The Fine Art of Yarn Substitution

. Cashmere, silk, qiviut, angora… Such is the stuff that some seriously fabulous garments are made of. But what do you do when you fall for a pattern, but don't want to spend the next month's mortgage on the 20 skeins of cashmere that the beautiful pattern calls for? Enter the fine art of yarn substitution.


. For any garment, gauge is of primary concern to the crafter. If you don't match the gauge of the pattern, your project will not be the same size as the one described in the instructions. You should always check your gauge, especially when substituting yarn.

Let's say that gorgeous cashmere sweater uses worsted weight yarn, or yarn with a CYCA classification #4. According to the CYCA, worsted yarn worked on a size 5.5 mm to 6.5 mm hook can have anywhere from 11 to 14 stitches in a four-inch swatch. That is quite a difference, when it comes to garment sizing. The bottom line is that not all worsted #4's are the same. If our cashmere is on the heavier side of worsted, you will need to seek a yarn as close to its actual weight as possible.
How do we do this without sitting in the yarn shop and swatching everything? We calculate the yarn's Wraps Per Inch (wpi). Here's how we do that.

Antoinette Cardigan by
Christina Marie Potter,
Interweave Crochet Winter 2007
Take a relatively short length (about 1 yard) of the yarn you want to substitute, and wrap it around either a ruler or a wraps per inch tool (below, right). Don't pull it tightly or squish the wraps together, just let them lie naturally alongside each other. Count the number of wraps there are in one inch, and voila! That is your wraps per inch, the actual signature size of that particular yarn. The tricky part can be comparing that calculated wpi to the original yarn used. Here at Interweave Crochet, we calculate the wpi for each yarn used in every issue, and list it in our sources at the back of the magazine. If your wraps of the yarn you want to substitute are within one or two of our wraps from the yarn we used, you should be able to achieve the correct gauge with that yarn.
. . Be warned that everyone wraps a little differently. If you and I both wrapped the same yarn, we may come up with slightly different numbers of wraps. So while this is a useful tool for finding an acceptable substitute, still be sure to check your gauge and adjust your hook size if necessary.

Later I'll talk a bit about fiber properties and yarn substitution, or "Why that alpaca vest wasn't as cute in mercerized cotton."

Until next time,

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