How and When to Substitute a Yarn

This post is part of the Fall Shawl Together, a collaborative project featuring great shawl-related content from designers, bloggers, and podcasters. We’re featuring a new post each week, now – December. You can check out all the posts on the Fall Shawl Together Project Page and show us what you’re working on by tagging your shawl projects!  #shawltogether

Yarn Substitution

We all do it. We see a pattern and then choose the yarn, or we choose the yarn, then find a pattern that will work. We have also likely had some less than glorious outcomes. So how do you make a knowledgeable and appropriate yarn substitution?

I think most knitters substitute based on what is readily available to them. They may be looking for a yarn substitution from their stash, or from their favorite yarn purveyor, or they may be looking for a less expensive option.

Remarkable-Wrapped-300x282

Suitable Yarn Substitutions

I provide extensive gauge information in my patterns because I feel it is really important that the knitter get the same fabric I used in my original design. But that only works insofar as the yarn is the same as or nearly identical to the yarn I used. I don’t begrudge anyone making a yarn substitution because every knitter needs to make the project they want to make, but without directly comparing to the original yarn, results will vary.

I focused on Remarkables for this post. It is a luscious piece, but the yarn used is quite unique, and relatively expensive, so I was interested in what would happen with other yarns. The photo below is of my unblocked swatches. The top center is Air from Zealana, the original yarn. I knit all of these on the same needle. Hat Box got the bottom trim added which I didn’t do in the others. Helix isn’t pictured here because I had already blocked it.

Swatch-Party-LR

Yarn Base

If you can get gauge it will work, right? Obviously, you need to keep to the same general yarn weight, and choosing one sock yarn over another might not make a lot of difference, but there are different yarn structures (twist, ply) as well as fiber content differences. I look at yarn from a user’s standpoint, without a lot of regard to subtleties of structure. All of the swatches are in sock-weight yarns. Satchel is a single ply and the rest of my yarns choices are plied. I usually compare weight and yardage too.

Air is a lace yarn, but in this application it is worked at a sock-weight gauge to take full advantage of its halo. Oy. See why substitutions can be tricky? If you don’t know the original yarn it might mean that a bit of crucial information is missing from your equation.

Fiber Content

Air is unique in large part because of its 40% brushtail possum fiber, which is blended with 40% cashmere and 20% mulberry silk. I’m sure Woolyarns could tell us much about its structure, but the possum fiber is the piece that I find makes it most unique from a user standpoint.

Working from the upper left and going clockwise, here is ball-band information. I created 100g equivalents for those yarns that came in different weights.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns: 100% superwash merino wool, 100g/450 yds (411m)
  • Air from Zealana:  40% brushtail possum, 40% cashmere, 20% mulberry silk, 25g/191 yds (175m) [100g/764 (688m)]
  •  Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby:  75% superwash merino wool, 15% Silk, 10% cashmere, 100g/317 yds (290m)
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter : 100% mink, 50g/328 yds (300m) [100g/656 (590m)]
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby:  100% superwash merino wool, 100g/370 yds (338m)
  • Not pictured: Helix from Infinite Twist, 100% wool, 67g/200 yds (183m) [100g/300 yds (270m)]

These all got approximately the same gauge, but there is quite a bit of variation in the yardage/weight, so this isn’t a clear path to a great substitution.

Price

You will need the equivalent of three balls of Air to make this piece. Air retails for $25/ball so the yarn for the Shawlette costs $75. Since we can’t really do a direct substitution, I’m going to estimate that we need between 600 and 750 yards.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns: $24/100g. Cost $48
  • Air from Zealana:  $25/25g. Cost $75
  • Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby:  $27/100g. Cost $54 to $81
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter: $23/50g. Cost $46
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby:  $17/100g. Cost $34
  • Helix from Infinite Twist, $17/201g. Cost $51 to $68

There is a lot of cost variation in this list. The project yarn cost (based on my assumptions) goes from a low of $34 to a high of $81. So why not just buy the least expensive yarn and go for it?

Physical Properties

I knit all these swatches in yarns I assumed would work in this design. I knit the gauge swatch/beginning of the Scarf from the pattern. I varied the cables a bit, and clearly, I got tired of knitting on some of them. I’ve washed the swatches, where noted threw them in the dryer, and blocked the lace sections with my steam iron.

Color ended up playing a key role. Complex stitch design means the yarn color can really compete with the design; this might not be the place to use your beautiful hand-dye.full-swatches-trio

This cunning confection of a shawlette rises in delicate tiers . . “ is the part that was the most difficult to replicate.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns (dryer): Swatch weighs 14g. This one looks much weightier, and I find the color really distracting.  I can’t wait to use this yarn somewhere else.
  • Air from Zealana (dryer): Swatch weighs 6g. This yarn doesn’t have a lot of memory and flattens out, but the dryer helps bring out the halo and drape.  Still love this yarn/design combination. There is a scarf that takes one ball.
  • Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby (dryer): Swatch weighs 12g without Bottom Trim. I like the stitch definition in this one, but it lacks the weightless look of Air, so it becomes less a confection, but I like it. Also try it for Tuscany, Medallion, and Kintail.
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter: Swatch weighs 9g. This is most similar to Air, but it is definitely heavier, so doesn’t feel like a confection. I’d try it for Belon.
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby: Swatch weighs 14g. I loved this swatch before I blocked it. Can’t wait to use this yarn in something else.
  • Helix from Infinite Twist: Swatch weighs 15g without Bottom Trim. This yarn has a wonderful springy twist to it, which makes it all wrong for Remarkables. Grab Ashland for this one (and a capelette version is being added to the pattern next week!)

Blocked-trio2

There is a shawl for every yarn, and a yarn for every shawl, so take time to make sure you’ve got a great match. You know. Swatch first.


Jill Wolcott is a prolific and talented knitting designer. Check out her designs and her blog on her website.

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