Yarn is made from many different fibers -- animal,
plant and vegetable. Animal fibers include wool, mohair, angora, silk, cashmere,
llama, alpaca and qiviut (musk ox) and are made of mostly protein. Cotton, linen
and ramie are vegetable fibers. Synthetic (man-made) fibers include acrylic,
nylon, polyester, metallics and microfibers.
Each fiber has its own qualities, and they are often blended to take advantage of the best properties of each.
What are plies?
Years ago, yarn was referred to by the
number of strands (plies) twisted together. This wasn't a problem at the
time, because crocheters and knitters understood that a two-ply yarn
would be much thinner than a four-ply yarn.
Today, however, yarn sizes can range from the finest gossamer threads to extra-bulky yarn.
Yarn manufacturers now give us more information so that we can be confident in substituting yarns. Ply refers to the number
of strands twisted together to make a particular yarn it no longer describes a weight or class of yarn.
The diameter of these plies is what determines the weight of the yarn. A very fine yarn can
consist of several tiny plies, while a heavy yarn may only consist of one unspun ply.
Can't I substitute a yarn based on the number of plies?
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.
What is gauge?
Gauge is the number of stitches per inch and the number of rows per inch a crocheter or knitter
gets when stitching with a particular size of yarn and a specific crochet hook or knitting needles.
Gauge varies from stitcher to stitcher, even when they are using exactly the same yarn and hook or
needles. It is very personal. One person may get 4 stitches to the inch with a worsted-weight yarn
and a size G crochet hook, while another gets 3.5 stitches to the inch. This may not sound like much,
but that half stitch per inch can make your finished garment several inches too big or too small.
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.
What is a swatch?
A swatch is a small sample piece of knitting or crocheting made in the stitch pattern
using the size of yarn and hook or needles called for in the pattern. A swatch will
help you determine if you meet the designer's gauge.
It will also give you a good indication of whether or not your chosen yarn will have
the desired hand (feel) and drapability.
For best results, make a crocheted swatch that measures at least 6 inches square and
then measure the stitches in the center of the swatch to determine gauge.
How do I measure gauge for knitted patterns?
Most knitting patterns and some crochet patterns will tell you to make a
swatch (test piece) using the stitch pattern called
for in the project. For instance, some knitting patterns may say to cast on a certain
number of stitches and work a certain number of rows in the specified pattern. When
bound off and smoothed out on a flat surface, the piece should measure the size
specified in the pattern.
The pattern may say "20 stitches and 24 rows = 4 inches stockinette stitch."
To make this test piece, use the size needles the pattern directs you to use and cast
on 20 stitches. Work 20 rows in stockinette stitch (alternating knit and purl rows).
After 20 rows have been completed, bind off. Lay the piece flat on a table and measure
the width and length. If you knit to the designer's gauge, your piece should measure
4 inches wide and 4 inches tall.
If your pattern instructions don't say to knit a test swatch, you can measure the
stitches and rows by using the method below for measuring crochet gauge.
What about the gauge in a crochet pattern?
Many times, a crochet pattern will not tell you to make a gauge swatch. It may
say instead "4 stitches and 4 rows = 1"."
To make a swatch (test piece), use the yarn and hook size called for and chain
enough to measure about 6". Work in the specified pattern for about 6",
then fasten off. Lay the piece flat on a table. Place a small ruler (here's where
a sewing hem gauge with a moveable pointer comes in handy) with the 1" mark
at the beginning of one stitch. Count the number of stitches between the 1"
mark and the 2" mark on a horizontal row. If there are partial stitches in
between this inch, count the stitches in between two inches or three inches,
until you have the number of whole stitches. This is your stitch gauge.
Next, place your ruler so that the 1" mark is at the bottom of a vertical row.
Count the number of rows between the 1" mark and the 2" mark. Again, if
you have partial rows, count another inch or two until you have the number of
complete rows. This is your row gauge.
What if I don't knit to the designer's gauge? Does this mean I can't make this pattern?
If your gauge doesn't match the designer's gauge specified in your pattern,
don't panic. Most stitchers seldom match a gauge exactly.
Everyone knits or crochets with a different tension, which affects
gauge. If your gauge is larger than that specified in the pattern,
switch to a smaller hook or set of needles and try another swatch. If your swatch is smaller, then
you'll need to increase needle or hook sizes until your gauge matches.
It isn't unusual to sometimes need to go up or down several hook or needle sizes to get the proper
gauge. It also is not unusual for hooks manufacturered by different companies to give different gauges.
If all else fails, try switching hook brands to reach the desired gauge.
What if my stitch gauge matches, but not my row gauge?
Of the two, the stitch gauge is more important. In a sweater pattern, for example, most
patterns will tell you to work so many inches to the underarm, then so many inches to
the neckline shaping. In this case, it doesn't matter if your row gauge is a bit off
since you're working in inches.
Row gauge becomes very important, however, when complicated stitch patterns repeat after
so many rows, such as a 10-row pattern repeat. If the designer specifies that the shaping
must take place at a certain row and your row gauge is very different from the pattern
gauge, the shaping will not be done at the proper time, which means your garment may
not fit properly.
In most cases, though, if you can match the stitch gauge, your row gauge shouldn't be too far off.
My pattern calls for a certain brand of yarn that I can't find in local stores. What do I do now?
Don't worry! Here's a chance for you to be really creative and
make a unique garment totally your own!
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.
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.
Be sure to make that all-important swatch to see if the
yarn works for your particular pattern!
How much yarn will I need to purchase?
Again, here's where you'll need to read the label.
Your pattern should tell you the number of yards in a skein of the
yarn called for in the pattern. Multiply the yardage by
the total number of skeins needed to make the project.
Read the label of the yarn you plan on purchasing to find out yardage. Divide the total number of
yards needed for the pattern by the number of yards in the skein of substitution yarn. This is the
total number of skeins you'll need to make the project.
It's always a good idea to purchase an extra skein or two, just in
case you need to make adjustments to the pattern. It's best to have too much yarn
instead of too little. Most yarn shops and hobby stores will allow you to return extra
yarn, as long as you haven't used any.
Can't I substitute yarn based on the number of plies?
There are some three- or four-ply yarns that are very lightweight yarns.
There are also some one- or two ply yarns that are very bulky and heavy.
Your best bet is to always substitute yarns based on the
recommended gauge and needle or hook size listed on the label.
How important is yarn content when substituting?
Yarn content is not as important as gauge.
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.
You can easily substitute a similar weight of cotton yarn for wool, or acrylic for cotton.
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.
Keep in mind the finished use of the project you're making. A washcloth, for instance would
not be very practical stitched in wool or acrylic yarn. Socks made in acrylic do not wear
as well as socks made in wool.
You should also consider the feel and drapability of the yarn
when substituting. When in doubt, make a swatch!
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!
What does drapability mean?
Drapability refers to the stiffness or softness of the finished project.
A project crocheted or knitted with a heavy yarn and small hooks or needles will not drape well
-- it will be very stiff. Conversely, a project crocheted or knitted with large needles or hooks
and very fine yarn will be very limp -- fine for shawls, but not really good for sweaters.
Stitching a large swatch (approximately 12" by 12") in
the desired yarn and pattern stitch will give you a good idea of how drapable your finished project will be.
I've heard that cotton yarn is too heavy to make a sweater. Is this true?
No. And yes. It all depends on the pattern stitch and how heavy the yarn is to begin with.
Cotton yarn comes in many weights -- from baby weight all the
way to extra chunky. Take a good look at the photo of the finished project to see if the pattern
stitch will make a heavy fabric. Then make a swatch!
This is one instance when a lighter weight yarn can be substituted
for a heavy one (for instance, substitute sport weight cotton
yarn for worsted weight) with good results. Just make sure to use
a larger hook and check your gauge!
Even though the yarn is a lighter weight, the gauge should still
be the same or the size of the finished garment will be affected.
How can I tell if the yarn I bought will pill?
Pilling (little balls of fiber that appear on sweaters) comes from friction. The rubbing of fibers
against each other causes static, and static causes the fibers to attach to each other, forming
little bundles. The more friction, the more little bundles are formed. Generally, the tighter a
yarn is spun, the less likely it is to pill.
A yarn with a tight twist is best for socks or work sweaters, or any project that will get lots
of heavy wear. Look closely at the yarn you plan on purchasing. If you see a lot of little fuzzy
fibers sticking out of the main strand, it's likely your yarn will pill.
Light pilling can be removed by the use of a sweater stone (a piece of porous stone cut into a
rectangular shape that removes the pills by a process similar to sanding with sandpaper) or by
using a defuzzer (which is like a razor that shaves off the pills).
How do I wash my handmade projects?
Take a look a the yarn label for suggested washing instructions. Some yarns, acrylics for
example, should be machine washed and dried. These fibers actually expand when washed,
allowing dirt to be released from the fibers. They need to be machine dried to go back
to their original shape.
Other yarns, wool for example, should never be put in hot water or in the dryer. The sweater
you spent many hours to make for your husband could turn up fitting your daughter's doll!
Some wool yarns are treated with chemicals to make it safe for you to machine wash and dry
them in warm water, but you'll need to read the label to make sure.
If you've bought yarn at a garage sale and aren't sure of the content, briefly touch a lit
match to the end of the yarn. If it melts, the yarn is made of acrylic or nylon. If the yarn
scorches, it is likely made from cotton or wool.
You usually can't go wrong hand washing a knitted or crocheted item in gentle soap and
cool water and then laying it flat out of the sun to dry.
What is the difference between one yarn classification and another?
Yarns can generally be classified into six types: Super fine such as sock, fingering and baby yarns Fine such as sport and baby yarns Light weight such as DK and light worsted yarns Medium-weight such as worsted, aran and afghan yarns Bulky weight such as chunky, craft and rug yarns Super Bulky weight such as bulky and roving yarns
What knitting needles should I use with a type of yarn?
Generally, smaller size needles are used with light-weight yarns,
medium size needles with medium-weight yarns, and larger size
needles with heavier weight yarns.
What do I do if I don't have enough of yarn of a dye lot to finish a project?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.This is why the importance of buying enough
yarn of the same dye lot before the project is started is stressed in almost all patterns.
For small or multicolored projects, a color match of another dye lot may be close enough for your purposes.
But with a solid color sweater or Afghan, you likely will find that the match is not exact enough for a finished product to be pleasing.
Yarn Substitution List
The following is a list of yarns and the respective needle or hook sizes necessary to meet the recommended gauge.
This gauge is an average gauge specified by the yarn manufacturers, one that they feel works best with their yarns.
Be sure to read your pattern to check the designer's gauge for that particular project, then make a gauge swatch
with the yarn you wish to use.
******** Click here for our selection of yarns. ********
Needle size: 0-3 (2-3.25mm)
Knit gauge: 7 or more stitches = 1"