Yarn Substitution in Knitting

The Cerulean Cardigan by Wendy Bernard, from the DVD workshop Knitting from the Top Down

I rarely use the yarn that a sweater is designed for. There are many reasons for this, but usually it's because I want to use a yarn from my stash!

There are so many types of knitters—some see a pattern and buy the yarn called for in the exact color the sample is knitted in, some see a pattern and buy the yarn called for the the pattern in another color, some see a pattern and buy totally different yarn, and some see a pattern and look for appropriate yarn in their stash.

This also goes the other way: some see a yarn they love and buy it without any idea what it will be knitted into!

I've been a member of all of these groups and I'll bet you have, too!

But what if it's almost springtime and you see a pattern you love that's written for a wooly tweed yarn? Easy! You pick a springy yarn!

But it's actually not that easy. Patterns are usually written for a certain type of yarn, whether it be wool, cotton, bamboo, or the myriad other fibers available to us now!

The pattern that made me think a lot about this topic is the Cerulean Cardigan by Wendy Bernard. Wendy talks about this pattern in-depth in her super-informative DVD workshop Knitting from the Top Down. She designed the Cerulean Cardigan for Lana Grossa Royal Tweed, which is a 100 percent merino wool yarn.

There's a reason so many sweaters are designed with merino wool—it's got a certain bounce and memory that works great for knitted garments, it's lightweight, and it's warm, too!

But I want this sweater for spring and early fall, so I don't want a warm wool. What to do?

Here's my plan:

1. Evaluate the merino yarn Wendy used to see what properties I need to look for in a substitute yarn.
The merino yarn is a bulky weight yarn that's knit at a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch. That makes a nice, slightly firm fabric that floats nicely along the body's curves. It shows stitch definition well, but that's not crucial in this pattern since there's no cabling or lace patterns. The tweediness of the yarn adds interest to the sweater, but that's also part of what makes it look like a warm sweater (to me, at least).

2. Look at the sweater design itself and evaluate the piece to see what modifications I might want to make to the sweater to change the seasonality of it.
I love this sweater pretty much as it is. The main change I'll make is shortening the sleeves substantially, probably by about five inches. I love the clasp (it's a giant hook-and-eye.) I might make some change in the shaping (like not doing the waist shaping because it doesn't flatter my apple shape, but that's no biggie. So my arm-length change will just mean that I'll need less yarn!

3. Look at my stash and see what I have in sweater quantity, warm-weather yarn.

I know I have some cotton yarns to consider, But I don't want this sweater to be heavy or to stretch out too much, which is a problem with 100 percent cotton yarns. Cotton is simply heavier than wool, and it doesn't have a natural elasticity like wool does so it tends to stretch out a bit. I'm hoping I have sweater-quantity in a wool/cotton blend.

The reason I like wool/cotton blends is that you get the best of both worlds—the elasticity of wool and the warm-weather friendliness of cotton. There are a lot of summer fibers that are great for sweaters, such as bamboo, silk, linen, and so on. There are pros and cons to all of these fibers for this sweater. Bamboo would be heavy knit at this gauge in an allover stockinette sweater; there are some really great cotton/bamboo blends, though, which would work wonderfully well. The addition of the cotton or wool fibers to the bamboo really lightens it up.

The silk blends available these days are stunningly beautiful, but I think they'd be better for a lace pattern and not an allover stockinette pattern. Silk yarn and silk blends are lightweight, but they tend to be a little pricey for a workhorse sweater, which is what I have in mind for the Cerulean Cardigan.

Linen is one of my favorite fibers. I love the look of it, whether it's in a woven fabric or in a knitted fabric. If I choose a linen yarn for the Cerulean, it'll change the drape of the garment, making it looser and giving it more flow. I kind of like the idea of this, so I think I'll put linen on the list. I have a skein of Louet MerLin, which is a merino/linen blend, and I think I'll swatch it up to see how it might look for the Cerulean.

4. Swatch, swatch, swatch, swatch!
In order to see which yarn will give me the results I want, I'll need to knit several swatches. I don't mind swatching—it's good TV knitting, especially if you're swatching in stockinette, which I will be doing.

I'll block the swatches so I can see a good representation of the finished fabric, and then I'll make my decision.

My plan is to swatch a linen blend, a few cotton blends, and maybe a bamboo blend. I have a couple of these in my stash, but I think I'll have to go shopping for enough yarn to complete the sweater. Oh, darn!

My Cerulean will probably be much different from Wendy's original design; but I think it'll turn out nicely and it'll be a fun exercise in yarn substitution.

The Cerulean is a top-down pattern with set-in sleeves, which is also part of the appeal of the design for me. It's a really neat technique, and Wendy's DVD walks you through the knitting and construction of the sweater, so be sure and get your copy of Knitting from the Top Down with Wendy Bernard today!


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