How to substitute yarn in crochet or knitting
When I crochet or knit a project, I am often forced to substitute yarn. This is because I live in Denmark, but I often choose English, Japanese or German patterns, since I love the variety in international crochet patterns. Of course I could order the yarn for a project at WEBS or some of the other online yarn sellers. But this would be expensive and I am so lucky to live in Copenhagen, where we have plenty of great yarnshops and a strong tradition for fiber crafts. Sometimes a pattern is old and the yarn unfortunately discontinued. My yarn stash has also grown over the years, and I simply want to reduce it a little ;-)
So I often substitute the yarn in a pattern, to make my own version of a crocheted project. What aspects of the yarn do I look at, so my finished project will look like the wonderful photo in my crochet pattern? Below I have made a list of things to keep in mind, when you substitute a yarn in a crochet or knitting pattern.
The fiber type is very important, if you plan to substitute a yarn. If you want your project to look the same way as on the pattern photo, play it safe, and choose the same fiber types. I have sometimes experimented and chosen different fiber types than recommended in the pattern. This can sometimes result in surprisingly – different as imagined outcomes – which is quite fun to try.
A designer has often planned a crochet work very carefully. Many swatches with different yarn have been crocheted, before a yarn was chosen for a specific project. So try to figure out, which qualities in the yarn the designer was after, when choosing a particular yarn. If you understand why a yarn makes a projects work, it is much easier to find a good substitute-yarn with the same fiber qualities.
For a larger project you can start with buying one skein of a possible yarn substitution. Crochet a swatch and find out, if the fabric has the texture and drape, that you want to achieve.
Do you plan a summer or a winter project?
Winter Wool and alpaca are warm fibers, that you use for cold weather projects. Alpaca is about 5 times as warm as wool. Synthetic fibers are not good at keeping you warm, but a polyester/alpaca blend might work, since alpaca is a very insulating fiber type. Yak, cashmere and mohair are also warm fibers for the cold season.
Summer For summer you might want fibers, which do not keep you warm at all. Cotton, bamboo, linen and soy fibers are excellent choices for the warm season.
Elasticity Over time alpaca stretches a lot, so combining it with a more sturdy fiber like wool, will help your finished project stay in place. Bamboo shows a similar tendency to stretch and combined with some polyester makes it stay in place.
Vegan Vegans prefer yarns, which are not of animal origin. Cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen and soy yarns are the choices here. These fibers are not particularly warm though. So it is recommended to wear something over a sweater, that is wind proof :-)
Shine Some fibers like silk and bamboo can make a yarn somewhat shiny. Keep this in mind, if you want to substitute a yarn. An epensive silk blend could be substituted with a cheaper bamboo blend!
Machine washable I admit machine washable yarn is practical, but I hate the look and feel of it. Since this yarn is stripped off the lanolin, the wool looks more dull. Some people are allergic to lanolin and for them the washable brands are ideal, of course.
Americans have a splendid classification system for the thickness of a yarn. This system is traditionally not used in Europe. It divides yarns in different groups ranging from very thin to very thick yarn. There are slight variations of this system. The Craft Yarn Council has one and Ravelry has an slightly different one. I have made a slight variation of the two, which makes most sense to me as a crocheter.
If you look at a yarn label, you will often see the yarn weight mentioned there. If not, find the yarn’s name in Ravelry, where you can check the yarn’s weight.
Download the image below to one of your Pinterest boards, so you have it for reference, next time you are shopping yarn :-)
Yarn manufacturers decide which yarn weight their yarn is labelled with. Unfortunately this can lead to great variations in yarn thickness in any yarn weight group. So substituting a worsted weight yarn with another worsted weight yarn might not always be fool proof.
A good idea is to make a double check by looking at the yarn’s gauge. This way one should be more safe choosing a yarn. You can find the gauge for most yarns in Ravelry’s database, if it doesn’t show on the yarn’s label. A gauge shows how many stitches and rows you need to knit/crochet to make a 10 cm x 10 cm square. (10 cm = 4 inches).
Choose a yarn with identical or similar gauge, when you consider replacing a yarn. When you knit or crochet the gauge test, you will also see, if the yarn has the desired drape and texture, that you want to achieve for your project.
Texture is very important in crochet, because in many projects you want a good stitch definition, so the patterns shows nicely. Synthetics, silk and bamboo can make wool look more ‘hard’, which is a great quality, when you want the stitches to appear prominent in your crochet project.
Sheep breeds produce very different wool. Wool from Iceland for example is way more scratchy than merino wool.
Yarns like mohair make a finished item look more fluffy. You are looking for very different yarn qualities, if you want to make an airy scarf or one, which is supposed to protect you from the winter cold.
Try to walk around and see if the shop has samples of different patterns. This is a good way of checking how a yarn behaves and to look for a specific yarn quality.
I also use the search function in Ravelry, where I can see projects crocheted in a specific yarn. It will never be the same as actually seeing and touching a fabric, but it can give me a hint, if a yarn looks good in crochet.
You want to make sure, that you have bought enough yarn, when you are planning a project. Find out how many meters/yards a project requires. Since the yardage is always written on the label, you can calculate how many skeins you’ll need of your substitute yarn.
Buy enough Yarn
Yarns are dyed in color baths and there are slight variations in color from one bath to the other. So if you run out of yarn, while you crochet a project, you might not be able to get a yarn from the same dye lot again. Some manufacturers write the dye lot on the yarn label, so one can search for a specific dye lot. (Professional staff in a yarn shop will always check, that the different skeins you buy come from the same dye lot).
Yarn dyes come in very different qualities: You can get yarns, that are muddy in their colors. Others are screaming neon disasters :-) Plant dyed yarns often have a more natural look. Variegated yarns make a project look more busy, which sometimes ruins the look of a great pattern. Here is Ravelry a great help again: Have a look how different colors work in a pattern and make your choice :-)
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