaaaallly long circ, so it doesn’t all bunch up and is too hard to knit.

  14. Good tips on the lifeline but I don’t use a stitch marker at the end. I tie a double bow and then knot it again. It’s quick and keeps it from coming out and when you’re ready to pull it out, just cut the bow off one end and pull.

  15. Gorgeous shawl and a lovely color! If your mom has your coloring it will look great on her too 😉 Maybe she’ll let you borrow it from time to time. You’ve almost pursuaded me to try lace knitting….

  16. Sandi, love your hairdo and total new look. You look like the changes in your life have been very positive. Love the pictures of the shawl. BUT WHERE IS CAMISA? (Still looking forward to seeing it.)

  17. I always just make the lifeline twice as long as the width of the piece and tie the ends to each other on the back side! Hold the two ends together & make a simple-to-undo loop knot. Voila!

  18. I have used the holes in both Knit Picks and Denise needles for adding lifelines. They work like a charm and I think Addi missed the boat by not having holes in their lace needles. I also just use 2-3 lifelines and take out the bottom one when it comes time to add a new one.

  19. Sandi, Thank you for sharing your lovely shawl. The color is wonderful – what is it called? I’m anxious to see the border. If it is as beautiful and the body, it will be sensational. Oh!! To be your Mother. I should be so lucky. Thank you for all your tips, and those who have added their comments. Charlotte Unversaw, Fishers, IN

  20. Thanks for all the tips. I want to say in #5 do NOT use the WAXED dental floss! I had heard the tip and did not think about the difference between waxed and unwaxed. It goes in pretty easily, but the longer it sits the stickier it gets. It is really ugly in my alpace lace weight project! And it sticks to the needles too when you try to pick it up. I am hoping that it will wash out when I finish the kniitng. Peggy

  21. I actually use waxed dental floss since it covers up the fibers of the floss so they don’t combine/get caught on the fiber in my knitted project. Mine didn’t get sticky and the color hasn’t rubbed off on the silk in the project. And I use the ‘minty’ version which is easier to see since it’s green (unless my project is green).

  22. Sandi how long before we can get our hands on this pattern? I am not big on lace knitting but I love that pattern done in strips like that would make a lovely afghan!
    Thanks for all you do
    Tonya Stewart

  23. Yay lifelines! The only thing I’d add is pretty obvious, but I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet. If you’re doing something narrow, like a lace scarf, knit the row you want to lifeline onto a circular needle. Threading a lifeline is a lot easier since the cable is likely to be thinner than the needle size. I would guess this is assumed by experienced lace knitters, and for bigger projects, but I’ve seen first-time lace knitters doing their first scarf and having serious issues trying to thread a lifeline using straight needles…it doesn’t end up being a happy experience 🙂

  24. I agree with all the tips – I use dental floss and like others here just tie the ends of each lifeline together.

    Before worrying about the gauge, try blocking a section of the stole as blocking transforms the look (and size!) of the project

    Tilly, Wales

  25. I could have used this tip last week when I was going crazy! I have a huge stash of odds and ends of crochet thread of unknown age, that has been given to me. Now I know what to do with it. Thanks for saving my sanity.
    Phyllis in SE CO

  26. Hi Sandi,

    Thanks so much for the tips. I just got started on the Bleeding Hearts stole from an earlier issue of IK, so you have perfect timing. 🙂 By the way, what yarn are you using? It is really beautiful, especially the color. Even the doggie seems to like it. Thanks again.


  27. Hi ! (I don’t know how to use these sites for typing into them, so this is probably not the place to ask this – I have been trying to ask this question for quite a while now, but had no success getting into a spot where I could type something in) For my own children, I had a lace baby bonnet pattern which began in the center of the back, rapidly added stitches in a yarn over spiralling pattern, and then knit straight in the chosen lace pattern until the bonnet was big enough. I cannot for the life of me find any pattern which starts from the back. I am trying to adapt lace doily patterns, but it is extremely slow going – any advice? Thank you.

  28. Lifelines are truly life saving! But I teach my students to use 1/8th or 1/16th inch ribbon. It’s slippery, so it enters and removes easily, but more importantly, it holds the stitches open. This makes re-inserting the knitting needle much, much easier than when you use crochet cotton or dental floss, as the stitches tend to collapse onto these strings.
    Ribbon is also useful as stitch holders. I always have some in my gadget bag.

  29. Hi Sandi, i love the newsletter and really appreciate all the tips and the free patterns. I am amazed by the concept of the Lifeline- what a fabulous idea- and one i definitely will be using!

  30. Thank you so much for this post. I am halfway through my very first lace knitting project and after ripping the enitre thing out at LEAST 14 times, I am grateful for this simple yet life saving tip! I’vegot 12 repeats complete and all but two have a mistake – nowI’ll know how to deal with it going forward. Thank you thank you!

  31. A little hint about Step 8:

    Whenever you are ripping and picking out the last row stitch by stitch, put the recovered stitches on a needle that’s a size or two smaller than your project needle. Then go back to your project needle to knit the next row.

    LOTS easier to put the stitches back onto a smaller needle!

  32. There is a pretty good entry on lifelines in the Knit Wiki (, but there are some additional ideas here (in Sandi’s post and in the comments) that should be added. Check it out and edit it to include your hints that aren’t already included.

    While you’re there, add an entry of your own. The Knit Wiki is a great idea that could use your input to make it even better. (The entry on the Baby Surprise Jacket is fantastic.)

  33. Lifelines are wonderful, and boost my confidence.
    I’ve discovered that if I put in a lifeline, I am more relaxed, and therefore make less mistakes and tend to have a more even tension/gauge thruout the project.
    I like to use microfilament (fishing line) for lifelines because it tends to pull out of most fabrics easier.
    Thank you for sharing, and for letting the rest of us know that you use lifelines as well. If anyone is unsure about doing a more difficult pattern, then just think “lifelines” 🙂
    Take care, Betty BJ

  34. I am currently teaching myself to knit and your lifeline will come in handy. I can’t tell you how many times I have to start my project over because I’ve missed/added/otherwise messed up and when I pull out the error, I loose where the stitches are supposed to be. Thank You!!

  35. About the guage — don’t forget that lace is very stretchy. When you wet-block it, it can grow a great deal in both directions — especially if you are using blocking wires, which make stretching easier. Consequenlty, you might want to block half of the shawl before you really commit yourself to a considerably longer one.

  36. Hi,
    If you do not want to pick up over 1400 stitches for the border, look at some of the lace patterns from Bad Cat designs you can do a border that you knit and attach to the center section as you go, you might have to change the design of the border but…so what.
    Evelyne L Rye, NY

  37. I’m not sure where I picked this up, but I think a friend told me about a blog where this tip was shared…or something. Anyway, if you have a lot of stitches to pick up along the edge of a piece, this genius suggest “vertical lifelines”. Every row, when you turn the work, loop the working yarn around the lifeline. Then, when the time comes to pick up stitches there they are, already on a thread for you. Works like a charm. Takes about a minute to pick up the stitches rather than days.

    Beautiful “just for fun” project! Your mother is a lucky lady!

  38. Thank you for teaching me about using a lifeline. I could have used this in the lace afghan that I made. I certainly will try it next time. I will also pass the tip on to my mother.

  39. Hey Sandy, your new look is awesome! Hope you’re keeping warm. We miss you in Colorado. The shawl is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to trying the lifeline technique when I get back to my lace. Does anyone use a lifeline on other kinds of knitting — say, colorwork? I’m about to get started on the Latvian fingerless mitts, and wondering whether I should lifeline there.
    -Deborah (from Boulder spinning class)

  40. This was wonderful information. I am doing a shawl that is Estonian lace and I love doing the nupps. I tried once to use the dental floss as a life line and it kept working its way out. I guess it wasn’t long enough and didn’t think about hooking a stitch marker to it. So nice you got the “right answer” for your mom.

  41. Hi Sandi,

    I am an avid knitter (not in your league though) and have learned so much from your wonderful website. Thank you. I must just tell you that you look beautiful with your new hair do.

    Happy holidays from South Africa.

  42. Hi Sandi. Like a lot of your commentors (?) I have knitted for a looong time. I’ve never heard of a life line, I just had to fix a problem in my lace project. It sure would of helped to have one. One thing I like to do is make my markers out of a smooth yarn, usually crochet thread or embroidery floss, (tho the floss can seperate after a while). I tie them in a loop and cut the tails short. I started doing this because I could sometimes tell where the plastic markers were in the tighter guages. It’s cheaper and less apt to take off flying from my needles if I caught it wrong. Also if you accidentally catch it in your knitting you can just cut it out.
    I really enjoy your site. Happy Holidays

  43. When working on a lace scarf I made a mistake, but did not notice it until I was several rows ahead. I had to rip out those several rows to correct my error. I found some foam core board and carefully pinned each stitch of the row I wanted to go back to prior to my mistake. When I had ripped out the rows preceding that pinned row, I simply ran my needle through each of the pinned stitches and was ready to correct my error and move on. I like the idea of using a lifeline. I will try that in the future, but the foam core board saved my scarf.

  44. This may sound incredibly stupid (sorry) but what is the purpose of the lifeline? To mark the end of each repeat? To provide a row at which to pick up if a mistake isn’t noticed in time?

    I like the concept, but (like others here) hadn’t heard of this before.

    The shawl looks yummy, and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished project before your Mum gets her fingers on it!

  45. Love your shawl! And lifeline tips!

    I don’t use lifelines that often, but when I do, I use some leftover smooth sock yarn which I always have lying around. I find that it holds up the stitches better, and it is sticky enough to not slide out off the knitting too easily, yet slippery enough to pull out at the end. And instead of inserting a new lifeline at every repeat, I pull out the old one and insert it at the new point.

    I also find that it easier to slip the lifeline through the stitches while they’re on the cable portion of my knitting needles – that way I’m not trying to jam my tapestry needle through the stitches while they’re snugly sitting on the needle itself.

    I’ve never had to actually rip back yet – but I’m working on the Frost Flowers and Leaves, so I better not jinx myself! 😉

    Thanks for a great blog!

  46. Dear Sandi, In “Principles of Knitting” by Hiatt there is a fabulous cast on that allows lacy knitting to have a very relaxed edging taht shows off the pattern beautifully and no curling up of the edge. It’s called Double-Needle Cast-on on page 132. Once you get the hang of it, it really gets to be fun.

    Virginia Hannah

  47. Seems I’m not the only one who’s been knitting for nigh unto fifty years and just now learning about lifelines. You and all the “backfeeders” are angels! I’m still working on a lace curtain for a kitchen window. It’s strips of different lace patterns that look nice against the light. It’s in crochet thread in shades of yellow — and it matches beautifully the kitchen that we moved away from eight years ago! Selma in TN

  48. I was given the book Knitted Lace of Estonia for Christmas but it is not available through as of yet. Can anyone tell me if there is a problem with the publishing of the book? It was due out the 1st of December but we are being told it is out of stock. We want to buy it through the Canadian source and I am wondering if you are having the same problems in obtaining the book.