You know that feeling: You're knitting away and you spot a mistake, but it's waayyyy too far back to fix. You've got to rip back. But help! You don't want to wreck everything you've already done.
Is there an easier way to rip back your knitting without ruining all your hard work? The good news is, yes! These are three strategies you can use, depending on your knitting style.
Plan Ahead with a Lifeline
This is a thin strand of yarn that you run through one row of your knitting. There's a reason why it's called a lifeline : It'll totally save you, especially when you're knitting a complicated lace or other charted pattern.
For your lifeline, you can use any kind of yarn that's thinner than what you're working with but still sturdy. I like to use a strand of fingering weight mercerized cotton or embroidery thread. Some knitters even use unwaxed dental floss.
Using a darning needle, run the lifeline through one row of your knitting. If you're using circular needles that screw onto their cables, thread the floss or thread you'll be using through the key hole (the one used for tightening) and carry it along as you knit a new row. At the end of the row, take it out of the needle keyhole, and there's your lifeline.
Make sure to move your lifeline from time to time. If you place a lifeline 10 rows into your project then make a mistake 12 inches in, you're not going to want to rip back all the way to the one you put in at the beginning of your project. To be safe, move the lifeline up every couple of inches as you go.
Swoop to the Rescue with an Afterthought Lifeline
An afterthought lifeline is the same as a regular lifeline, except that you put it in after you realize you've made a mistake. You'll need a darning needle and your waste yarn. Starting at a point a few rows below where the mistake happened, thread the needle through the back of each stitch.
To do this, you'll be lifting the bar on the right side of the stitch and threading from back to front.
I find it easiest to do about five to 10 stitches on my needle before I pull it through.
Bite the Bullet
Sometimes, you've just got to rip it. That can be the fastest option in some cases, especially with certain kinds of yarn. If the yarn you're using sticks to itself (think woolly and not slippery) or is relatively stiff (like linen), ripping back using this method shouldn't be a problem.
I'm pretty lazy about placing lifelines, so this tends to be my go-to method. After pulling the knitting off the needles, I like to pull back to one row before the row I want to pick up. Then I slowly pull out one stitch at a time in that last row and pick up the stitches with my needle.
I was terrified the first time I saw someone do this, but it gets easier once you get a feel for it. I even used this method with a lace mesh project I was working on recently, though I'd suggest you try it first with something that's easier to pick up.
The truth is, you'll run into all kinds of problems as your knitting evolves — we all do — but with the right hacks in your repertoire, you can bounce back more quickly and easily every time.