After the Winter Issue was released, I was contacted by a woman who wanted to know if she could use a different yarn than the ones recommended in the patterns. She had never even heard of some of the suggested yarns, she said, much less have any idea where to find them. She wanted to know if she could substitute with yarns that were locally available.
The short answer is – of course you can substitute a different yarn! The question is how? I can tell you from personal experience that if you make a bad substitute you can end up with a baby bonnet that fits a preschooler (yes, this happened to me) and that’s one of the minor ways that it could go wrong.
So what can you do to prevent your yarn substitution from ending in disaster?
Step 1: Find out as much as you can about the recommended yarn. If you can see it in person that’s great, but if not, you can look it up in the Yarndex or the Ravelry yarn database. Take a note of the weight (the yarn weight, not the weight of the skein), the yardage, and the material the yarn is made of.
Step 2: Examine the pattern to see whether it relies on any special properties of the recommended yarn. If a design needs to be felted, acrylics or superwash wools just won’t work. Cotton is often used for dishcloths and towels because it is sturdy and absorbent – substituting with another fiber may be a bad move. And lastly, that eyelash yarn may be listed as worsted weight, but that doesn’t make a firmly plied worsted yarn a good substitution for that fuzzy teddy bear.
Step 3: Take stock of your possible substitutes. Ideally, your substitute should be as close to the original yarn as possible in weight and texture to help you achieve similar results. If you need to make a major change – for instance, using a smooth yarn instead of a chenille – understand that your finished product will look and feel different than the original. You will also need to compare the yardage on your substitute yarn to the required yarn to figure out how much to buy. If the original yarn was 200 yards per skein and you needed two skeins, then you would need to buy four skeins of a substitute with 100 yards per skein but only one skein of a substitute with 400 yards in a skein.
Step 4: Swatch for the pattern with your substitute. Sadly, there’s no way to completely eliminate this step unless you’re a daring, throw-caution-to-the-wind type who’s happy to be surprised by their completed project. Otherwise, a small swatch will allow you to compare your gauge to the gauge specified in the project and to test the drape and character of the fabric. You can adjust your hook size here if it is necessary, but if everything looks okay you can begin your project!
In some cases you can substitute two strands of lighter yarn held together in place of a heavier yarn. As a general rule of thumb, two strands of fingering weight yarn can be substituted for one strand of sport weight. Two strands of sport may be used in place of one strand of worsted. Two strands of worsted may substitute for bulky weight yarn. You will still need to swatch to see if your gauge matches up!
So: the moral of this story is that substituting yarn may look tricky, but with a little practice you can be confidently making substitutions with any yarn.
About the Author
Melissa Mall is an at-home mom with four sons seven and under. They are currently residing in Arizona after a three-year stint in Japan and are having a fun time readjusting. You can keep up with their ordinary adventures over at her blog, or take a peek at her crochet patterns and tutorials at Inner Child Crochet.
Article & images © Melissa Mall. All rights reserved.