Saturday, 9 September 2017

Back to school sweater CAL | Yarn substitution

Back to school sweater CAL logo

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog today. It's my turn to host the Back to School Sweater CAL blog hop today and I will be looking at yarn substitution. I will be thinking about some of the reasons you might want to substitute the yarn recommended in the pattern, how you might go about doing it and sharing some example of when it's worked and when it hasn't.

Why you might want to consider yarn substitution

There are many reasons why you might consider substituting the yarn recommended in the pattern with another yarn:
  • The recommended yarn is unavailable
  • The recommended yarn is unaffordable
  • You are unsure of your ability and see the garment you are making as a test piece, rather than an heirloom garment
  • You or the garment's recipient are allergic to the recommended yarn
  • The recommended yarn won't be durable enough - I am particularly thinking of children's garments here
  • You don't like the colour range

It is really worth taking a moment to understand why you are looking to change from the yarn suggested in the pattern. Understanding this will help you work out the best yarn to replace it with. For example, if you are switching the yarn because of an allergy and or sensitivity you might focus your search on cottons, or softer yarns such as merino.

What to consider when substituting yarn
As a first step you need to look at the yarn recommended in the pattern and answer the following questions:
  • What weight is the yarn e.g. 4ply, DK, Aran etc
  • What is the yarn base e.g. Cotton, Acrylic, Bluefaced Leicester etc
  • What is the composition of the yarn - is it a blend, does it has some silk in etc. A merino yarn by itself  is very different to a merino/silk blend in terms of feel and drape
  • What is the length of yarn in each ball of the recommended yarn

Once you understand all these things you can set about finding a replacement yarn.

Yarn Sub website
If you haven't discovered it already, the Yarn Sub website can really help you find a replacement yarn. You simply type in the name of the yarn in your pattern and it generates a list of yarns that match, or nearly match, that suggested in your pattern. It also provides lots of helpful information about the texture, gauge and composition of the yarn and how it compares to the one in your pattern.

Two words of caution here:
1. The yarn sub website doesn't know the reason why you are looking to switch your yarn, you will need to go through its suggestions carefully to really interrogate which yarn will be best for you e.g it's first five suggestions could be more expensive than the yarn you are looking to swap it with which isn't very helpful if you are looking for a cheaper alternative.
2. It will often suggest yarns that are tricky to get hold of

Online yarn stores
There are many reasons why a bricks and mortar yarn store is best, but one of the reasons why I love online retailers like Wool Warehouse is because they provide lots of information about the yarn they sell e.g. gauge, meterage etc. I find this information incredibly helpful when searching for alternative yarns. I've been in a yarn store and the owner has gone to the Wool Warehouse website as we were chatting to look at the gauge of a certain yarn in order to help work out if it would be a suitable substitute.

When it works
I wanted to share with you an example of when yarn substitution works well, so I asked my friend Flic if she could share her experience and she agreed, below are her answers to my questions:

Q: What pattern did you choose? 
A: Maple Falls Sweater by Joanne Scrace

Q: What attracted you to the pattern?
A:  I liked that it was a pattern from The Crochet Project and that it was an item that worked well for layering. As this was to be my first ever garment the lack of sleeves also appealed.

Q: What was the recommended yarn? 
A: Debbie Bliss Rialto DK

Q: Why did you choose to substitute the recommended yarn? 
A: Cost and colour options.

Q: How did you work out what yarn to use? 
A: My first point of call was to look at This gave me some ideas but not with any yarns I had used before. I then remembered that I had made a child’s tutu out of Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo which had a lovely feel and shine to it and had a very similar tension gauge on the ball band to that of the recommended yarns. It also had more appropriate colours for what I was looking for.

Q: Was the project successful? 
A: Yes it was very successful. I did modify the pattern slightly as my shape means that I needed a small size for my waist but a medium size at my chest. So I combined the sizes to make a perfect fitting garment for me.

Q: Are there any tips you want to share?
A: As this was my first ever garment I was keen to try on as I went however it was also a bottom up design. The pattern provided a “Finished length (Underarm to hem):” so I tried on the garment and positioned the bottom of the garment at that suggested length. This helped to ensure that I appeared on track with the fitting and helped me ensure that when I watch switching between the small and medium sized instructions I was able to add in a waist section. So although it is easier to try on top down garments, there is nothing to stop you trying on bottom up ones if you have an idea where the bottom of the garment should be on you.

My second tip was that I spent a lot of time trying to choose colours and I found that by looking at clothes websites I was able to see colour palettes that work together more easily.

Here Flic wearing her beautiful first crochet garment;

Maple Leaves sweater

When it doesn't 
Unfortunately things go wrong sometimes and I am incredibly grateful to Jo, one of our bloggers on the blog hop for letting me share her experience. Earlier in the Summer, Jo decided to make the Chloe cardigan from the Top Down Crochet Sweater book by Dora Ohrenstein with a replacement yarn. Jo misread the yarn weight and composition of the recommended yarn and selected a lace-weight rather than 4ply yarn. Jo valiantly tried to make her replacement yarn work but the stitches didn't have the definition required and the fabric they were creating wouldn't have been suitable for a cardigan.
Chloe cardigan
Photography by Jo from Jojotwinkletoes

Jo switched to 4ply yarn - actually ordering the recommended yarn from the States - and ended up making a beautiful cardigan.

Finished Chloe cardigan
Photograph by Jo from Jojotwinkletoes

Top tips
 Yarn substitution can work brilliantly; I swapped yarns when I made my Aberfoyle cardigan because it was my first garment and I wasn't sure I wanted to make a significant investment in the yarn and it worked well.

Aberfoyle cardigan

My top tips for substituting yarn successfully are:

1. Read the pattern carefully and be clear on the yarn suggested
2. Don't assume that the yarn you are buying has the same meterage as the yarn in the pattern. Calculate how much yarn the pattern requires and then work out how many balls of the replacement yarn you will need. Buy an extra ball to be sure!
3. Always swatch before you start the project; you may need to go up or down a hook size to get the correct gauge in the replacement yarn - this is crucial for garment making!

Good luck! I hope these tips help you pick your yarn for the CAL (and thank you to Flic and Jo for your help with this post) x

This post is part of the Back to School Sweater Blog Hop and CAL. You can find last week's post from Jo here: Back to School Sweater CAL. The next stop on the blog hop will be The Crochet Project on Saturday, 16th September. Joanne and Kat will be talking about measuring, swatching and getting started on your garment. For more details of the CAL which also starts on 16th, visit the Crochet Circle podcast group on Ravelry. 


  1. Super article Helen. I love how you used two examples. I use a lot but I'm in the U.S. so it's more relevant for me. Only one week to go - yay!

    1. Thanks Tamara. I need to get studying the pattern so I'm ready for Saturday x

  2. Great blog Helen. I am cautious after my mishap but growing in confidence that I have the skills to research and find exactly what I need if only I take my time and don't rush in! Great tips that I can add to my "knowledge toolbox" x

    1. Thank you so much for letting me share your experience. You are a super crafter so be confident! x

  3. Thank so much, this was so informative. I'd not heard about the yarnsub website. I will be using this in the future! I'm getting so excited to make my first crocheted cardigan.

    1. Thank you! Crochet garments are fab - I'm so pleased you can join us in the CAL x

  4. I've never heard of Yarnsub before, thanks for the tip! I rarely (if ever) use the suggested yarn for a project - in part because I hate to be told what to do and also for some of the reasons you listed, so this is a really helpful post! x

  5. Very relevant content!!! I've gone through all your suggestions for many projects. One additional comment on swatching... most crocheters and knitters will emphasize the need to swatch to check gauge, but your discussion made me think about how important the swatch is to also test that you are getting the stitch definition with the chosen yarn that is most appealing for your garment. Thanks for creating such an interesting and pertinent post!

    1. Thanks Caroline, you make a good point - stitch definition is so important to a successful crochet garment x

  6. Great post Helen! Lots to think about when choosing yarn and substituting yarn. I love how you made it personal and interviewed other crocheters too. Marta xx

    1. Thanks Marta! It's such a fascinating subject x