During my journey into the world of knitwear design, I’ve learned that substituting yarns can be difficult for a lot of people! I’ve been asked by potential buyers if they have to use the yarn I do, and the answer is NO, absolutely not! I recognize that a lot of my designs use yarns that can be difficult to find, use animal fibres, or are on the more expensive side – or maybe you just really love another yarn! Whatever the reason, I wanted to create this resource to help you find a yarn that will work with YOUR style and YOUR budget – for whichever pattern you’re working on!
Step 1: Determine which yarn weight to use!
Yarn weight is a fantastic way to start finding a substitute yarn! Most yarns are categorized in a numeric system with corresponding sizes – you can usually find this information on the ball band, but if it’s not there, try searching for the yarn on Ravelry!
The most common categories are:
0 – Lace | 1 – Fingering | 2 – Sport | 3 – DK (or double knit) | 4 – Worsted | 5 – Bulky (or chunky) | 6 – Super Bulky | 7 – Jumbo
When you’re checking out a pattern on ravelry, it should tell you which weight of yarn the pattern calls for. See below:
Things to note: not all yarn weights are created equal – there’s a bit of fluidity between sizes. Weight is just a starting point! Some yarns knit up chunkier, and some thinner. That’s where the next step comes in: gauge.
Step 2: Match Gauge
Oh, gauge swatching – how we loath thee. I know it’s no fun to swatch, but it’s pretty important, particularly when substituting yarns. You want to make sure that the finished product will fit, and that you like the fabric. To determine the gauge, you’ll need to know what needle size the pattern recommends, and what the gauge is (INCLUDING what stitch the gauge is in!)
We’ll use my Vanilla Spice Socks for example – the suggested needle size is a US 1 or 2.25mm, and the gauge is 32 stitches and 48 rows = 4″ x 4″ (10 cm x 10 cm). What this means, is that you need to create a fabric with the same amount of stitches in the same measurements so that your sock will fit like mine!
So what you’ll want to do is cast on the 32 stitches + at least 4 stitches on the edge – it’ll make it easier to measure your stitches later. Work at least 48 rows in stockinette stitch (PS – if your pattern is knit in the round, you need to swatch in the round. Check out this tutorial!) and then measure your swatch to make sure you’re getting the same measurements the pattern did! If your swatch is too big, you may need to go down a needle size, and if it’s too small, you may need to go up! The suggested needle size is not the be-all-end-all; you may need to go up or down!
PS, TECHNICALLY you should also block your swatch. I would definitely suggest doing this with garment patterns because you never know how much your yarn is going to fluff up!
Step 3: Calculate Yardage
So, socks are easy. You can pretty much get away with making any sock pattern and size with one 100g ball of sock yarn. However, with garments, or accessories that require multiple skeins of yarn, you’ll need to know how many balls of the substituted yarn you need. You can usually find the yardage requirements on the pattern page, or within the pattern itself.
A lot of patterns will break it down by size in the description of the pattern as well.
Sometimes, the yardage requirement is listed as balls of yarn instead. Say for example you want to knit a sweater: the designer has specified that for the size you’ve chosen you’ll need 5 balls of Lion Brand Thick and Quick. If you’re not using Lion Brand Thick and Quick, you’ll need to determine how many balls of yarn you need. To do this you:
Find the amount of yards/metres in the ball of yarn. Most of the time you can find this information on the yarn website, or on Ravelry.
Lion Brand Thick and Quick has 106 yards (or 97 metres) per ball. If you need five balls of this yarn to make the pattern, you multiple 106 x 5 for a total of: 530 yards (485 metres).
To find out how much yarn you’ll need to substitute, you’ll need to find out the amount of yards/metres that the yarn you want to use has in a ball. Let’s say I want to use Bernat Wool Up Bulky. It has 121 yards (111 metres) of yarn per ball. I’m going to take the number of yards that the pattern required (530), and divide it by 121 yards. The answer is 4.4 balls, which I would round up to 5 balls.
If you don’t want to do all the math, my friends over at STASH have come up with a Yarn Substitution Calculator that you can just plug your numbers into!
Tips and Tricks!
Consider the drape of the original yarn! If you want your garment to fit in a similar way to the designer’s sample, you’ll want to try and find a yarn with a similar fibre content. For example, alpaca and silk create a more draped fabric then wool.
Yarnsub is your best friend! This is the COOLEST website. Basically, you just plug in the type of yarn suggested by the pattern, and it’ll give you a list of similar yarns! It gives you all the information like fibre content, price range, gauge, and more. You can also search by yarn weight, gauge, and more.
Check out the pattern on Ravelry! Ravelry has two amazing features – the “yarn ideas” and the “projects”! (You must be a Ravelry member to access these features – it’s free and awesome!)
You’ll be able to see the projects that other makers have completed, and check out what yarns they used! If there are enough projects, you can usually find a pretty decent list of yarn ideas in the “yarn ideas” section.
Check out your LYS! If you have a friendly little yarn store nearby, pop in with the pattern you’re considering making and ask for help! They can help you choose a yarn that will work for the pattern, your budgets, and preferences!
I hope this helps encourage you to try substituting a yarn! Never let my (or any other designers) affinity for fancy yarn stop you from making the pattern you want!
If you EVER need help subbing a yarn for one of my designs, feel free to message me anytime! I’m happy to help!
My next blog post will be my favourite budget-friendly yarns! If you know of an awesome yarn that should be on the list, drop it in the comments below!
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