Knit 101: Yarn Substitution

If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that I’m struggling with yarn. I found out last week that I can’t get my hands on Karabella Yarns Superyak, the yarn we used for the sample Killarney Tunic pictured in the magazine. So I’m hitting pause on actually knitting anything and embarking on a quest to find a yarn substitution.

yarn substitution

A glimpse of the yarn in a knitted fabric. I can’t show you this entire project because it hasn’t been published yet, but it looks fantastic!

As a knitting newbie, I’m somewhat intimidated by yarn substitution. One of the best things about Interweave knitting patterns is that gorgeous and project-appropriate yarns are already chosen for you, and all the specs are listed in the materials section so it’s super easy to go find that specific yarn. Having to forage for my own yarn is daunting. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by knitting pros who can advise me.

My primary tutor on this first sweater project, project editor Laura Hulslander, recommended I begin my search on Ravelry (an amazing resource—if you’re not on it, you should be!). I started my search by specifying the yarn weight, which Laura said is the most important criteria to match when doing a substitution. (More experienced knitters can change yarn weights, but I’m obviously not on that level right now.) The Killarney Tunic uses a number five weight, which is a bulky according to the Craft Yarn Council’s standard yarn weight system. Searching for bulky-weight yarns produced almost ten thousand results on Ravelry—clearly, I needed to narrow the field.

To do so, I added fiber content to my search. Again, more experienced knitters can improvise here, but novices should stick with the fiber used in the pattern. My tunic uses yak and wool; Laura recommended I look for wool because it lends good structure to garments. I also eliminated discontinued yarns (why look for something I can’t get?) and single-ply yarn (also known as singles, because they tend to pill more than plied yarns), which brought my search results to a more manageable number.

yarn substitution

Plymouth Yarn Company’s Tuscan Aire. This yarn is gorgeous and soft—a terrific substitute!

From this point, according to Laura, it was about personal preference. Do I want a heavy sweater or something a bit more lightweight? What color do I want to use? What’s my ideal price point? After considering all these points and looking through my options, I settled on one I thought would work: Plymouth Tuscan Aire. We happen to have a spare ball hanging around the office, so I was able to get a feel (literally) for this yarn and figure out if it will be a good fit. I think it’s going to be fantastic (although I still need to swatch with it to make sure)—it’s soft and light but substantial enough to make a warm sweater. Perfect!

If you are not lucky enough to work at a place filled with yarn, I recommend putting together a list of different options from your search and paying a visit to your LYS. There you can see (and touch—very important!) your choices and determine which one is best for you and your project. If your resources allow, buy one skein for swatching. And if you’re feeling lost searching Ravelry for suitable yarns, Interweave has a ton of resources to help you. A quick search of our (awesome and brand-new) website for “yarn substitution” yields dozens of blog posts and store products. If you have time, I recommend reading all the blogs—I picked up a couple of really useful tips from them so I linked my favorites ones below.

Now that I’ve finally selected a yarn, it’s time to start swatching! I’m taking next week off for the holidays, but I’m eager to finally get to some knitting in the new year.

Happy holiday knitting!
—Rachel


Resources

Yarn Substitution in Knitting
Adventures in Yarn Substitution
More Tips for Yarn Substitution
The Fine Art of Yarn Substitution
Gauge and Yarn Substitution


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