You’ve found your perfect pattern, your hook is at the ready, But you don’t have access to the yarn that’s called for. Fear not, this post will help you decide what yarn to use as a suitable substitute.
When substituting for a different yarn to that given in a pattern, there are 3 main factors which it is important to consider:
You don’t always have to match these exactly and I will take you through them one at a time, but before I start, the first question to ask is whether the type of yarn you use for your project matters.
Does it matter what yarn I use?
What yarn you choose depends entirely on what type of project you are working on.
A good rule of thumb is that if it needs to fit something or someone, or reach a specific measurement, then yes it matters. If you are using a pattern which has no set size or texture, where you can simply keep going until you reach your desired size, then it is not so important what yarn you choose.
Why yarn weight is important
When I started crocheting and didn’t understand the term ‘yarn weight’, I remember trying to make a hat using double knit (dk) yarn from a pattern which called for worsted (in the UK it seems that DK is used more commonly whereas Worsted or Aran seem more popular in the US). My hat came out way small and I had no idea why.
It was a helpful mistake because it got me interested in different types of yarn and set me on this path of learning.
Yarn weight is, in my opinion, a bit of a misleading term. Because it’s not about the weight in grams or ounces, it’s a term relating to thickness of the yarn. On a basic level, the ‘heavier’ the yarn, the thicker the strand.
If you are new to the term yarn weight and want to understand it in more detail, then you may want to start with this post which explains what yarn weight is and what all the terms mean.
So why does yarn weight matter? Well that that dk yarn I used for the hat I mentioned was a lot thinner than the worsted weight suggested. So I needed to make a lot more stitches with that thin yarn to achieve something the same size made with the worsted weight. If you’re familiar with the concept of gauge, then this will make sense.
When crochet designers write their patterns they do so using a specific yarn which helps them achieve a specific gauge. All their stitch counts are based on that gauge.
When you are choosing yarn for your project, start by looking for something in the same weight category.
You can get a lot of variation within a single weight category (due to factors like fibre, twist and ply type), which is why yarn weight is only a single piece of the puzzle.
To add more complexity to the situation, there are many ways of categorising yarn weights which differ between countries and yarn brands. You may want to have a look at this page which lists the most common yarn weight terms used, along with offering a suggestion of what hook size to use with what weight.
What about fibre content?
When I use the term fibre content, I’m talking about what the yarn is made from. This could be cotton, acrylic, wool, alpaca, silk, cashmere, mohair, bamboo, linen, nylon, cashmere, angora, etc., or a blend of various fibres.
Different fibres have different properties. That is, they behave in very different ways. If you take a pattern designed for a cotton yarn and work it with mohair, it’s going to look very different.
That’s not to say it won’t work or it’s wrong… it may look epic! But it’s important to know that the fibre you choose will effect the finished look and feel of a project, so it’s something you need to consider.
With time and experience, you will begin to learn how different fibres and yarns behave (because the same fibre can work differently in different yarn types). Some have different levels of stretch, some can be thrown in the washer and dryer, some need hand washing, some hold their shape, some need blocking, some split easily and some are almost indestructible!
When it comes to picking your fibre for your project, if you want something similar to the item produced in the pattern then I recommend sticking with the same or similar fibre content.
This may not be possible for a number of reasons, whether it’s related to allergies, cost or availability, there is almost always something you can substitute!
When switching fibres, try to find something which behaves in a similar way. For example a sweater pattern written with an acrylic yarn could also be made in wool yarn. An amigurumi written using cotton would also work in bamboo or acrylic.
Also, look out for blends; a wool acrylic blend normally makes a fine substitute for 100% wool!
Fibre and Function
When selecting your fibre, you will also want to consider the function of the project. For example, if it’s being worn close to the skin you will want something soft which won’t irritate (some people find pure wool itchy against the skin but when it is a mix it’s usually more wearable!).
If you’re making a dish cloth you will likely want to use a cotton or bamboo because of it’s absorbent properties – if you use an acrylic, it’s just going to spread liquid around because the plastic won’t easily absorb liquid.
A quick word about halos
The term halo, in the context of yarn, refers to the level of ‘fluff’ (for want of a better word!) around the core of the strand of yarn. Something like mercerised cotton has almost no halo, wool typically has a small halo where as mohair has a much bigger one. The size of the halo should also be considered when choosing your yarn. An aran weight mohair may look much finer than an aran acrylic yarn BUT if you want the halo to be seen in your finished fabric then you could work both with the same size hook.
If you’re substituting yarn, think about the halo in the suggested yarn and try and work with something similar to achieve the same look.
Think about how fibre impacts drape
Drape is quite hard to quantify but it refers to the movement and flexibility of a fabric and how it hangs. It is influenced not only by the fibre but also the yarn weight and type of stitch used. It’s something you will also want to think about when choosing your yarn.
If you’re making an intricate shawl, for example, where the pattern calls for a lace-weight silk mohair blend for a floaty effect and you use a worsted cotton, then you’re going to get a very different finish! Once again, it’s not wrong – just different!
Gauge is king
So after looking at all the weight and fibre considerations, I want to reiterate that gauge is king!
When you are making something to a certain size, it is more important to match the gauge of the pattern than it is to use the same yarn weight and fibre.
It is better to work with a different yarn weight to that called for than to try and force a specific yarn to make the gauge.
If you are working with the same weight called for by the pattern but have to go down 3 hook sizes to meet gauge then you’re going to end up with a denser fabric which will impact the drape. You might want to go for a lighter weight yarn in this circumstance!
What if I can’t make gauge?
If you are struggling to meet gauge, you can read more about what to do if you don’t meet gauge in this post.
If you settle on a yarn which does not meet gauge but you still want the pattern to fit then you will need to adjust the pattern itself. This post explains how to use your gauge to crochet to specific measurements and may help you alter simple patterns to suit your chosen yarn.
As you can see. These 3 considerations are interlinked, which is why it’s important to consider them all. I encourage you to play around with changing up yarns and just see what happens. You at end up frogging it all and starting over, but sometimes you’ll find some unexpected genius!!
I hope that this piece has been useful and has given you some tips on how to substitute your yarn as well as given you a broader understanding of the considerations when selecting yarn for any project!
Happy Yarn Subbing!!!