Lion Brand Notebook

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3 Tips for Yarn Substitution

April 3rd, 2012

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Do you ever seen an amazing pattern and think, “Wow, I love that, but I wish it were made in a different yarn”? Substituting a different yarn is an easy way to make a pattern truly unique. There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a different yarn. Let’s use the Inishturk Sweater as an example to illustrate each of these tips.

1. Check your gauge. You’ll get the best results when you substitute a yarn with the same or similar gauge. But what if you’re browsing yarn in a store? You can’t just pull out your hooks and needles and do a gauge swatch without buying the yarn! In this case, look for a yarn within the same weight category, and then gauge swatch after your purchase. In our example, the Inishturk Sweater is knit in Fishermen’s Wool, which is a worsted weight yarn, so you could consider substitution yarns like Amazing, Vanna’s Choice, Cotton-Ease, and more. If you really want to use a yarn with a different gauge, you’ll need to do some math. Click here for a blog post all about substituting different yarn weights.


2. Consider texture and color. These can make a big impact on the style of your finished project. Our example is knit in a solid shade of Fishermen’s Wool, which is a smooth, traditional yarn. You wouldn’t want to substitute a heavily textured yarn, as it would obscure the cables. What about Amazing? While Amazing has a similar gauge to Fishermen’s Wool, it has a single ply construction with a slight halo, so the cables of the sweater wouldn’t pop as much. Also, the color changes of Amazing would certainly change the look of the sweater. Is this the effect that you’re going for? If so, great! If not, try something else. If you substitute Wool-Ease, another smooth, traditional yarn, you’ll be using a similar texture while expanding your color choices.

3. Don’t forget about yardage. You need to make sure you have enough yarn for your project, so always double-check the amount of yarn you’ll need. For this, yardage is a more accurate measurement than weight. If yardage isn’t indicated in the pattern, simply multiply the yardage per skein with the number of skeins required. The smallest size of the Inishturk Sweater requires 3 skeins of Fishermen’s Wool. You’d be in a lot of trouble if you only bought 3 skeins of Wool-Ease, though! Each skein of Fishermen’s Wool has 465 yards. 465 yards x 3 skeins = 1,395 yards. Wool-Ease has 197 yards per skein. 1,395 yards / 197 yards = 7.08 skeins. That means you’ll want to round up to 8 skeins to be on the safe side.

Do you like to substitute yarns, or do you tend to use each pattern’s suggested yarn? Let us know in the comments!

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  • mkm

    you’ve also got to consider how the fiber “behaves” over time: cotton can stretch vertically, turning your sweater into a dress! I love alpaca, but it too grows over time, and so the snugness of the fit will change. 

  • Wintermyst

    when i started to yarn craft i was always told to look at the ounces/grams… i’ve never told someone to do that i always say to look at the yardage/meters as it is far more accurate especially if your staying in the same gauge and needle/hook size.   I agree mkm, i just make sure if they are the growing type of sweaters they get folded not hung

  • quiltmt

    Thanks for the info – I am swatching a substitute yarn right now!  Really, I appreciate all the tips you take the time to provide.

  • Kristina

    I often substitute yarns and always swatch for gauge. I’ve noticed that often different colors of the same yarn swatch at a slightly different gauge. Can the dye have something to do with the guage or is my tension while crocheting/knitting influenced by color?

    • Jess Hicks

       Hi, Kristina. There are lots of factors that can slight change the gauge of your yarn: humidity, dye, storage, and so on.

  • Maril3a

    I substitute all the time. I live in Arizona so I only use cotton or cotton blends. I have many successes but if the pattern doesn’t work right even after I check yardage and knit a swatch, I just take it apart and use it in another pattern. I am not about to throw away a sweater if I can reuse the yarn!

  • Mary Lou

    I want to knit a shawl that calls for bamboo yarn.  2 skeins would cost me over $60!  That’s more than I want to spend.  Can anyone tell me a good subsitute for bamboo

    • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

      Hi Mary Lou, like Jess mentioned in the blog post, you’ll want to substitute based on both the weight of the original yarn and the texture. If you’re not sure of your original yarn’s weight
      (thickness), try looking it up on a site like Yarndex.com or Ravelry.com. Once you know the weight, try and find a smooth, silky yarn (the qualities of rayon-from-bamboo) in that weight to substitute. Some Lion Brand yarns you may want to consider in the category 3 (light)
      weight include: LB Collection Cotton Bamboo and Microspun. Both are great, affordable options. Hope that helps!

  • Barbara

    I rarely use the recommended yarn. A lot of the time I either can’t find or afford it. I remember one time specifically I wanted to use the recommended yarn, and it had been discontinued! The company still carried 2 of the 3 colors, but it just wouldn’t work unless they were all that type. I ended up substituting all of them.

  • Kathy

    A few years ago you had a detailed list of all your yarns, separated by categories/weights. I printed it & refer to it whenever I’m not familiar with the yarn recommended in a pattern. Will you update it some time–I’m sure some of the yarns have been discontinued. It would also help to have yarn description on the wonderful patterns you publish each week so we know what the yarn is like. Thanx for all the help you make available—I love Lion yarns!! 

    • Angie

      When I print off the pattern, I then go to the Yarn section of the website and print off the detail for whatever yarn is called for in the pattern.  Sometimes the pattern does have that info on the last page as well

    • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

       Hi Kathy, if you go to LionBrand.com, hold our mouse over “Our Yarns” and click on “Yarns by Weight,” you can see a list of all of our yarns by weight (with the discontinued ones marked). Hope that helps!

  • Judeg

    I have so much yarn I could probably open a store of my own.  I bought so much of it when it was on sale and then found that a lot was discontinued like HOMESPUN ADIRONDACK.  For the project I’m doing  I could substitute another HOMESPUN but other projects I need to know other yarns.  I would like the detailed list of your yarns separated by categories/weights also. Thanks for info on substitutions.

  • Fabritique

    I often substitute. I just finished a cardigan that I substituted two thinner yarns to equal one bulky. The key is the guage. Every yarn labelled “4” , for example, is not created equal – some are fuzzy, some are boucle, some are smooth, etc. GUAGE, GUAGE, GUAGE to avoid disappointment. And don’t be afraid of a little math to make it all come out right.

  • Kaylg57

    I like to substitute yarns…especially since my skin tends to ‘react’ whenever I wear fabrics made from synthetic materials.  Being able to use a natural fiber yarn instead of a man-made fiber yarn makes me very happy!

  • Jmlubo

    I have been knitting since I was 8 yrs. old. So when I was younger I was not afraid to try difficult patterns. However while a few of these projects were turning out I found I didn’t have sufficient quantities of yarn. I couldn’t match up dye lots either cause I had bought the last of the batch. So my project either would look miscolored or I would give it up entirely. A few mistakes like that and it surely discourages you from taking on projects where you try to substitute yarns. I would sometimes substitute for color choice reasons. So needless to say I stick with as often as possible the suggested yarn and color. I am afraid of being to adventurous.

  • Mdrgault

    I have never used the yarn recommended. Firstly, because it usually wasn’t available, or secondly, it would cost too much, so gauge is the way to go.  I usually knit every day, so always have to have something on the go.  It’s a little like sewing, when you see a fabric and can envision it in many different ways, or a color just calls to you, and while you don’t know what you will knit with it, you know that some day, it will end up in a fabulous garment.

  • Fearless Knitter

    I have some additional common sense once you think about it tips for substituting yarn.

    If I plan a bigger project with any yarn, substitute or not, that I haven’t worked with before, I buy extra yarn for small matching projects, for example for a sweater I buy yarn for hat mittens and scarf. I make the scarf first to get comfortable with the yarn. Then I make the sweater. If the pattern takes extra yarn while knitting the sweater, at least I can finish the sweater with matching yarn. If the pattern calls for the right amount of yarn in the sweater, I then make the matching hat and mittens, and if there is extra, I can make longer cuffs on the mittens or an additional accessory.

    For another big project, say a kitchen table runner, I buy enough for matching towels and dish clothes for example. There are always small matching projects that let me make sure I have enough without adding much if any left over yarn to a stash. Wrist bands, belts, coasters, cozies for toasters, teapots, drinking glasses, cases for eye glasses. Adding pockets to garments that don’t have them, or more pockets to ones that do.

    I guess I take after Lola in the cartoon strip a little, The only reason I buy just barely enough for my main project is if that is all that is available, or the yarn comes as a kit, and there isn’t any available separately.

    I have also learned to be able to adjust my tension when knitting, at least somewhat. Sometimes this helps with matching guage, but it does make knitting a little harder with one more thing to concentrate on, so I don’t really recommend this but it is somewhat possible if you really want to make something work out.

    If you know that you will need to use two different dye lots you can improve the result a little by doing this in a planned way, for example sleeves in one dye lot, torso in another. Or subtle stripes.. Or get bolder and instead of mixing dye lots mix colors or colorways.

    If you really don’t like the result and don’t want to take it apart to reuse the yarn, give it away. Donate it to a thrift store or a homeless shelter or whatever is locally available. If it is warm, someone will  wear it or sleep under it. Maybe the person who buys it in the thrift store for $1 takes it apart and knits something else, or maybe someone buys it for the cat to sleep on. So what if you really really don’t want it.

    I have never seen a half finished knitting project in a thrift shop, but I have found very tangled but very pretty yarn in quantity in a thrift shop that looked like someone had frogged an entire project without rewinding, that I bought dirt cheap, untangled quickly and knit. Maybe $40 worth of yarn for fifty cents. I hope whoever gave up on that yarn could afford the yarn easily and didn’t mind getting rid of it.

    If the yarn in question is a budget stretcher, or if barely enough is available, or if it is the rare yarn that does not reknit well of course you need to be more careful to get the right amount, and to not make any mistakes. Otherwise, be adventurous. Yarn is a very safe thing to be adventurous with.

  • Troutbum2

    I have been knitting for 3 years as therapy for chemo induced neuropathy and it works wonders.  Thank you so much for the Lion website and all the information and to all these wonderful knitter who offer great ideas.  I have a stash already that would put a knit shop to shame.  I thought maybe there was something wrong with me that I was buying so much.  Seems to be a common knitting problem.  Yea. 

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  • mary m young

    I think it is a wonderful thing that yarn labels are now numbered for the weight of the yarn.
    It takes away alot of the guessing. Many of the high end yarns are not numbered and it makes it a guessing game. Sometime I just go to their website
    and figure out from there what type of yarn they are supposed to be.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1386602179 Paula Randolph

    With the Danbury Knit coat pattern on Lion Brand’s pattern page, I did not have over $80.00 to buy the yarn recommended, and the size only goes up to 2x, so I got to use the most beautiful yarn (imo) that I have had for years, it is worsted weight, while the pattern calls for bulky, I knit up a swatch, with two strands held as one, and it was bigger than the pattern swatch by almost double, so I knew that would give me between a 3x and 4x. So far I have the back done, and it is perfect! The back is more than roomy enough, since it wraps around to my front by at least 6 inches on each side, so I figure when it is done it will be a 4x, considering the tension.

  • Shirie

    What is a good exchange yarn for lion cotton ease? I can’t find that yarn in my area.

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