Pattern Play: Choosing Yarn

Usually when we learn to knit, someone teaches us the basic skills and tells us to practice. That’s a great start, but then we have learn how to read a pattern. This 7-part series explains how. Designer and tech editor Kate Atherley has a passion for helping knitters better understand knitting patterns. We’ve invited Kate to share her knowledge in this new column to aid fledgling and experienced knitters alike. She starts with the essentials: choosing yarn. Originally published in knitscene Fall 2015.


Once you’ve decided a particular pattern must be knit, it’s time to look for yarn. It’s easier to choose the pattern first, then find the yarn. I’m going to focus on accessory patterns, to keep things simple.

Interweave patterns list the brand and name of yarn, fiber content, yardage, and put-up (both the shape—ball or skein—and weight of the yarn, generally given in ounces or grams). Any pattern should also tell you how many units of yarn you’ll need and list the color name or number used for the sample. This information helps you buy the right yarn, in the right amount, for the project.

Choosing Yarn

Generally, yarns are chosen to best suit the project, and it’s simplest to use the recommended yarn. But there are many factors that lead to yarn substitution, so let’s figure out the necessary information to do so.

Figure out how much you’ll need to buy: multiply the number of units used for the pattern by the number of yards per unit to get the total yards used. In this pattern example, I’d need 520 yards of yarn to knit the cowl.

Check the put-up mentioned earlier, as some brands have different sizes. Some sock yarns come in both 50- and 100-gram balls. If the pattern calls for one ball, I need to make sure I get the correct weight.

Take into consideration that different fibers weigh different amounts. Cotton is heavier than wool, so a 100-gram skein of worsted-weight wool will have more yards than a 100-gram skein of worsted-weight cotton. Also consider the type of fiber—if it’s an animal fiber, stay with animal-fiber-based yarns; if it’s cotton or another plant fiber, look to that family of yarns. Is the texture fuzzy or smooth? If a solid or semisolid color is used to highlight a texture pattern, stick with that. If you can’t find that exact yarn in your LYS, look it up online to get a sense of what it looks like.

Once you’ve chosen a yarn, take that total-yards used number and divide it by the number of yards in the chosen yarn. In our example, if a new yarn has 110 yards to a unit, I’d need 4.73 units of yarn—so I’d purchase five units of my substituted yarn.

Kate Atherley

Featured Image: Photo by Garrett Evans.


Read More of Kate’s Pattern Tips in knitscene

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