September 23, 2015

Substituting Yarn


When I first started knitting, I decided to knit my other half a jumper. It was a simple pattern, requiring a worsted weight yarn in a brand that was not available at my LYS. So I decided to substitute the yarn and went looking for anything that had 'worsted' written on the label - mistake number 1.  Then, having returned home, I cast on and started knitting. I had heard about gauge swatches but didn't think I needed one - mistake number 2. As you've probably already guessed, the jumper was a fail because, as I worked out later, the yarn required for the pattern was more of a chunky weight, which meant that the fabric I was getting (using super large needles!) was very loose. Strangely enough, apart from the extremely loose gauge, the jumper did fit and it was worn (I begged him to only wear it around the house) but had I known how to substitute yarn it could have been so, so, SO much better.  For new knitters, learning how to substitute yarn is one of the handiest skills you can have, so this week I thought I would write a mini guide on how to substitute yarn by looking at three of the most important factors: fibre content, yardage and gauge.


Fibre Content

One of the first things you need to try and match is fibre content. Basically, you'll want the same or similar fibre that is in the suggested yarn to be in the yarn that you choose. For knitters with more experience, it can be fun to experiment with different fibre blends but, if you're new to knitting, the best thing to do is stick to what the designer has suggested. So, if the yarn suggested is 100% merino, try and find a yarn that has the same fibre content.



One of the most confusing things about yarn substitution is understanding yarn weights. It's confusing because there are no strict standards when it comes to yarn weight: for example, a yarn can be classified by a company as worsted when in fact it is more of a chunky weight.  There is, of course, a standard yarn weight system which is a useful guide but, like I said this is not always used by yarn companies to classify their yarns. So, how do you work out which yarn would be similar in weight or thickness to the suggested yarn?  All you need to do is look at yardage.  Here's an example of what is usually written in a pattern:

Suggested Yarn
Skein Australis DK
218 yards/199 metres in 100g
100% Superwash Merino
7 (8, 8, 9, 9, 10) skeins
Colourway - Majestic


All patterns have a suggested yarn section that lists the following information: yarn company, yardage, fibre content, how many skeins you will need for each size, and usually the colourway that the sample was knit in. The text highlighted above tells us the yardage of the suggested yarn. This information is really important when you're substituting yarn, because you want to look for a yarn that has a similar yardage to the one that is listed. Our example says that we need 218 yards/199 metres in 100g, so we need to find a yarn that has similar yardage (give or take around 20 yards/20 metres).  Keep in mind that yarns can be sold in 50g, 150g or 200g skeins or balls, so make sure the weight matches!  If it doesn't, you'll need to do a few simple calculations to check the yardage. For example, the yarn I am wanting to use as a substitute is 110 yards in 50g, which means that it is 220 yards in 100g. There is only 2 yards difference compared to that of the suggested yarn listed above, which is fine, so this yarn would be a good substitute.



So you have matched the fibre content and yardage, now you need to swatch!  It's tempting to skip this part, but you may regret it if you do. Even if you bought exactly the same yarn that's used in the pattern, it's still highly advisable that you swatch because we all knit with different tension. Swatching is a big subject and worthy of a blog post in itself, but without going into too much detail, the only way you're going to know if the yarn is the perfect fit (and hence having a project that will be the correct size) is if you swatch and match the gauge that is written in the pattern.


Still Unsure?

If you're still unsure, don't worry! Yarn sellers, whether it be dyers or LYS staff, know their yarns and will be able to help you make a decision about which one to choose.  


So, next time you're looking to substitute a yarn make sure you:

  1. Match the fibre content of the yarn listed in the pattern.
  2. Match, as closely as you can, the yardage that is listed for the suggested yarn (give or take 20 yards/20 metres)
  3. Knit a gauge swatch and make sure you get gauge!


Until next week, happy knitting!