on substituting yarns for knitting projects

When you purchase a pattern or find one you’d like to make in a magazine, do you think about substituting yarns? Or do you start searching your sources to purchase the yarn featured in the pattern? I don’t mean color substitutions. I mean looking for an entirely different yarn than the pattern calls for.

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Editors substitute all the time! I’m always amazed at how different a stitch pattern can look worked in different yarns. That’s why I’ve never been too disappointed or surprised when I send out a proposal calling for one yarn and an editor chooses a totally different yarn. I figure, hey, they must know something I don’t know. And I understand they need to make choices to better fit their story. Most of the time, I’m pleasantly surprised by their choices.

Here’s one of those times. This is not yet published, due to be in Knitter’s Spring 2016. Sorry, I don’t have a better photo of the substitute; I no longer have the garment, but hopefully you get the idea. It’s a much more rustic choice and fits the final design very well.

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Fun stuff, huh?

When looking to substitute for an existing pattern, there are certain guidelines you’ll need to follow.

1. Look for a yarn in the same weight. In other words, go for the gauge. There is no wiggle room here. If you choose a yarn of a different weight, you’re going to get a completely different gauge. Which results in a completely different size.

2. Consider the drape. I’ve heard it said by very knowledgeable and well known knitters that a cotton needs to be substituted with a cotton, a wool with a wool, and so on. But I disagree. However, you do need to consider the drape of the fiber in the final outcome. You’ll definitely want a similar drape. My suggestions: Knit a bigger swatch. Wash it. Hang it.

3. Calculate the yardage.  This is the easiest of them all. It’s not really about choosing the yarn. It’s about determining how much you need. You’ll need the same amount of yardage as the pattern used. Find this amount in your pattern; it should be listed under materials. For instance, if the pattern requires 5 balls of yarn and each of these balls have 90 yards, you’ll multiply 5 x 90 to get 450 total yards needed. If your substitute yarn has 120 yards, then you will divide 450 by 120 to get 3.75, or 4 balls. And actually, I recommend getting an extra ball, so make that 5. That’s just me and what I learned from having a yarn shop for so many years…

If your pattern is on ravelry, you can do some investigating to see what other knitters have substituted with and go from there.

So next time you’re looking to substitute – think outside the box. You’ll be amazed at the results and endless variety that can result.