Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tips for Yarn Substitution

Having worked in my LYS for a short period of time I often assisted customers with yarn substitutions when the original yarn for a pattern was no longer available. In some cases the customer wanted a different yarn because of colour or fibre preferences. Occasionally they wanted to re-knit a favourite pattern but with a different look. Budget issues also were a reason for yarn substitutions, in some cases the original yarn was too expensive and in others the knitter felt they wanted a better yarn than the pattern called for and they had the resources to choose a luxury yarn. 

I've made a list here of  the tips I used when looking for an alternative yarn and the fibre and construction characteristics that you should be aware of.

Equal results:

  • Choose a yarn of the same fibre, yarn construction and gauge. Hint, it's not unusual for the exact same yarn to be distributed under a variety of labels.
  • Compare the weight in relationship to yardage for equal substitutions. Read here for more detail.
  • Choose a yarn which has similar memory or drape characteristics if you are changing fibres.

Different Results:

  • Choose a different fibre or blend.
  • Choose Superwash instead of hand wash only yarns.
  • Choose a hand-dye tonal instead of a solid.
  • Choose a yarn with halo vs. a yarn with a hard twist. 

Fibre Characteristics:

  • Wool has memory and will retain shape.
  • Wool varies in it's memory based on the specific breed. Some have bounce and elasticity others are firmer and create a stiffer fabric.
  • Superwash yarns have more drape, they won't felt and they have less memory.
  • Alpaca is a warmer yarn, it has more drape than wool and some halo.
  • Cashmere is soft, light and warm. It does not wear well.
  • Angoras are fuzzy and warm. They shed and can mat where there is abrasion.
  • Mohair is strong and has luster but has less memory than wool.
  • Cotton hemp and linen drape well but have little memory.
  • Silk and silky looking yarns have shine and drape but they lack memory.
  • Nylon adds strength and durability.
  • Blended yarns often mix the characteristics of each fibre, look at the percentages to assess which fibre will dominate.

Yarn Construction:

  • Single ply yarns have a softer look and will felt easily.
  • More plies that are tightly spun will wear better and showcase stitch patterns to their best advantage. 
  • Solid colours show patterning. 
  • Multi-coloured or variegated yarns such as hand dyed, heathers or tweeds obscure or soften stitch patterns. 
  • Novelty yarns require simple stitch formats.

Keep in mind when you work the swatch for the substitution that small swatches are unlikely to truly represent the nature of a specific yarn over a much larger piece of knitting. Either make a larger swatch or be ready to reassess once you have a larger part of your project underway.

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