How to substitute yarns

Martingale's Knit and Crochet Friday

Substituting yarnsOne of the questions we get from readers is, “How do I knit or crochet this project with a different yarn than the pattern calls for?”

In this three-part series, we’ve given you an introduction to yarn and shared five tips for buying yarn at your local shop. Now that you’re an expert in understanding and purchasing yarn, you’re ready for part three: yarn-substitution basics.

Knitting-yarn substitutions can be a breeze with the right information. Today we’ll give you the basic questions to ask yourself when swapping skeins. Let’s get started!


From Knitting by NatureQuestion 1:  How will my finished piece behave?

(Left: from Knitting by Nature)
First, take into consideration the characteristics of the suggested yarn. Does the pattern call for a wool blend? You can expect the finished piece to be durable and soft with some elasticity. Ask yourself how you will change the texture and behavior of the pattern when you swap yarns. Is the pattern meant to hang softly with forgiving stretch? You may sacrifice flattering lines if you choose a stiffer fiber like cotton. However, if an easier-to-care-for finished piece is what you’re after, cotton might be just the thing. Consider the pros and cons of knitting your project in a different yarn, and think about what will work best with the specific pattern and your lifestyle.

From Knitting the Chill AwayQuestion 2: Where and when will I wear my finished piece?

(Left: from Knitting the Chill Away)
Perhaps you’ve found a lovely shawl to wear as the cooler months roll in—but the suggested yarn is a light, cool fiber that’s more suited to spring and summer temperatures. You might consider swapping the suggested yarn with something warmer for fall. For example, you could substitute alpaca yarn. It’s warmer, but still a lightweight yarn that will retain the weight and drape of the original pattern. Consider where and when you’re expecting to use your finished piece and choose your fibers accordingly.

From Double ExposureQuestion 3: How will my piece look in a different color or a variegated yarn?

(Left: from Double Exposure)
If you’re considering swapping a solid yarn for a variegated yarn, consider how the colors of that yarn will transition in your specific pattern. You might end up with more visible blocks of color rather than seamless transitions depending on how the yarn is dyed and how your pattern is written. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for it! If not, consider a different yarn or color. If you’re simply swapping one solid color for another, consider how the small details of the pattern might look in your chosen skein. Sometimes a dark yarn can mask the subtleties of the pattern. Conversely, a rich, bold color will call attention to the unique elements of the piece. If you’re not sure how a specific color will look, search for pictures of alternative colorways on Ravelry.com.

gauge swatchQuestion 4: How will the new yarn affect the pattern’s gauge?

Different yarns will have varying amounts of yardage per skein, so it’s important to note the original yardage requirements as well as the yardage of your chosen yarn. Perhaps the pattern calls for one skein of Cascade Heritage sock yarn. The yardage might translate to two or three skeins of a different yarn from another manufacturer. Additionally, you should always keep in mind the gauge of your pattern. Before casting on with a different yarn, make a gauge swatch (and block it, if required) to be absolutely sure just how much of the yarn you’ll need. No fiber artist has ever looked back and regretted the times he or she checked a swatch for gauge! Check out this post for tips on knitting swatches and measuring gauge.


If you’ve asked yourself each of these questions and you’re still not sure about casting on with a different yarn, visit Ravelry.com to find out if other readers have tried swapping yarns in the same pattern. And if you make the pattern with a different skein, be sure to upload your photos and notes so others can benefit.

For more information about yarn and how to use it, check out All About Knitting and A to Z of Knitting.


All About Knitting and A to Z of Knitting


Have you successfully substituted yarns in a pattern? Share your own tips in the comments!


3 Comments (leave a comment)

  • my favorite "substitution" is two yarns in different colors worked together instead of one yarn; love to do this with afghans and winter hats. I also keep a measuring tape handy to check/adjust for gauge changes.

    —Lynne on September 6, 2013
  • I’m an elderly woman who loves to make quilts for encouraging others. I need to see some really big blocks so that one block plus some borders would make a queen-sized quilt.

    Hi Earline,
    We have some books with big blocks in them. Take a look at these:

    /a>http://www.shopmartingale.com/large-block-quilts.html

    http://www.shopmartingale.com/supersize-em.html

    I hope this helps!

    ~Cornelia

    —Earline Hill on September 8, 2013
  • Not too sure which is the first clue but it might be the seasonal table runner on my oak cabinet in the foyer, might be the current wallhanging on the wall heading downstairs or it might be my decorative display on the window seat that is a few steps down the stairwell? If you miss those, then I would think that the quilts that are on the furniture in our tv room would make it obvious and if not, venturing into my dining room would ‘seal the deal’. My dining room table has a runner, my sideboard has a runner, my china cabinet has a runner and there are a few wallhangings that are also quilted. And if that isn’t enough, head down to the family room in the basement or look at my kitchen table.

    —Carolyn on September 11, 2013

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