Successful Yarn Substitution

Do you recognize this situation? You are browsing your favorite crochet magazine or Ravelry and come across a pattern that you just have to begin working on now! It is so gorgeous and just the thing for which you’ve been looking for a long time now. But, when you take a closer look at the pattern and see the yarn that was used, you’re a little bummed. You’ve never even heard of the yarn. So you google the brand and the yarn line and it turns out that making this piece with the yarn suggested will end up costing you four times the amount as if you bought the finished item at the store.

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So what is the next option? Yarn substitution. But how do you go about a successful substitution? Here are my three recommendations:

  1. Weight


Choose the same weight of yarn. In the US, you’ll always find a yarn weight with a number from 0 to 6 or sometimes 7. Super Bulky and Jumbo yarns are 6 and 7 weights, respectively, and thread is a 0. In other countries, the number of plies is used to determine the weight. Either way, you’ll want a similar weight, but, even then, you will still need to check your gauge (see #3)

2. 6 Ss of Yarn Substitution

Some might recommend an exact fiber match but this is not usually necessary. What I recommend is testing the yarn for the 6 Ss of Yarn Substitution: Is it soft, squishy, stretchy, scratchy, sturdy, or stiff? Since you don’t know how the pattern yarn feels, you can get an accurate description of most yarns from the yarn companies, Ravelry, and Google.

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Here are some examples:

  • If I analyzed all the worsted weight 100% cotton yarns that I have, I would classify them in different categories, Soft and Sturdy, Sturdy and Stiff, Soft and Squishy, Stiff and Scratchy, and there are still more possibilities. So a perfect fiber to fiber swap is not a sure bet. Instead match the 6 Ss.
  • It’s the same with wool. 100% wool can range from being incredibly scratchy and sturdy all the way to soft as a cloud and squishy.

3. Gauge


Ultimately use gauge to make your final decision. Any pattern that is worked to specific measurements should have a gauge listed at the beginning of the pattern. Usually gauge is measured in a 4”x4” square, a 2”x2” square, and occasionally a 1”x1” square, although that is the least accurate measurement.

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  • You should take the hook specified and make a swatch in the stitch specified. Usually this is in single, half double, or double crochet, however, the gauge may also be written with the specific stitch combination used in the pattern.
    • No matter how it is written, you will want to make a swatch just larger than the swatch listed in the pattern. Begin by chaining a length that is just longer than your gauge instructions and begin working back and forth until it is at least 5” tall or just larger than your swatch instructions. For example, when a swatch is to measure 4” square, I make a 6” x 6” swatch. Your gauge or tension are slightly different on the sides of the square and along the beginning chain. Gauge is intended to be measured in the middle of your work.
    • I made a big swatch in the example (wider than 6”) but the area that my Knitmate is measuring is going to have the correct tension and an accurate gauge. My swatch is made in half double crochet stitches with Red Heart Soft Bulky yarn and a Bates J hook, made from Happy Crochet Hooks. In the example photo, there are 12 stitches across and 9 rows. My gauge is 12 hdc and 9 rows = 4”. If that matches the gauge in the pattern, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, you need to adjust your hook size up or down.


4 thoughts on “Successful Yarn Substitution

  1. Stacey Hansen says:

    I’m trying to figure out how to take a pattern that is written for bulky weight yarn (5) and use light/baby weight yarn (3). The pattern says it makes a 44″ x 57″ blanket, but I do want it to be smaller – closer to 34′ x 46″ (baby blanket size). Do you think I should buy the same yardage of the lighter weight as is recommended in the pattern?


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