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Yarn Substitution: Fibers

As every wise knitter knows, substituting yarns is about more than just getting gauge. You’ll need to dig a little deeper to find a yarn that gives you the right blend of qualities, starting with the fiber.

Karen Frisa Jan 26, 2024 - 9 min read

Yarn Substitution: Fibers Primary Image

Substituting yarns is one part art, one part science, and many parts exploration. Photo by Matt Graves

You’ve fallen in love with a pattern, but you need to find a substitute for the yarn. Maybe it’s discontinued, or not available in your local yarn shop (LYS), or doesn’t appeal to you for other reasons. Your challenge is to find a yarn that emulates the properties of the designer’s yarn and is also appropriate for the project.

There are a lot of traits that a yarn can have. Is it dense or airy? Elastic or inelastic? Soft or slightly rough or quite harsh? Smooth or textured? Multiple plies or singles? You should consider all these traits—and more—as you think about possible yarns, but we’ll start by looking at fiber.

When selecting a yarn, how do you choose which fiber(s) might be appropriate? Begin by learning what you can about the pattern’s original yarn, then look for yarns that have similar properties—or properties that you think will suit your own project best. Then consider the piece that you are planning to make.

What Kind of Yarn Are You Looking For?

Before you select fiber(s), think about the properties of the yarn. For something like socks, you’ll probably want a hard-wearing yarn. A hat might need softness, especially around the face. Mittens might need soft cuffs but a harder-wearing yarn for the hands. A light, lacy shawl might need a drapey yarn, whereas a heavier shawl could be more crisp.

Sweaters come in many varieties. Yarn for a thick winter sweater might incorporate fibers for warmth as well as fibers that add loft so the piece won’t be too heavy. A summer sweater might use a cooler fiber, possibly blended with something to add elasticity. Some sweaters are more drapey, while others have more body.

Once you have a general idea of the fiber properties that might work for your project, you can start to pare down your potential yarn choices.

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