If the pattern you plan to use calls for a yarn that is not available in your area or is discontinued, or if you want to use a different yarn for some other reason, you will have to substitute the yarn recommended in the pattern with a compatible yarn.
It is important to make sure the yarn we choose can give us the texture, and the gauge suggested in the pattern.
Of course, the most reliable way to know that you’ve got the right yarn is to make a swatch, then count the number of stitches and rows in a 10cm / 4″ square, and compare those numbers with the gauge provided in the pattern. BUT it’s not possible if you are just about to buy the yarn. AND it’s quite time-consuming if you have a few yarns that you feel might work for the project.
What to do then?
One of the ways to estimate whether two yarns have the same thickness is to look at the “yarn weight“. It is a standard classification of yarns introduced by Craft Yarn Council. Each yarn thickness is assigned a number, and that number is marked on a yarn label, as you see on the labels shown in this photo:
This method has two significant flaws – first, many yarn companies don’t print a yarn weight symbol on the yarn labels, especially the yarn companies that are not based in the USA where the yarn weight standards originated.
I checked the yarns in my stash and found out that none of the European yarns I have show the yarn weight on their labels. Here are the labels of some of them:
The second issue with yarn weight is that even if it is printed on the label, it only provides a range of yarn thicknesses as you can clearly see from the information shown on Craft Yarn Council website.
Yarns on two ends of the range will be quite different even though they all come with the same yarn weight symbol.
So, how do we compare yarns to make sure the alternative yarn is a good fit for the pattern? When I was running a yarn store a while back, I always used a simple way to find out whether the yarn suggested in a customer’s pattern can be substituted with a yarn we had on hand in the store.
This way never failed me once, and I hope it will help you too 🙂
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
If you don’t feel like reading it through, watch my quick explanation in this video tutorial.
Look up the yarn recommended in the pattern to find two bits of information about that yarn – (1) fibre content and (2) number of meters (or yards) in a certain number of grams (or ounces).
For example, let’s assume that I have a pattern that calls for the Haydenville yarn by Valley Yarns. The label tells me that this yarn is (1) made of 60% superwash merino and 40% acrylic, and (2) has 220 yards in 100 grams (that converts to 200 meters in 100 grams).
Now find a yarn that has a similar fibre content and a similar number of meters/yards in the same number of grams/ounces.
For example, I can easily substitute Haydenville yarn with Knitca Superwash yarn that is (1) made of 100% superwash merino wool, and (2) has 100 meters in 50 grams (that makes exactly 200 meters in 100 grams).
These two yarns are a perfect match.
It’s also okay to have a slight difference in yardage. For example, a yarn that has 200 or 250 yards in 100 grams will also be a decent match. We can always adjust the gauge by using smaller or bigger needles until we get the gauge that is exactly like (or at least very very close to) the gauge recommended in the pattern.
And of course, you can choose any colour you like. There is absolutely no need to make a project in exactly the same colour as the project featured in the pattern. Make it in a colour YOU would like to wear 🙂
The last thing to do is to calculate how many balls of the alternative yarn we’ll need for the project.
Let’s assume that in our example the pattern calls for 3 balls of Haydenville yarn. We know that there are 200 meters of yarn in one ball, so the total yarn requirement is:
200 meters (amount of yarn in one ball) x 3 balls = 600 meters of yarn.
We also know that one ball of Knitca Superwash yarn has 100 meters of yarn in one ball. That means that we’ll need:
600 meters (total amount of yarn) / 100 meters = 6 balls of yarn.
That’s it. Now we know the yarn we can use instead of the yarn recommended in the project, and we know exactly how many balls of that yarn we should get.
To make it even easier for you to substitute yarns, I created a chart that will help with comparing the yarns. This chart is in the Library of Free Knitting Resources. Click here to get to the Library and download the chart.