Love The Yarn You’re With

 Note from Sandi: In the U.S., it is National Spinning and Weaving Week (October 4-10). Since every one of the lovely yarns we use is made by a spinner (somewhere…), I asked spinner and weaver Liz Gipson (yes, she of the cashmere goats!) to come back and talk to us about how to substitute a yarn you love for the one specified in the pattern. Liz talks about spinning her own yarn, but the wraps per inch method she describes here can be used with any yarn in your stash, or on the shelves of your local yarn shop. Heeeerree's Liz!


To celebrate Spinning and Weaving Week, Sandi picked a present for you—a free scarf pattern—and then challenged me to spin yarn for a handspun version. Her selection is a knitted ribbed scarf with a crocheted edging adapted by Ann Budd from Weldon's Practical Needlework for Piecework magazine.

Unlike a shaped garment, a scarf is pretty forgiving. I suspect that most of you who are reading this post knit better then you spin. Rather than worry about creating (or finding) a yarn that fits the pattern, why not adapt the pattern to fit the yarn?

To put this concept to the test, I set myself a little challenge. I didn't look at the pattern specifics just snuck a peak of the photo to get a feel of the project. Then I proceeded to pluck a luscious medium brown Alpaca top (top=combed fiber) from my stash and got to work. I set about spinning with nothing in mind other than spending a sunny afternoon on my back porch—periodically "chatting" with the goats. They bleat and I say something in reply. Then the cat chimes in. . . The result was 5 ounces of yarn or 187 yards. Now the million dollar question: What size needles do I need?

Wraps per Inch

There is no way around it–you are going to have to knit a swatch. You could guess what needles size to use, but I'm pretty sure you won't be as happy with the results.

 How to determine wraps per inch: To judge the approximate weight of your yarn, wrap it around the space of an inch using a ruler or an inch gauge. The strands should be touching, but not overlapping. Don’t pull the yarn too tightly when you wrap. You want the yarn to be relaxed so that it will be a good measure of how it will act in the knitted cloth.

Years ago Spin-Off magazine compiled this extraordinarily handy chart for plain yarns. These numbers are compiled from a number of sources and from the experience of the editors, none of which precisely agree! Use them as rough estimates only.


Yarn Style Wraps per Inch Gauge stitches/inch Needle size US Needle size Metric
Lace 18+ 8+ 00–2 2–3 mm
Fingering 16 6–8 2–4 2.75–3.5mm
Sport 14 5–6 1/2 4–6 3.5–4.5 mm
Worsted 12 4–5 7–9 4.5–6
Bulky 10 3–4 10–11 6–7.5
Very Bulky 8 or fewer 2–3 13–15 8–9mm


My yarn measures 13 wraps per inch, placing it in the worsted to sport range. By using the chart I surmised that a good starting place would be to use either a size 6 or 7 needle. I started with a 7 and knitted, washed, and blocked a 4-inch stockinette swatch. I concluded that the hand–the feel of the fabric–was a little stiff so I moved to a larger needle. The dark brown scarf-in-progress (top photo) is made using a size 8 needle. It was perfect. How ironic is it that the pattern calls for this needle size!

But wait, my yarn did not produce the same gauge—isn't yarn fickle! This is probably because my yarn is much denser than the yarn in the pattern. I could either decided to cast on few stitches or follow the pattern exactly or to create a wider scarf. I went with the latter.

In Summary: Spin; Measure w.p.i (wraps per inch); Swatch; Swatch again; Start knitting!


A Final Note: Every knitter who wants to spin has to get Ann Budd's The Knitters Handy Book of Patterns. You will simply never have to fret that your yarn won't work in any of these patterns. Ann's clever system is based on the same philosophy above—if you can't create the yarn you need, love the yarn you make.


–Liz Gipson
past managing editor of Spin-Off magazine
co-host of Knitting Daily TV


YARN SUBSTITUTION TIP FOR KNITTERS (those who aren't spinners!)

You can use the wraps per inch method with yarns you already have in your stash to help you determine needle size, gauge, and yarn "weight." In the back of each issue of Interweave Knits (as well as Interweave Crochet) is a page called Sources for Supplies that lists the wraps per inch information for the yarn specified in the pattern. You can compare this number to the wraps per inch of yarns you have on hand–or that beautiful yarn you couldn't resist buying at your local yarn shop–as an aid in yarn substitution.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Still seaming, seaming. I am stitching up the Camisa, and weaving in the ends. And yes, even I have to rip out a seam a time or two until I am satisfied with the way it looks. I had to rip the side seam three times….

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