Yarn Substitutions

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“Yarn Substitutions”

Knitting patterns usually call for a particular yarn, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use something else. The secret to successful substitution is understanding weight and fiber content.

Yarn Weight

A yarn’s weight refers to its thickness. The Craft Yarn Council has established a standard grading system ranging #0 for lace weight up to #7 for jumbo weight. Worsted weight is right in the middle at #4. The first step in finding a substitute for your project is to identify the CYCA number for the yarn listed in the pattern, then search for an alternative within the same category. If the CYCA number hasn’t been provided by the pattern or listed on the yarn’s label, try using the search feature at Ravelry.com or visiting the manufacturer’s website to find this information.

Fiber Content

A yarn’s fiber content tells you what is it made of, be it wool, cotton, acrylic, etc. Each of these fiber-types is unique. Wool holds in warmth, wicks away moisture, responds to blocking, and holds its shape. While acrylic looks similar to wool, it doesn’t wick moisture and cannot be blocked as easily as wool. To avoid unpleasant surprises at the completion of your project, look up the fiber content of the yarn recommended by the pattern then try to find a similar substitute.

Let the Swatch Guide You

Unfortunately, finding a suitable replacement isn’t always as simple as matching numbers and fibers. Yarns can vary widely within the same CYCA and fiber categories. The only way to know for certain if your alternative yarn will work with the pattern is to knit a gauge swatch or two. This process will tell you several things. First, you’ll find out if you enjoy working with the yarn. Second, you will see and feel the kind of fabric it creates. And third, you will determine whether or not you can match the pattern’s stitch gauge.

For instance, Lion Brand Wool Ease and Plymouth Encore are both CYCA 4 made of acrylic/wool blends, and could easily stand in for each other. However, if you hold the two yarns side by side you would see that Wool Ease is a slightly thicker than Encore. You might need to change your needle size to achieve the right stitch gauge, but only a swatch will tell you for sure.

Knitters have lots of reasons for working outside the pattern – the specified yarn may be discontinued or super expensive. Or perhaps you just want to use stash yarn. (That’s what you bought it for, right?) So if you want a finished project that closely resembles the one pictured in the pattern, choose an alternative that is similar in weight and fiber content to the recommended yarn. Or try something  completely different if you’re feeling more adventurous. yarn ball