Finding Different Yarns that Match
I remember when I first started crocheting, I didn’t have a clue about yarn substitution, I didn’t give a second thought to buying aran instead of double knit (DK) for a cardigan I wanted to make. It kind of looked the same so it didn’t occur to me that it would have an effect on the final outcome of my exciting new crochet project. Oh dear.
Therefore, the first rule of Yarn Sub: do not use a different weight of yarn.
If a pattern calls for DK, it’s likely that other DK yarns will work. Checking other DK yarns would be my first port of call. But, hmmm, not all DK yarns are created equal. A cotton DK can be quite a bit different to a wool DK. I still find cotton DK confusing because some of them are super fine compared to fluffier fibres. Oh my, this is not a straightforward subject!
Please don’t worry, keep reading because I will explain all about different yarn weights. I will explain about different fibres and yardage/meterage too. Together, each of these elements should be considered when selecting your new yarn choice.
Why Substitute Yarn?
So, what yarn are you going to choose for your new project crochet or knitting project? It’s great when you can use the recommended yarn choices but what about when you can’t? This is the perfect moment for yarn substitution step forward and wave hello!
There are loads of reasons why a suggested yarn isn’t the right choice for you. Here are some examples I can think of:
- The original yarn has been discontinued. Side note:: I’m writing this post because a new design that’s launching very soon, Little Fluffy Clouds, has a lovely sample (the pink one below) and since making and writing the pattern, poooff, the yarn is no longer available!! Arghh… I didn’t fret for long, I met gauge with a different DK and made a new sample. Yay!
- You can’t buy the yarn where you live. Different countries often sell different yarn brands.
- You’re allergic to the fibres.
- It’s not within your budget (some yarns are super expensive!).
- Wool in the heat? No thanks. Maybe you want to sub it for a cooler plant-based fibre.
- Maybe it’s for ethical reasons. For example, if you’re a vegan you wouldn’t choose animal fibres to work with.
- And what if you have plenty of yarn already and need to stashbust?!
In this blog post I will cover the main aspects of yarn substitution so that you know what you need to consider when investing in the new yarn you need for that gorgeous sweater you want to make.
Top Tips for Yarn Substitution
If the following article looks like a TLDR type of thing, allow me to help with a shortcut to some info. It isn’t all included below but there are definitely quick ways to find yarn alternatives:
- If you’d like to try different brands or fibres of various DK yarns (for example), maybe ask fellow makers for recommendations. Put a question to Instagram or a Facebook group that you’re in. In the past, I have cheekily asked if friends can send me samples of yarn in the post, just enough for a swatch so I can try before I buy. Maybe offer a yarn swap.
- Or, pop to your LYS to ask for advice.
- Check out the ball band/details of the yarn. Find a similar family of fibres, match the yarn weight (how thick the yarn is), match the yardage. A close match of all suggests you could meet gauge quite nicely.
- Visit Yarnsub.com and check out what they’ve got in terms of a close match.
- Use the filter in online yarn stores to zone in on similar products. Tick on all the filters that apply and narrow down your search.
- If you find yourself staring at the screen, torn between a few different options, check out some finished projects for recommended yarns on Ravelry to see if it helps you make a decision.
Easy Ways to Substitute Yarn
So, onto a bit more detail. How do you substitute yarn? It can be minefield for sure, there is a vast sea of different choices and knowing where to start can be discombobulating. However, there are a couple of resources to take away the stress of deciding which yarn to choose.
Firstly, yarnsub.com is your friend. I pop by this website every now and then. It’s great for discovering close matches and exploring alternatives. It breaks down the different elements of other yarn options so that you can see how they are similar to the yarn you’re trying to substitute.
I’ve heard that Ravelry also has an enhanced search function for checking out subs too. It’s not something I have used but it’s good to know that there are options. And to be honest, you can always go to an online yarn store and filter the specifics until you find some matches to check out.
Yarn Subbing: An Overview of the Different Elements
Let’s move away from the quick fix resources. It’s not the only way of finding what you’re looking for. I believe that learning more about yarn substitutions will give you more control over your choices. It’s also a good idea to explore how different yarns behave by playing around with lots of them. Experiment with lots of swatches, use a bit of trial and error and with time, you’ll know which ones work for you and your next big project. Of course, I know I know, this won’t be for everyone because (sadly) we can’t get our hands on all the yarn…
What are Yarn Weights?
You will see the following “weights” of yarn, from very fine to very thick: Laceweight (0), Fingering/sock (1), 4ply, Sport (2), Double Knit (3), Aran/ US Worsted (4), Chunky / US Bulky (5) and Super Chunky / US Super Bulky (6). It is not how heavy they are but how thick.
Usually, depending on the category, they are sold in 25 gram, 50 gram, 100 gram or 200 gram skeins, balls, cakes, hanks or skeins. Generally speaking, the finer the yarn, the smaller the ball.
When substituting yarn, it is best to match weights like for like: A DK for a DK, an aran for an aran. However, look at the photos below. These are all categorised as DK weights. You get variations in thickness and that will affect the size, drape, volume and texture of what you’re making. Please check the yardage to see how close they are to what you’re looking for.
Same with the aran weights below… These ones are also pretty diverse thicknesses too.
Yarn Fibres Behave Differently
Each yarn fibre acts differently and there are quite a few options out there. I don’t think I will ever have a full understanding of all the fibres. It is an enormous, far reaching subject.
The most important thing to understand about different fibres is that they will each affect things like stitch definition, drape, stretch, bounce, warmth, softness, texture, lustre, halo and durability. How important is it that your new yarn captures these elements? It’s up to you to determine which matter most.
Animal Fibres for Yarn
Wool is warm, bouncy and very durable. If you read up on animal fibres, you learn that it wicks away moisture. Yum.
I am in awe of people who compare the wools that come from all the different sheep. That’s some serious deep diving and my attention span doesn’t allow for me to absorb that level of detail! Even if I mention the word wool, well… there’s woollen spun woolly wool, softer, worsted spun merino, breeds like Texel, Bluefaced Leicester, Longwool, Corriedale, Masham…. Eep, it’s so intimidating to think that creatives out there understand how each of these types of wool behave.
Alpaca is another animal fibre, which is still warm and cosy but has a different drape and stretch. It’s one to try if you have lanolin allergies and therefore can’t use sheep based yarn. It is also stronger and warmer than sheep wool.
Then there’s lovely, fluffy mohair (my current fave!), which is often held with another yarn (see below). Mohair is a fibre from the angora goat. It is not beloved by everyone but that’s where substitution comes into play, yes?! You can get synthetic fluff too.
I have just remembered I have yak yarn in my yarn stash! There are a few more animal based fibres as well but I won’t cover them all. Silk is another. Cashmere etc…
Plant Based Yarn
If you’re not into using animal fibres for your crochet and knitting, there is a decent array of plant based fibres too. Cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, tencel (which originates from wood) and there’s even yarn from nettle and seaweed! I think this area will grow and we will see more plant based yarns arrive on the scene.
Changing the fibre from one that’s not the same as suggested in a pattern will alter the appearance of the end item. If you use cotton instead of wool, there won’t be as much bounce. It will hang and drape differently and won’t ping back like wool can.
It’s also worth noting that some cottons, for example, are much finer than wool of the same weight. Be sure to check out the yardage on the ball band to see how it compares.
Acrylic Yarn and other Manmade Fibres
Acyrlic yarn is a cheap and popular choice. You get a lot of metres for your money. Acrylic yarn is bascially a petroleum product in that it comes from fossil fuels. Whether blended with another fibre or not, it’s a go to product for lots of crocheters and knitters. And you can get a wider range of colours because it’s easy to dye in saturated shades.
Acrylic yarn can mimic other yarns well, which is perfect for recreating lots of looks. Brushed suri alpaca is currently on trend, and you can now get brushed acrylic which looks super similar. It has the fuzzy halo and replicates the floof perfectly.
Acrylic yarn will be fine for a few washes and doesn’t need blocking for many projects. Instead, use fabric conditioner and tumble dry so it doesn’t come out squeaky. It will grow and stretch a little bit upon wearing it a few times. Usually, it’s not a drastic change but eventually, over time, acrylic becomes a bit flatter and more plasticky than its original fluffy self. That’s my experience anyway.
Other synthetic yarns are nylon (great in sock yarns) and polyamide. I shan’t deep dive on this, but each provides different properties to yarn.
Check the Yardage
The information you need is on the ball band. Check this out so you can see if your sub is a close match in terms of how many yards or metres there are per 100 grams. The number of yards or metres per 100 grams determines the weight of the yarn (as in whether it’s 4ply, dk or aran etc).
Holding Yarn Double
I’m a big fan of holding two yarns and working them together at the same time. This works especially well for fine mohair yarn that benefits from the structure of another fibre.
You can also hold two yarns together to create a different weight of yarn. If you need a particular weight of yarn but don’t have that in stash, you can substitute it by holding two lighter weight yarns together.
Rather than over explain and confuse things even more, the easiest way to find out the detailed knitty gritty is to visit a fab multi-stranded blog post by Fay of ProvenanceCraft.com.
Together, all of the above has an impact on your project. They’re all intertwined. If you have taken them all into account you will very likely meet gauge when you work up a swatch. If in doubt, check out my post of getting gauge for your garments.
And ugh, yes working up a swatch is not everyone’s favourite, but it is critical if you want to guarantee a good fit when making handmade clothes. I guess, not so much if you’re making a scarf. However, spending the short amount of time on a swatch is going to be a darned sight better than making a whole sweater that doesn’t fit and/or doesn’t feel very nice.
Make the swatch, Meet the gauge.
Blocking Swatches of Yarn
Essentially, blocking means to wash or steam your woolly items and then (gently or aggressively, depending on the situation) pin out to stretch the item as it dries. It will then be fixed in its new state and this is what you’ll use to measure gauge.
Spend a few minutes to work up a swatch that measures about 15cm (6 inches) and pop it in warm water (with a dash of detergent – I use wool wash soap for my handmade garments). Rinse, blot in a towel, then pin onto foam blocking boards and wait patiently for it to dry.
Do the swatches ping back? Stay as they are? Have they become softer? Have the swatches become drapier. A top tip here is to leave the swatch a further day or two to fully relax once the pins have been taken out. It will be a truer reflection of the finished article.
Washing and air drying doesn’t work on acrylic but heat does. Heat will also “kill” acrylic or worse, melt it. Forever changed. Be careful!
Matching Yarn is Not Easy!
Phew!! I think I’ve covered most things but I’m not gonna lie, this post was much trickier to write than I thought it would be! All of the different factors (yarn weight, fibre, yardage etc) are really hard to juggle. But yarn substitution isn’t always easy and that’s what I wanted to convey. Hopefully, you have discovered some ways that you can cut corners and do a bit of cheating to find what yarn you need. I would also hope that I’ve led you through some additional layers to explore, should you want to gain more experience in yarn substitution. At least now, you know where to start?!