Tips & Tricks


Tips for Substituting Yarns

from Pauliina Kuunsola, Senior Editor and In-House Tech Editor at Laine Publishing

Did you fall in love with a design but can’t find the yarn listed in the pattern? Or did you see something great in your LYS but don’t know of a pattern that uses it? Don’t worry! You can always substitute yarns. Pauliina Kuunsola from Laine shares her tips!

Yarn Weight and Yardage 

Patterns usually list the yarn the sample was knit with and photographed in. This does not mean you need to use the same. There are many beautiful yarns out there, and you should always feel free to substitute them with another suitable yarn based on what is available in your area or within your budget or preferences.

To help you with this, the patterns usually mention the yarn weight (lace, super fine, fine, light, medium, bulky, super bulky, and jumbo) and the required yardage for each size. Yarn weight is the information you need when you start searching for a substitute, and the yardage will help you figure out how many skeins of your chosen yarn you need.

Before we go further, it is good to remember that yardage is always just an estimate. Different types of fibers and spinning styles make the yarn meter-to-weight ratio vary. Also, the larger the project, the more individual gauge matters. Even tiny differences can affect the yardage needed in, say, sweaters. Designers usually try to consider this and add a little extra for the yardage requirements, so this is a good guide when substituting.

But back to the yarn weight. When substituting yarn, look for yarns of the same weight, e.g., substitute lace with another lace-weight yarn, worsted with another worsted-weight yarn, etc.

Fiber Content

In addition to the weight, it’s good to look at the fibre content of the original yarn. Choose a yarn with a similar fibre content if you want to knit a piece that looks like the one in the photos. As well as possibly affecting the yardage, the fibre content affects the characteristics of the knitted fabric.

For example, a sweater made of 100% alpaca will have a completely different fit and drape than one made of 100% wool, even if the yarns are the same thickness. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it; just be aware that the result will probably look different.

Combining Yarns 

Going a step further, you can also try creating your own yarn combinations. Say you want to knit a sweater that calls for DK-weight yarn, but the color that caught your eye only comes in fingering-weight. You can knit with two fingering-weight yarns held together to achieve approximately the same gauge as with a DK-weight yarn. 

The same works the other way around, too. If a pattern is worked with fingering-weigh wool and lace-weight mohair held together, you could knit it with a sport-weight yarn held single. 

Make a Swatch

When substituting yarns, a gauge swatch is always recommended. You can check your gauge, see how the yarn knits up, and decide if it’s suitable for what you want to knit. And if you feel unsure about substituting yarns, remember that your LYS (local yarn shop) can most probably help!

I hope this helps. We'll also be discussing yarn weights in our upcoming Laine issues!

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