Have you ever found the perfect pattern but you want to use a different yarn than the one that’s recommended?
Maybe the yarn is too expensive, too difficult to locate, or discontinued. Or, perhaps you just want to use some yarn that is already in your stash.
Yarn substitution isn’t as challenging as it can seem, especially if you follow these 5 tips.
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1) Consider the yarn “weight”
When I talk about yarn weight, I’m not talking about how much a skein or ball of yarn weighs in ounces or grams, but rather the thickness of the yarn. The Craft Yarn Council has a standard yarn weight system (with a chart here) that uses a numerical system to categorize yarn by thickness from 0 through 7, with 0 (also known as lace weight, or fingering) being the thinnest and 7 (also known as jumbo weight, or roving) being the thickest.
There are 3 ways to easily find the recommended yarn weight for a pattern.
Top: Many designers (including me) include the weight in the pattern.
Middle: The Ravelry pattern page will include information about the yarn weight.
Bottom: You can also search for the yarn in Ravelry’s database to find the weight.
While there is a lot of variation within a given weight category, looking for another yarn in the same weight to substitute with is definitely a good place to start.
2) Compare the recommended gauge and/or WPI
As I mentioned above, even yarns in the same weight category may vary in thickness. Most yarns include the manufacturer’s recommended gauge on the label. You can also generally find that information on Ravelry, along with the WPI (wraps per inch).
These measures are better when substituting than the designer’s recommended gauge.For example, amigurumi usually have smaller stitches (more stitcher per inch) to prevent stuffing from falling out, while shawls often use larger hooks and needles to create an attractive drape. Because of this, it can be difficult to correctly substitute based on the designer’s gauge.
Choose a substitute where the “official”/manufacturer’s recommended gauge or WPI is similar to that of the yarn the designer used.
3) Choose your fiber content carefully
Fiber content is another important factor when substituting yarn because it very directly impacts how the finished project “behaves.”
While some fiber types can be easily interchanged, others have very different properties. The simplest way to substitute is to choose another yarn with the same fiber content.
But sometimes, you don’t want to – or can’t – use the same fiber as the designer, perhaps due to allergies, personal preferences, availability, or cost. In that case, consider what properties the yarn is providing to the final project. Here are some common fiber properties that can have a big impact when substituting.
- Elasticity: Does the yarn “bounce back” and keep its original shape, or does it stretch out? Wool is very elastic, acrylics are generally quite elastic, and cotton and alpaca are usually very inelastic (meaning that they can stretch out). For some projects, like garments, this is especially important to consider.
- Breathability and Insulation: In general, natural fibers are more breathable while synthetics are less breathable. For summer garments, this can be especially important because you want to allow sweat to escape and dry. For winter garments or accessories, consider how insulating the substitute fiber is.
- Ease of Care: Some projects need to be washed more frequently than others. For example, most amigurumi are just “spot washed,” so ease of care isn’t very relevant. But most baby items are routinely machine washed and dried, so they require a substitution with a fiber that has similar care instructions.
If you want to geek out on yarn properties (as I sometimes do, so you’ll be in good company!), you may enjoy reading The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook (animal fibers only), The Knitter’s Book of Yarn (with great information for crocheters, too), and Knitwear Design Workshop (a great choice if you’d like to design your own garments).
4) Consider the yarn’s texture
If you want your finished project to look and behave like the designer’s finished project, another factor to consider when substituting is the yarn’s texture. If the designer used a smooth yarn and you use a thick and thin/handspun styled yarn, or a novelty feather yarn, your project will look quite different. The reverse is also true!
5) Think about the type of colors used
One of my favorite things about seeing other people’s versions of my patterns is to see all of the different colors they use. Color is one way that crocheters (and knitters) can really customize their projects.
But think about the way in which color is used in the original pattern as you substitute yarn and make deliberate choices. Very complex stitch patterns are generally more visible in solid color or semi-solid yarns, while more simple stitch patterns allow a multi-color yarn to shine. As you choose your substitute yarn, think about who should be the star of this particular project. If the stitch pattern is the star, choose solid or semi-solid colors. If the yarn is the star, a visually striking multi-color yarn may be the perfect substitute.
When you’re substituting yarn, don’t forget to think about how much you’ll need! Calculating your needs based on the yarn’s weight in ounces and grams is not usually the best way to substitute. Differences in yarn weight (thickness), fiber content, texture, and color dyeing can change the measured weight of a given yarn.
For best results, calculate the total yardage (or meterage) required for the project and make sure you have enough on hand in your substituted yarn.