Tuesday 9 May 2017

Tips and tricks: The afterthought lifeline

Sometimes when I'm knitting something goes wrong and I have to unravel a whole section (usually a sleeve when I've got the increases/decreases wrongly spaced, or the heel of a sock that has gone awry). If I'm not too far from the beginning I'll usually unravel the whole thing and start again, but if I'm confident that the section before the error was correct, I use this method, which I have dubbed the afterthought lifeline method of unravelling. Rather than tink (un-knitting each stitch one at a time), you pick up the correct stitches from way back before you start unravelling, then rip back to a fixed end point.

You will need:
Your knitting
A spare needle (the same size as, or smaller than, the needle you are knitting with)
A little patience

Step one: Work out where your knitting was last correct

Here the sleeve had the incorrect decrease rate so was too tapered. The last correct round is near the top of the sleeve, but after the yoke had been completed.

Step two: Pick up your stitches

Run your working needle (or a spare in the same size. If you're using the working needle you'll have to pull it out of any live stitches) through the right hand leg of each stitch in the row/round you want to pick up. Take care to pick up only stitches in the row you want, and not the rows above and below, also make sure you do not split the yarn - this makes it very hard to unravel later.

If you're working in the round, the final stitch will not be level with the first stitch as knitting in the round makes a spiral.

A good check that you've caught all your stitches is to count them. If you don't have the correct number, take a look along the needle and see if you've skipped one somewhere; the easiest stitches to miss are edge stitches and stitches at the ends of rounds.

Pick up the right leg of each stitch

Continue picking up all the way to the end of the round; if you're picking up in the round the
beginning and end will not quite line up

Step three: Unravel

Pull the working yarn gently to unravel the stitches. Wind the yarn back into a ball as you go to stop yourself getting into a tangle. Keep going until you reach the row of stitches that you ran the needle through. Pull the final row back very gently as you may have the odd stitch that catches.

If any stitches catch take a close look at how the stitch has caught. If you've accidentally split the yarn you may be able to give the yarn a little tug to release the stitch, but if it's a more significant catch, slip the stitches you have already rescued onto a spare needle and gently release the caught stitch; you can also use this method if you have accidentally picked up the odd stitch from the wrong row/round.

Unravel quickly
Unravel the final row slowly

Step four: Knit

At the end of the previous stage you will have a row of stitches ready to be knitted. The stitches should be mounted as shown below, with the right leg at the front. If that's not the case, knitting through the back of the stitch should fix the stitch orientation.

Correctly mounted stitches

I hope that has helped at least one person! With practice you should be able to use this technique for knitting that is more complex than basic stocking or garter stitch. If you have any questions, post them in the comments box.


I am writing a blog post every day in May. If you'd like to read them all, they can be found here.


  1. This is REALLY useful. I've been doing a lot of unravelling recently (largely because I haven't been reading patterns carefully enough, I should add, because I am knitting some of yours!!) and this would be a great help. I've tinked and ripped, but this could speed things up (compared to tinking) and also help considerably with the awful picking up after ripping bit. Thank you!

    1. So glad you might find this post helpful! It really does make it easier, good luck!

  2. Hi Vikki, Thanks very much, I think this will be really helpful for my shawl. I just need some good light and a bit of patience! Thanks again, Sally

    1. I hope it works for you. As you say, good light and take it slowly and you should be fine. If the other option is frogging the lot you have nothing to lose!