Adventures in Yarn Substitution: A Cautionary Tale

Sarah Read, project editor . Here at Interweave Crochet, we think long and hard about what yarns to select for projects in order to achieve the perfect look in drape, color, style, and stitch definition. Every yarn has its own unique attitude and behavior, based on its fiber and the way it is spun. Any given pattern will play nicely with certain types of fibers— and clash horribly with others. So there is an art to choosing the proper yarn for your project—an art learned over time, the hard way.

Fortunately, thanks to fabulous community sites like Crochet Me, we can share our triumphs and failures with each other, and maybe save a fellow crocheter some time and tears. I'm about to do that right now, in a humbling little piece I like to call "Vest Quest". I have crocheted three vests in the last year out of stash chosen only for the fact that there was sufficient quantity for a vest, and completely disregarding the laws of fiber properties. So, observe "what not to do, and why".

cotton vest .

Here is Vest Quest number one, which was made out of leftover mercerized kitchen cotton. This was born when I was stranded while travelling and bored of making the dishcloths that the rest of this yarn had become. I needed something more engaging to crochet, and my one-year-old son needed a vest for a chilly early spring. This vest served its purpose as a layer, but that's about it. Never mind the unfortunate pooling of the variegated yarn, this firm cotton has no stretch or drape. It stands up by itself—no joke. I love my hardy cottons for home projects, but this one wasn't built for garments (it was fabulous for those dishcloths).

acrylic vest . Vest Quest number two: After overestimating the amount of yarn needed for a baby blanket, I had enough left over for a vest (really—I don't do this on purpose…). I carefully sketched out my design and started making some lovely motifs, stitched them all together, and edged them to fit me like a glove. At least, it did for a few hours. The problem? Acrylic stitches will stretch out, but they won't block back or drape well. So the shoulder pieces on this vest elongated with wear, and I can't make them go back to the length they should be. The waist buttons keep the rest of the vest in place, so that when I relax my shoulders and lower my arms, the shoulders of my vest stay right where they were…hovering an inch above my actual shoulder. This vest would have been better in a yarn with some bounce-back, like a merino wool or something with a little bit of nylon in it (again, the yarn was great for its original purpose; it is still my go-to for blankies).
alpaca vest .

Vest Quest number three: Alpaca apocalypse. Having learned my lesson about drape, blocking, and stretch, I made another vest (I like vests) out of 100% alpaca. It is soft as butter and warmer than the average jacket, it drapes beautifully, and I can block it back into shape. So what on earth is wrong? Alpaca streeeeeeetches. A lot. Every time I wear this, it grows by the hour. By the end of the day, I am sitting on the back of it. This is a clear case of overcompensation. My conclusion? Alpaca is great for warm garments if it is blended with something else that will keep it from morphing into a sweater-vest-dress, or for accessories like hats and scarves.

So there are my humbling examples of what fibers did not work for me. Do note that I love all of these vests, and I still wear the two I made for me…so take pride in your stitches, even if they don't work out! Next time around, we'll take a more positive angle and look at some yarn substitution successes! If you have some yarn cautionary tales to share, or some yarn substitution successes, leave a comment below and spread your hard-earned knowledge!

 Until next time,

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