Yarn Substitution Made Easy

If you’re like most crocheters, you invariably want to substitute different yarns in your projects than those called for in your patterns. The following questions and answers offer valuable information to help you make wise decisions when choosing your substitute yarns.

Q: My pattern calls for a certain brand of yarn that I can’t find in local stores. What do I do now?

A: For a finished project that looks like the photographed item, obviously it is best to use the yarn that is recommended. However, when you can’t find the yarn specified in the pattern or prefer to use a different or, perhaps, less costly brand, there are certain factors to be considered before choosing your substitute.

Q: Does gauge really matter?

A: If you want your finished project to match the size given in your pattern, you need to match the gauge given for the specified hook size. This is an important factor to keep in mind when substituting yarn. Most yarn labels tell you the recommended gauge and needle or hook size. Read the label and purchase a yarn that comes closest to the specified gauge in your pattern.
But don’t stop there. The best and most definitive way to make sure your chosen yarn will work in your particular pattern is to work up a small test swatch, about 4 or 5 inches square, and measure to see if it matches the pattern gauge. If the gauge is very close but not exact, sometimes a simple change to the next smaller or larger hook size will take care of it without compromising the finished look or feel of the item.

Q: Can’t I substitute a yarn based on the number of plies?

A: You can’t simply assume that all yarns with the same number of plies are equal. Far from it! There are some three- or four-ply yarns that are lightweight, while others are heavier and bulkier. The same is true for some one-or two-ply yarns. Again, your best bet is to always substitute yarns based on the recommended gauge and needle or hook size listed on the yarn label, followed by making a test swatch, to make sure it will match your pattern’s specified gauge as closely as possible.

Q: How important is a yarn’s fiber content when substituting?

A: Yarn content can often be a very important factor when substituting in particular projects. Sometimes changing to a yarn of a different fiber content can be a problem. If you are substituting a sport-weight mohair yarn for a sport-weight cotton yarn, for example, it’s likely that these two same-weight yarns will not give you the same yardages.
Another thing to keep in mind is the intended use of the project you are making. While certainly there are times when you can easily substitute a similar weight of cotton for wool, or acrylic for cotton, for example, always keep in mind how the completed item will be used. A washcloth, for instance, would not be very practical stitched in wool or acrylic yarn; it’s best when made with cotton. And, socks made with acrylic do not wear as well as socks made with wool.
Also, fibers and dyes have varying weights and can produce different yardages for the same weight in yarn. This can result in two things. First, while your substitute yarn might work to the same gauge stated in your pattern and use about the same number of yards to make the project, the finished piece may not weigh quite the same. Second, because the yardage of your substitute yarn might be different per skein or ball, you might have to purchase more of the substitute, making your project more costly.
Substituting yarn with a different content than the one specified in a pattern can also affect how a finished item can be cared for (or not), as well as how it looks and feels. If you are combining different types of yarn in one project, make sure they all have the same washing instructions or you could be unpleasantly surprised when the wool yarn shrinks and the acrylic doesn’t. You should also consider the texture and drapability of the yarn when substituting to ensure that your project will have the intended feel and look.
Substituting yarn in your projects can be fun and give a whole new look to crocheted items, but it helps to be informed about what will work and what won’t. Just remember to keep these important guidelines in mind, and you’ll have a successful finished project that is unique and all your own!

2 responses to “Yarn Substitution Made Easy”

  1. I was reading your answer for substituting acrylic yarn for cotton yarn. Would acrylic be a good substitute for cotton if I want to make potholders?

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