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We have all been in this situation: you get a pattern, you are super excited about making it, but the yarn that’s recommended by the designer is out of stock, or worse, has been discontinued. Worse yet, you might have found a really cool pattern in one of the old pattern books and the yarn that is recommended in there simply doesn’t exist. This is where the yarn substitution comes in.
What is the yarn substitution? Basically, it’s finding a different yarn for your project that is as close to the recommended yarn as possible.
I try to design the patterns with the yarns from big box stores to make them more affordable to makers and also to make sure that the exact yarns I used are available to most people. However, there are still times when the yarn can become unavailable.
It’s also often the case that the maker might have a bunch of yarn they want to use for the project made from a pattern and they want to know if it will work.
Historically, there were no real standards for yarn thicknesses. In time, a number of major factories and stores came to a consensus in the form of a Craft Yarn Council that has created standards for the sizes/weights of the yarns and standardized the weights in 8 major categories: lace, super fine, fine, light, medium, bulky, super bulky, and jumbo.
You will also find that often, each weight is also referenced by a type like (in the same order): fingering, sock, sport, DK, worsted, chunky, roving, jumbo/roving.
This helped out a lot to bring the variety of yarns to some kind of system and to know that we are all referring to about the same type of yarn.
How do you go about substituting yarn weights and sizes in the patterns for the ones you might already have or find more easily?
1 >> Match the yarns by weight
You can always start by comparing the weight of the yarn you have to the weight of the yarn in the project. Yarn weight refers to a weight category each yarn has and it is based primarily on the thickness and the number of wraps around an inch thick rod. Yarn weights go from thread to jumbo and everything in between. You have to be aware though: the actual thickness of the same sized yarn varies from company to company.
Your worsted yarn might be a good substitution to the yarn from the pattern, if they are both made by the same company, like Red Heart or Caron. Ravelry has a handy chart for the thickness of different yarns.
Even slightly different yarn weights can make your finished project look completely different than expected, it can also affect the number of skeins of yarn you end up needing, so take care to match those as close as possible.
2 >> Compare the fiber content
Even if the yarns you’re comparing are of the same weight (substitute for worsted weight yarn, for example) a yarn that is made from a different material could work up differently. Your worsted 100% cotton yarn will create a different fabric than a worsted weight cashmere.
Know the yarn type you are trying to substitute. Animal fibers (like wool yarn) behave differently than plant fibers which are different from synthetic or blended fibers.
In this case, you can check the fiber contents of the yarn you have vs the yarn in the pattern and see how close they are to each other (for example a yarn blend that is 70% acrylic/30% wool). Since different fibers behave differently, from soft to stiff, from having a drape to having no drape at all, from having a great stitch definition to being a fuzzy mess, getting, matching the fiber content as closely as possible would make a difference.
3 >> Compare yards per gram
Another way to match up the best yarn substitute is to look at how many yards of yarn are in the gram of the yarn you want to use vs the one in the pattern. You can find the total yard/total grams of the yarn on the label.
If your substitution yarn is of the same weight (i.e., worsted) and its yards/grams relationship is close to the original yarn, you are one step closer. Even a yarn with a slightly different yarn weight might work Id the grams per length are on a dot. Once you found a yarn with a comparable length per gram, make sure that you have enough length of the yarn for the project.
4 >> Match up the gauge
Another useful thing you can find on the yarn label is a recommended gauge. If the recommended yarn and the yarn you have on hand have the same or close to the same gauge, you know you are on the right path. Follow the stitch patterns on hand and see if the replacement yarn gives you the result you are going for.
5 >> Make a swatch
If you are still unsure if the yarn you have is a good match, the best way to determine if the yarn you have would work for the pattern you bought, is to make a swatch the pattern calls for. Gauge swatches take extra time, but they are very useful.
Make the number of rows and stitches specified in the pattern’s swatch and see if the swatch from the substitute yarn comes out to the same size as the swatch in the pattern. While making a swatch, don’t try just different kinds of yarn. Often by changing up a knitting needle size or crochet hook size you can get the result you want.
6 >> Ask the community
You can also poll the yarn community. If the pattern has been made enough times, you can find out what substitutions worked for others. Places like Ravelry groups or even related Facebook groups are often a wealth of knowledge on best yarn substitutions in general or for specific patterns.
7 >> Use the tools
You can also use websites with tools aimed to help you with yarn substitution. Places like YarnSub and Ravelry are great places to check out. In YarnSub, you input the manufacturer and the type of yarn and it gives you a list of possible matches from closest to the farthest from a variety of other yarn manufacturers. It gives you yarn ideas that are like the yarn you need, showing what about the substitution yarn checks out and what doesn’t.
YarnSub provides the matches based on:
- Yarn weight
- The number of plies
- The fiber content
- Grams per meter
The beauty of the time we live in now is that you can find a pattern for anything your little heart desires. The variety of yarns, small batch and mass-produced is incredible. Sometimes this can create a bit of a problem, but I hope that the yarn substitution tips above will make the job of finding a perfect yarn for the perfect pattern a bit easier.
Do you have any tips that you use for substituting the yarn? Share below!