Substituting Yarn

substituting yarnOne of the most common alterations made to any given pattern is when the knitter uses a different yarn than the one called for in the pattern. This can happen for a multitude of reasons – the knitter wants to use stashed yarn, the yarn isn’t available in his or her LYS, the knitter has an allergy – or maybe even just a preference – for a different fiber, the suggested yarn doesn’t come in the desired color, the suggested yarn has been discontinued – the list goes on and on. Whatever the reason, it’s a pretty safe bet that at some point in your knitting life, you’ll want or be forced to use a different yarn than recommended.

How do you know which yarns might be a suitable substitute?

There are a lot of things you should look at when choosing substitute yarn including:

  • Gauge. This one is very important. It is important to check gauge even if you ARE using the recommended yarn. Knitting is like handwriting, everyone’s is unique to them and even if you’re using the recommended yarn and needles, your gauge could be off no matter what and you’ll have to change something (usually needle size). When substituting a yarn, ALWAYS remember to double check your gauge.
  • Fiber content. Different fibers behave in different ways. They fall differently, have different memory capacities (this does not mean the yarn knows when your birthday is), block differently and react to wear in their own unique ways. If the yarn called for in the pattern is 100% wool, it’s unlikely that a 100% silk, even if in the recommended weight and even if the gauge swatch comes out perfectly, will be a perfect match because these two fibers produce completely different fabrics.
  • Yardage amounts. Just because the pattern recommends 5 skeins of the suggested yarn, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need 5 skeins of the yarn you’re substituting with. Check the yardage amounts per skein for the suggested yarn as well as your substituted yarn, you may find that you need twice as many skeins, or possibly half! (but who would complain about having “too much” yarn? I’m not sure that’s even a possibility.)

This is just a brief overview, but I hope it helps some of you make decisions regarding which materials to use in the future! Have you ever substituted yarn when working a pattern?  How did it turn out? How did YOU choose which yarn to work with?

10 thoughts on “Substituting Yarn

  1. Oh, you’re so good. I’m usually one of two ways when substituting yarn: either I’ll carefully analyze the fiber content, weight, and construction of the yarn to determine its properties and behavior, or I’ll just pick a pretty yarn and say, “eh, this will probably work out all right.”

  2. This is why, when I made your Maple Slouch hat twice, I did one in the recommended yarn weight and one in a heavier weight. I suspected both would work out just fine, even though the yarns were different weights…I may have changed needle size as well but I don’t remember offhand 🙂

  3. I enjoy yarn-project match making. I almost never use the yarn called for in the pattern. Mostly for the first two reasons you mention. Also. quite often, because I have hand spun stash yarn to use. There’s extra guilt there.

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