A Known Good Row

a thing on which someone or something depends
or which provides a means of escape from a difficult situation

Dropped a stitch or several while knitting? Tried to fix a mistake and made a worse mess of it? Just got hopelessly lost and need to start a section again?

Enter the lifeline: a piece of extra yarn threaded through the stitches on the needle to protect the knitting below/before that point. Lifelines allow you to pull out a section of problematic knitting, stopping safely at a known good row.

Knitting lifeline illustrated

Having finished one “point,” the first priority is to insert a lifeline before starting the next.

In difficult or long patterns, a lifeline can be used at the end of a successfully completed section to lock it in (Whew!) or just before starting a tricky section (Uh, oh! Here comes trouble!). Then if/when you make a mess of things, you just rip out the knitting to that point, put the stitches back on the needles, and start again (Callooh! Callay!).

Knitting has given me a whole new appreciation for lifelines. Not that I’ve ever dropped a stitch, made a worse mess while trying to fix a mistake, or got so lost that the only thing for it was to start over — I mean, you know, in theory.

clubӢhouse leadӢer
the golfer with the lowest score who has already completed regulation play

Although there may not be many parallels between knitting and golfing, being the clubhouse leader is a bit like having a knitting lifeline: all your golfing before that point is protected. Your score is locked in: It can’t go up, of course, but neither can it go down, at least not until/unless play resumes the next day. But a golfer still on the course can’t be sure of maintaining their current score. They could improve it by shooting under par, of course; equally, they could worsen it by shooting over.

The tournaments held every week also incorporate an implicit lifeline. Rather than playing for the whole season and adding up their scores at the end, golfers have agreed to lock-in the results of their play after every four games. You can’t lose the tournament that you won last week, even if you miss the cut this week. Just as well.

Similarly, when I worked on proposals before the days of automatic online backups, we printed every section at the end of every day. That way, if a computer file went south on us through technical glitch or user error, we could recover the work done to date, losing (at most) one day of work rather than maybe weeks of the horrid stuff. We didn’t call it a lifeline, but that’s what it was.

You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.
The Gambler, Kenny Rogers

When I think of the things I might like to lock in at a given level of achievement but can’t — weight, fitness levels, investment value, bathroom cleanliness, garden weed-free-ness, relationship health — I realize how rare lifelines really are, in any aspect of life. All the more reason, then, to look for, use, and appreciate the few that allow me to protect what I have already accomplished: to count my money, as it were, while I’m still sittin’ at the table.


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7 Responses to A Known Good Row

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Your “lifelines” comments made me think of a time when I was commuting from south of Tillsonburg to Toronto. One time, when I was returning home, I noted that the gas gauge was heading toward the Low mark. Passed a service centre on 401 Highway. Nope. Gas is too expensive in those places. Unless you’re really stuck. And I wasn’t stuck. Yet!

    Passed another service centre. Gauge down to below 1/8 tank. Not stuck. Yet!

    Not to worry though because there’s another gas station on the way down from the 401 to Tillsonburg. Trouble was it was closed due to some emergency.

    On the south end of Broadway Avenue there was an Esso station. If I’m lucky I’ll make that. Two blocks away, at a stop light, the car sputtered and stalled. Drat! That expensive gas in the service centre suddenly seemed “cheap at half the price” as my mother used to say.

    As luck would have it, there was a bit of a downhill grade. When the light turned green, I was able to step out of the car and stand by the side with the door open, give ‘er a little shove, jump in, and coast into the gas station.

    When I related the story to an old farmer friend he said, “When you were starting to get low, the Lord threw you a lifeline, saying “Here’s a lifeline. There’s a service centre up ahead.” But when you passed two of them, the Lord said, “Well, buddy, you’re on your own now.”

    On the other hand…there was the luck of that downward grade! ‘Nuther lifeline!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes, that’s another excellent use of the term. And the farmer’s comments remind me of the jokes about the folks sitting on the roof of a flooded-out house, turning down three offers of help, confident that the Lord would save them. Eventually they drowned. When they met their Maker and demanded to know why He/She hadn’t saved them, the response was, “Hey. I sent you 3 boats.” Recognizing the lifeline as one is crucial.

  2. Judith Umbach says:

    I have never encountered this use of the term lifeline nor the use of it in knitting. A good idea I would use if I still knitted. Instead I crochet, a hobby associated with little old ladies, and not many of them either.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – I hadn’t thought about whether it could be used in crochet – rather beyond the simple things I (used to) tackle in that craft. The quintessential local yarn stores (which has its own acronym – LYS) is struggling to stay afloat, I think, with fewer practitioners and more online buying.

  3. If I had known about lifelines during my early attempts at knitting, I might have kept at it. I wrote a poem about “knitting a sweater is knitting it twice.” Too frustrating! Your advice is timely. I should be backing up files. One never knows when the entire machine will go south. My main computer, with two separate hard drives, is my life and my future.

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