Substituting: Thinking About Yarn

January 8, 2020

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  • Another informative and wonderful article by Jillian!

  • The difference between stockinette and pattern was an eye-opener. And the lace differences were well-chosen.
    And, yeah, there is such a thing as tooo soft; just had a talk with my LYS owner about the difficulty of bringing in yarns with some durability and some texture other than just cloud-softness. I’ll have to special order what I want, even though she carries the rest of the line, because she can’t sell it.

    • I agree LizR! If I’m knitting a sweater to wear out to the barn when it’s 20F and windy, soft is pretty low on my list of important yarn qualities. A good sturdy wool sweater and a soft cashmere cowl, that’s the ticket!

  • Can’t wait for the next in the series. One question, how did you figure out the finished weight of the sweater from the swatch? TIA

    • I’m loving this fiber info! I’m hoping you’ll give us clues so we don’t need to buy and swatch a dozen yarns to get it right. Thank you so much for your insight.

    • I’m guessing she used the information on the ball band. Weigh the skein. How many skeins for her imagined 1600 yards? Multiply.

  • Excellent article! Timing couldn’t be more perfect because I’ve been swatching to get the correct yarn selection and gauge for 2 weeks now. I’ve been knitting for 50(!!) years and just learned about yarn weight/length ratio and how there is wiggle room (a “range”) that helps determine yarn interchangeability. You hinted at this when presenting the weight/length ratio in each of the yarn profiles. I hope you’ll discuss this more in the future (soon please!) as this information is new to many of us. My long time knitting friends had not heard of this either.

    • Barbara, in case you missed it, Jillian’s article on Grist is truly life-changing:

      • Thank you, Kay!

      • I’m new to this site and thought that I found the article of my “dreams!” And even though like many others, I found the information about trying the pattern swatches to be great, however, I am desperately looking for “TRUE” yarn-type substitutions. Unfortunately, I am allergic to wool, cashmere, linen (and many other fibers—the list seems to grow, although I have been able to knit with some yarns, just not wear them). I am slightly more experienced with crochet because I taught myself. I have taken (and made a) knitted sweater class. It was a while ago and my yarn choices were limited to a few 4- ply variegated cottons. It was awful! I’m ready to knitting a sweater again. I have seen a few easy patterns that I am dying to try. My LYS wasn’t any help, as everything was Merino, Alpaca, Cashmere, and/or some combination thereof.
        (I will definitely check out the yarn substitutions website, however, I really enjoyed this article with the photographs.)

  • Very informative and useful article about something all knitters wonder about! Thanks.

  • Great information! Another reason to swatch!

  • What a wonderful article! Clear words, clear photographs, such in depth “investigation”. Thanks a lot.

  • Thanks so much for your info. Thanks also for writing it in such a way to make it understandable for those of us who have been knitting a long time, but haven’t understood much about the hows & whys proper substitution.
    One request that will show my lack of yarn knowledge is this: I couldn’t remember the names of the yarns as the article progressed. Colors, though, I could have handled. Talking about the blue yarn as opposed to the white would have helped a lot! Thanks again!

    • Agree.

    • Thank you for that suggestion! I write with the yarns and labels within easy reach, so I can double check, using color would be so much easier!

  • Can’t wait to forward this to my Knitwits – our library knit and crochet club! The discussion last week centered around one member’s sweater, and how she swatched and got gauge, but the final garment was two sizes too small. Thank you for all of your wonderful insights, today and every day!

  • What a great article and discussion! Thank you so much. My question is this: we no longer have a lys, so how do those of us less fortunate than you, make yarn choices? I often rely on the designer’s yarn preference and go with that. Thank you again!

    • As an online shop, we try to suggest 1-skein projects so that knitters can sample yarns easily, as Jillian did here. It’s an interesting challenge to think about!

      • This was my question, too. How can I do all that swatching without buying three skeins of yarn that I don’t need? (Presumably, I’d use the fourth.)

    • There is also a website called yarnsub that if you type in the yarn it will bring up a list of substitutions and give a percentage of how they match, it will also list how it’s similar and how it differs and how that could affect your project.

  • Jillian, what superb research and lessons you share. I’d say we almost don’t deserve you, but then Max Daniels would be after me. Thanks for all you do for us, MDK.

  • Loved this entry. So clearly written and the pictures were clearer than words! Thanks.

  • Very interesting. But I’m left hanging…what yarn will you choose for the sweater!

  • Thank you as always. Looking forward to the next installment.

  • How do you know that a yarn will be elastic? Is swatching the only way?

  • Such a helpful article. Thanks so much!

  • The website, Yarnsub, is a terrific resource for substituting yarn. It provides comparative info on Guage, drape, etc!

  • Awesome article. I don’t do gauge swatches, may be one or two, I just start knitting. What I have read today has encouraged me to be more adventurous in trying out different yarns in different stitch patterns. Thank you and I’m already looking forward to reading more!

  • Great information! I really enjoy this website I receive on my phone…

  • Thank you! Such great and valuable information, as always.

  • I found this VERY informative. Living in Siwtzerland I don`t have access to all the „name brand“ yarns that most people use…and I really want to see and feel a yarn and not just order blindly off of the internet. And as for the Wizard of Oz…I had those SAME feelings growing up in Missouri

  • Love this post! How many times have I made a horrible mistake of substituting a yarn that ends up being wrong! Swatching in pattern is the gem I take away from this post—brilliant! For those who want to learn more, I recommend Carol Sulcoski’s Yarn Substitution Made Easy (paperback, 2019). There is so much good information and help in understanding why one yarn works and another will be a disaster in a given project. Find it on Amazon in paperback or on Kindle.

  • Fantastic!! Definitely will go back and read your articles.

  • Good refresher. I just completed a four month, semester class at my local community college here in San Francisco, California entitled Textile Analysis, Fashion 22. I enjoyed the class immensely, and thank you for another perspective on the study of textiles, becoming a “yarn detective”. Our swatch kit was the most enjoyable, where we learned to identify fiber, yarn, polyester, man made fabrics, etc.
    I will look forward to reading your posts.

  • So helpful. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  • I have knit with the ultra alpaca and love hoe it turned out. If I were knitting that sweater I would get a different color of that yarn and knit away.

  • Great info ! Thank you for sharing. I’m still navigating the world of knitting (2 years) and its amazing to see the differences yarn structure brings to the end results. I have so much to learn.

  • I have done some surprising projects when substituting yarn…it can be hit or miss at times…Deb

  • I’m like you, Jillian — I’m a sucker for all the mohair/silk blends, but knitting with them drives me nuts. Nevertheless, my stash holds quite a lot of it!

  • Most can not change the gauge they would naturally make, and then be consistent with the new unnatural gauge one is attempting to use. And it is hard to do such a thing when it is possible to do it.

    So learning a tiny bit of math is a good thing. If I know how many inches or cm or whatevers I want, I can knit a swatch in the pattrrn and then apply the math and get that many inches or cm or whatever. And maybe be patient and try knit needles slightly bigger or smaller because it does make more difference than you think it would.

    Your article is helpful.

    Multiplying by a fraction that is one is the easiest way to do the math. If I need and desire 27 inches and my actual gauge is 5 stitches per inches, then 5 x 27 = 135 stitches. Yes the texture changes so much when one substitutes a yarn. I did a project with alpaca style yarn and the thick and tun mess of the yarn was a bit if a trial. With such yarn, depending upon the stitch pattern, it might be necessary to use two skeins and switch off to prevent a thin area when both yarns hold thin or a thick area when the two yarns go thick. I like the silk but rarely use the silk. It makes a big difference when the knotting is done not English style of knitting but with a extra twist of the yarn. The yarn stitches will look like tadpole or ‘p’ liker shape rather than a upside down ‘u’ shape if you do not knit English style.

  • Excellent article!!!

  • I have a supercarder and can design and spin my own yarn to fit a pattern…I can card fibers into yarn to look like hand dyed or gradient, too.

  • I use a website––to help me with yarn substitutions. They discuss the properties of each yarn. I find it very helpful.

  • I love this article. Many thanks. Advice needed: A friend in California has asked for a shawl. I love the idea of a soft and squishy wool for a shawl but that won’t work for her climate. Does anyone have an opinion about going to all cotton? Mercerized” or not mercerized?

  • Wow, my mind just exploded! Living in northern Canada, getting the yarn a pattern calls for can be difficult to say the least. Thank-you, I have learnt so much from you!

  • This is a REALLY valuable article, especially for a beginner like me. It helps me to understand why two supposedly very similar yarns make such different hats (for example). Thank you so much!!