There's an old song I've heard of, and the last verse goes like this:
This is the lifeline, oh, grasp it today!
See, you are recklessly drifting away;
Voices in warning, shout over the wave,
O grasp the strong lifeline, for Jesus can save.
(Refrain) Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is sinking today.
I remembered that song today as a lifeline rescued my knitting.
I had started the grapevine shawl (Ravelry link) early in May and successfully completed one pattern repeat (12 rows). I picked it up Sunday to do a little knitting and promptly screwed up the 3rd line in the next repeat. I tried to tink back, but it didn't work. I wound up ripping the whole thing back and started over, resolving to run a lifeline after each pattern repeat from then on. (A lifeline is a length of yarn or thread that a knitter runs through the stitches of a completed row. If there's a problem later on, the knitter can rip back to the lifeline and recover all the stitches, all facing the right direction. In the photo, you can see white lifelines. If you look closely, you can see some pink ones, too.)
Yesterday's knitting went well...from cast-on through four repeats without the ghost of a problem. The pattern itself is easy--all K2TOGs, SSKs, and YOs, with not a single P2TOG, K3TOG, nupp, or other tricky stitch. And half the rows are purl-even rows, so really there are only six pay-close-attention rows in each repeat.
Now some people remove previous lifelines once they've run a new one. If you've just run a lifeline to protect the 6th repeat, you don't actually need one protecting the 5th repeat, right?
Well, maybe... It depends on how closely you inspected the 6th repeat before you moved on to the 7th one. Because if you belatedly spot an error in the 9th row of the 6th repeat, you're going to want that lifeline between repeats 5 and 6.
And here's the nice thing about lifelines: they make you braver about fixing problems. I needed to rip back about 6 rows to fix the error. With luck, I'd be able to recover my stitches there--even though the lifeline was further back--I could recover my stitches, fix the problem, and start moving forward again.
But sometimes picking up doesn't go as smoothly as you like, especially when you've been increasing and decreasing stitches in rows (all those K2TOGs, SSKs, and YOs). It can be hard to tell what's a legitimate YO and what's a loose loop between stitches. And when that happens--which is exactly what happened to me on the 2nd repeat on Sunday--then you have to keep ripping back either to the nearest lifeline, or to the beginning. If you don't have any lifelines in your work, your only option might be to ignore the error, keep working, and squint a lot when you look at your finished piece. And that might be the choice you have to make if you've been removing previous lifelines as you run new ones.
But a lifeline securely in place makes you brave enough to attempt the fix. If all goes well, you get all your stitches back and just reknit those 6 rows. In the worst case scenario, you reknit 15 rows: the whole pattern repeat and the three rows you'd worked in the newest section. Either way, you're in no danger of losing all your work back to the beginning.
So my project was rescued--and I only reknit six rows. Now I've got six and a half good repeats, with a lifeline in place after every one.
The pattern is downloadable (free) from Cascade Yarns. The yarn used is Cascade Sierra (80% cotton, 20% wool).
P.S. And sometimes it helps to leave the lifelines in place while you block. It helps you keep each repeat section straight, and measuring from lifeline to lifeline is a good way to ensure that you block the whole piece evenly, without stretching the length at one end or the other.