In this post, we will look at how to substitute yarn in a knitting pattern.
Substituting yarn in any knitting pattern will help you to transition from beginner to more advanced and will allow you to be more creative with your knitting.
This will give you the ability to experiment with a variety of different yarn colours and finishes.
Learning the skill of yarn substitution will provide you with the freedom to explore a range of different fibres other than those recommended in each knitting pattern.
Yarn substitution can be a scary idea for anyone less experienced with reading knitting patterns; however, it’s easier than it seems!
Once you’ve mastered how to substitute yarn in a knitting pattern, you will be well on your way to creating a wide range of items in different colours and finishes.
To work out what you can use instead of the yarn suggested by your pattern, simply follow these three simple checks.
1. Check the Gauge and Weight
The first step in yarn substitution, and to ensure you have the correct weight or thickness of yarn, is to check the pattern’s size gauge.
From here, you can establish exactly how many stitches and rows per inch your substituted yarn will need to match.
If your new thread is a good substitute, it should knit to the same size.
Your gauge will usually say something like “8 sts and 17 rows, to 10 x 10 cm using size 9mm knitting needles”; which would tell you that your yarn should measure 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres, for every 8 stitches and 17 rows that you knit (using 9mm needles).
Whichever option you decide to substitute your original yarn for, make sure it matches your gauge – if it doesn’t, your finished item could end up a very different size.
In addition to using the knitting pattern’s gauge, the yarn specified in your instructions should also give you an indication of the ideal weight and thickness required.
Most designs that supply details for the gauge will also give you the weight.
Yarn weight will be listed under a variety of different types, for example:
- DK weight yarn
- Aran weight yarn
- Chunky yarn
- Super bulky yarn
- Worsted weight yarn
- Fingering weight yarn
- Sport weight yarn
Knowing the weight of the yarn that you require will help to narrow down your search, and will make shopping for your substitute yarn much easier.
If you’d like to know more about the various types of yarn weights, read my guide Yarn Weights | A Beginner’s Guide.
You can also check out this handy yarn weight chart below for you to pin for future reference.
2. Check the Fibre
As each ball of yarn will behave very differently to the next, it’s essential to find out the composition of the original yarn.
For example, a woollen hat that you would want to wear for insulation in winter won’t do the same job if made from a lighter weight cotton yarn.
Acrylic fibres can also feel very different from natural wool, so it’s always best to check the exact material composition before you buy.
The best rule for yarn substitution is to select a type of fibre that resembles the original thread as best as possible.
Your pattern will be designed for a specific kind of weight and finish, so it’s usually best to try to stick with the same fibre specified (or as close to it) so that your finished item looks as you expect it to.
3. Check the Length
A knitting pattern will always state how many balls or skeins of yarn it will require; however, this will usually change when substituting yarn for a different type.
Not all yarn balls are created equal, and they often have very different lengths.
To work out the total length you will need of your substitute yarn, use this simple two-step calculation to establish the length and how many balls you will need:
Calculate the original total length
- Take the number of skeins required for the pattern and then find the length of one of those balls of yarn.
- For example, your knitting instructions state 8 balls of yarn, with one ball measuring 100 metres.
- Next, multiply that individual length by the total number of balls required: 8 x 100 = 800 metres.
Calculate the quantity of substitute yarn required to complete the pattern
- Find out the length of one of the new balls of yarn.
- For this example, let’s say our new thread is 95 metres.
- Then, divide the total yardage by the length of one of the new balls of yarn: 800 / 95 = 8.4.
- This calculation gives us 8.4. balls or 9 once rounded up.
So, we now know that to complete this pattern with our substituted yarn, we will need nine balls.
Now that you’ve learnt how to substitute yarn in a knitting pattern, you will find that you can create more items in a much wider choice of fibres and finishes.
Next time you head to your local knitting shop or you’re shopping for knitting yarn online, why not try yarn substitution and see what you can make!
Here are some tips to remember:
- If you don’t want to use or can’t find the specified yarn on a knitting pattern, you could go to your local yarn store and ask for some help from the people who work there.
- Chances are that anyone working there will be an experienced knitter and can give you some good advice.
- You could also join some knitting groups on Facebook and ask in there for some help.
- Just because two yarns have the same gauge doesn’t mean that they can substitute for each other successfully in a given pattern.
- If they have different characteristics – texture, drape, fiber and colour, then the final garment will look and feel different from the one pictured on your pattern.
- Use a tool – like this one from YarnSub.
- There are tools online that can help you to find a yarn for your project
- If you have a yarn listed on a pattern that has been discontinued, just type it into the search box and the tool will help you to find a substitute.