Yarn Substitution Tips
with Carol Alexander, Editor of Crochet! magazine

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!

Sock Savvy
by E.J. Slayton

Sock imagePeople who have never worn handknit socks often ask why you would bother to knit socks when you can buy them so inexpensively. Both cover your feet, but there the similarity ends. Handknit socks are warm and cozy, like a knitted hug for the wearer, and even some folks who won't wear sweaters enjoy wearing handknit socks.

They are very portable - a sort of grab-and-go project that fits into a small bag or pocket. I'm rarely without at least one pair on the needles. While I like to have the stitches on 3 needles and work with a fourth, other knitters prefer to have the stitches on 4 needles, dividing the instep stitches onto 2 needles, while working with a fifth needle.

Socks are also a great way to try out different techniques and patterns. Find a sock pattern you like, and use it as a canvas to try out different pattern stitches. Remember to check your gauge in the pattern stitch; while cables take up sideways, lace patterns tend to stretch out, so you may need to adjust the number of stitches.

There are so many great yarns for socks right now, it's hard to decide which to try next! Since socks get a lot of wear, look for a yarn that's firmly spun and that contains 10-25 percent nylon for added strength. You can also reinforce the heels and toes with a strand of special reinforcing yarn (available from yarn suppliers) or with Wooly Nylon (a product for sergers, available at fabric stores). The reinforcing strand is held with the yarn and knitted in as you go. It's very fine and does not significantly affect the gauge.

Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Inside of heel flap Inside of heel flap.
Getting started
Cast on loosely; it needs to stretch enough to pass over the heel and instep area. If you have a problem with a tight cast on, try a larger size needle, or cast on over 2 needles, then transfer the stitches to the smaller needles.

When you join the stitches, work the first 2 or 3 stitches with the working yarn and the tail from the cast on, or cast on 1 more stitch than needed, then knit it and the first stitch together.

Working the heel flap
The heel flap is worked on about half the total stitches, while the rest are left for the instep. It is usually made approximately square, but can be made longer or shorter as needed for a better fit.

The flap may be worked in stockinette stitch or in heel stitch, which alternates slipped and knitted stitches, and makes a denser heel flap. Either way, slip 1 stitch on each edge purlwise, either by slipping the first stitch of every row, or by slipping the first and last stitch of the right side row, then purling all stitches on the wrong side row.

Next decrease ready to work: knit the stitches on each side of the gap together Next decrease ready to work: knit the stitches on each side of the gap together.
Turning the heel
Here are 2 different heels; each is worked after a heel flap as above, beginning with a wrong side row.

French (Round) Heel
The heel is shaped by working short or partial rows that widen toward the front of the heel. Mark the center of the heel flap (in the center stitch for an odd number of stitches; between 2 stitches for an even number). Purl to 2 stitches past the center, p2tog, p1, turn without completing row; sl1, knit to 2 stitches past the center, k2tog, k1, turn; continue to work 1 more stitch each time before decreasing until all stitches have been worked. After the first 2 rows, a gap will show you where the next decrease should be - work the stitch on each side of this gap together. The last 2 rows may end with p2tog and k2tog - just slip the stitch resulting from the p2tog, knit to the last 2 stitches, k2tog.

Completed heel, with gusset stitches picked up and shaping begun. Sample shows gusset stitches picked up with contrasting yarn Completed heel, with gusset stitches picked up and shaping begun. Sample shows gusset stitches picked up with contrasting yarn.
Dutch (Square) Heel
In this heel, the center third of the flap wraps under the heel, staying the same width and consuming the sides. For example, if the heel flap is 21 stitches wide, 1/3 of 21 is 7 stitches; place safety pins in the 8th and 14th stitches (these stitches "nibble" away at the sides of the heel flap).

  Row 1 (WS): P13, p2tog, turn.

  Row 2: Sl1, k5, ssk, turn.

  Row 3: Sl1, p5, p2tog, turn.

  Rows 4-14: Rep Rows 2 and 3, ending with Row 2. (7 center stitches rem)

Instep shaping
After completing the heel, with the needle containing the remaining heel stitches, and the working yarn, pick up and knit 1 stitch in each loop along the edge of the heel flap (Needle 1); with another needle work across the instep stitches, working them all on to 1 needle (Needle 2); with a free needle, pick up and knit stitches along the other edge of the heel flap to match the first side, then with the same needle, knit to the bottom of the foot (Needle 3). The first stitch on Needle 1 will now be the beginning of the round.

Next decrease ready to work: knit the marked stitch together with the next stitch on the left needle Next decrease ready to work: knit the marked stitch together with the next stitch on the left needle.
To help eliminate holes at the instep corners, when working the instep stitches onto Needle 2, try picking up the running thread before the first stitch, twist it and knit it together with the stitch; at the end of the needle, slip the last stitch and knit it together with the twisted running thread after it.

The instep is shaped by alternating a plain round with a round which decreases at the end of Needle 1 and the beginning of Needle 2, until there are the same number of stitches as at the ankle. For a smaller or larger foot, decrease more or fewer times for a custom fit.

To shape the toe, Needle 1 plus Needle 3 should equal Needle 2–adjust as needed, keeping the instep stitches on Needle 2, and the foot stitches on Needles 1 and 3. Decreases are worked at the end of Needle 1, the beginning and end of Needle 2, and the beginning of Needle 3. Like the instep, the decreasing is usually worked every other round, but the rate may be varied.

Completed heel, with gusset stitches picked up and shaping begun. Sample shows gusset stitches picked up with contrasting yarn Completed heel, with gusset stitches picked up and shaping begun. Sample shows gusset stitches picked up with contrasting yarn.
Continue the shaping until the specified number of stitches remains (usually about 1 - 1 1/2 inches of stitches each on top and bottom), then work the stitches remaining on Needle 1 onto Needle 3.

Weave toe stitches together as follows:

With stitches evenly divided on 2 ndls, cut yarn, leaving a 12-15 inch end. Thread yarn in tapestry ndl, hold ndls holding stitches parallel, *insert ndl in first stitch on front ndl as if to purl, leave stitch on ndl, go into first stitch on back ndl as if to knit, sl stitch off ndl, go into next stitch on back ndl as if to purl, leave stitch on ndl, go into first stitch on front ndl as if to knit, sl stitch off ndl, rep from * until all stitches have been worked.

Weaving the toe. Sample shows weaving with contrasting yarn Weaving the toe. Sample shows weaving with contrasting yarn.
Don't worry about getting the gauge exactly right as you weave - it's easier to go back every few stitches and adjust the tension with the tip of the tapestry needle. When you're done, weave in the ends and enjoy your socks!

Copyright © 2000, The Complete Knitting Collection Newsletter #8.