Have you ever found a pattern that you love, but were unable to find the yarn suggested? What if you simply aren't in love with any of the colors offered? Or are allergic to the alpaca recommended by the pattern writer? Or the yarn they used is just too expensive! Situations like these are not uncommon -- and are certainly no reason for you to throw your hands in the air and feed your new favorite pattern to the shredder!
Substituting yarns can be a fun and exciting experience, given you adhere to a few simple rules:
- GAUGE. You absolutely must find a yarn whose natural stitch gauge is similar to the one recommended by the pattern. In other words, if the pattern states that the gauge is 8sts/4in over st st (stockinette stitch), you'll want to find a yarn that also shows that stitch gauge on the label. We've tried to aid in this process by grouping all of our yarns by gauge, so you can at least limit your options. For example, when looking at the page for Big Wool Fusion, you'll see a link in the upper right hand corner that reads "View other (1.5 - 2.5 sts/in) Super Bulky Yarn." Clicking on this link leads you to a list of yarns with similar gauges... The difficulty with this step enters when the stated pattern gauge is measured in a stitch other than stockinette stitch (a lace or rib stitch, for example). In this situation, it's imperative that you find out what the 'natural gauge' is of the yarn used in the pattern. When i say 'natural gauge,' i mean the gauge stated on the yarn label. That's the number that you need to do a comparison.
- DRAPE. Finding a yarn with a similar drape is critical to the garment flowing as intended. For example, you probably don't want to knit a heavy fisherman's sweater out of a cotton or ribbon, as those tend to sag much more than animal fibers.
- YARDAGE. Almost every kind of yarn has a different yardage amount. That said, we can't simply buy 10 balls of Rowan Wool Cotton if your pattern calls for 10 balls of Karabella Boise. Each has a natural gauge of 5.5 sts/inch, but the Boise has 40 yards more than the Wool Cotton. Here's how to figure out how much of the Wool Cotton you'd need for the Boise pattern. The pattern calls for 10 balls of Boise, which is 163 yds. So, you'll need a total of 10 x 163 = 1630 yds. Now, if you want to use the Rowan Wool Cotton (which has 124 yds per ball), you'll need 1630/124 = 13.14 balls. It's always wise to round up, so you should purchase 14 balls of the Rowan Wool Cotton.
- CREATIVITY. You can double a fine yarn to create a heavier one...or combine a couple of fun yarns together. Just don't forget rule #1 & make sure to measure your gauge.... and be careful when it comes to purchasing enough yardage. If the pattern calls for 1000 yds of the original yarn, and you decide to double something thinner, you'll need 2000 yds of that thinner yarn.
If you have tips for substituting yarns (or troubleshooting other yarns or techniques) we would love to hear from you. Send your tips via email to support@JimmyBeansWool.com, and please let us know if we may use your tip in our newsletter!
This article has been used with permission from the Jimmy Beans Wool January 2006 newsletter.