Shopping for yarn is my favorite part of knitting; walking into a yarn store is to experience an extensive color palette and tactile pleasures. But sometimes it is not possible to find the yarn asked for in a pattern, so a substitute is necessary. Substituting yarn is not simply a matter of replacing one ball for another.
A good rule of thumb is to use a yarn with a similar strand width, texture, and the same amount in meters/yards as indicated in the pattern instructions. The following are the steps in purchasing a substitute yarn.
- Narrow down yarns with similar gauge and strand width for your project.
- Choose a color that catches your eye.
- Feel the yarn to determine its texture. A highly textured yarn will be obvious by just looking at it. It is difficult to substitute a highly textured yarn (irregular strand width, boucle, chenille, etc.) for another; the project will look different from the original design.
- Make sure the care instructions are suitable for the project. You would not want to use an expensive silk yarn for a baby sweater that needs to be washed often.
- The amount of yarn in meters/yards, not grams/ounces is key to choosing the substitute. Old patterns from the 1950s and 1960s noted how many grams/ounces of yarn was needed to complete a project. This is not an accurate way to determine the amount to purchase, but in those days there wasn’t the variety in yarn that we have today. As an example, say your pattern for a size small sweater requires 15, 50 gram balls (100 meters each) of double knitting (DK) yarn. DK is a common weight of yarn (refer to last blog post), so there are lots of DK brands available. Multiply 15 balls by 100 meters which equals 1500 meters; the total amount required. Let’s say the DK yarn you are interested in has 110 meters per ball; divide 1500 by 110 which equals 13.6. Round up to 14. Purchase 14 balls of the substitute. You may want to purchase one or two extra balls so you don’t run out. Also check that the dye lot numbers are the same. Yarn is dyed in batches so it’s not uncommon for the same color, particularly solid colors to vary from one dye lot to another.
Remember the best way to ensure the substitution is accurate is to knit a swatch, and compare its gauge with the gauge given for the original yarn in the instructions. Substitution becomes easier with knitting experience.