Dora's Crochet Corner- How to Successfully Substitute Yarn.

The following it our 4th installation of the Crochet Corner by Dora Ohrenstein of Enjoy!

Say you've found the perfect crochet project, but can't find the yarn, or feel it's beyond your budget.  How do you know what yarn to use instead?  Substituting yarns can be scary!  Today I'd like to share some information to keep in mind when confronted with this situation.

Brown Sheep Burlyspun
a Super bulky Single Ply
When you decide on a project, first take a good look at what it is that attracts you to it. Is the shape, form, color, stitch pattern?  If it's a garment, notice the way the fabric drapes on the model -- is it falling in fluid folds around the body, or does it have more structure? This is a topic I delved into on my last post (May25).  Next, look at the description of the yarn used -- what is the weight of the yarn, and what fibers are in it.

CYCA has developed standards for yarn weights, ranging from the finest lace weight yarns to bulkies and even super bulkies. Among the terms widely used in the U.S. are:
lace, fingering, sock, sport, DK, light worsted, worsted, Aran weight, bulky, chunky, super bulky, super chunky, etc.

Debbie Bliss Angel, a
Mohair & Silk Blend
These terms can be used as a guide, but will only take you so far, for numerous reasons.  Firstly, no category is strictly defined, so, for example, whether a yarn is called worsted, light worsted or DK is a decision the yarn company makes.  One company's sport might be another's DK!  I'm sure there are reasons behind these decisions, but it means the consumer needs to know more than just the category to make a good choice when substituting one yarn for another.  Clearly, it will be hard to duplicate the gauge of a pattern if you're using a different weight of yarn.  Or, if your yarn is heavier than what is used in the original, you might be able to get gauge but the fabric will be too dense and stiff.

Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino
a DK weight with a tight ply. 
Another factor that affects crochet fabric is the spin and structure of a yarn.  Plied yarns, for example, can be twisted very tightly, or less so.  You can often tell by looking at the strand carefully:  if the plies are running at a sharp angle, almost perpendicular to the strand of yarn, then the yarn is tightly spun and will have a lot of bounce, and strong stitch definition.  If the plies are almost parallel to the strand itself, it's loosely spun and will be softer, smoother, with stitches that are less well-defined. 

Rowan Lima- a Chainette yarn.
But how does that affect the project?  Some crochet stitches need very strong definition to be legible to the eye.  If what you like about a particular design is the way stitches pop, then you will want to substitute a yarn that yields similar results.  Other patterns look better with a softer finish:  one of my lease favorite things in crochet is the backs of tall stitches.  But if the yarn is less defined -- as in a fuzzy mohair -- it doesn't bother me at all.

Manos Maxima-
A Single Ply Merino Wool
Some yarns are not plied at all - they are called singles and are very smooth, but have some drawbacks:  they are more likely to pill over time.  Another type of manufacturing process is called "chainette", where the surface of the yarn looks like a very fine knitted tube.  I particularly like these for crochet, because they are light and lofty.  A large piece made of chainette yarn will weigh much less than the same piece made with plied yarn.

 Naturally, the fibers used in a yarn have great impact on how the finished fabric looks, acts, and feels as well.  If the pattern you're making has a high content of silk, a lustrous, very fluid fiber, it will be completely different if made with cotton, which is much stiffer and may not have the same sheen. 

Blue Sky Alpacas Skinny Cotton-
100% Cotton
Please don't be discouraged by all these factors though!  What I've learned over time is that experience teaches a lot.  I recommend that crocheters try all sorts of different yarns. There are only so many types of fibers and spins, and as you work with more of them, your judgement on how to use them improves. 

Cascade Venezia Sport- Wool & Silk
The best way to know if your substitute yarn will work for a pattern is, of course, to make a swatch.  Can you get the pattern's gauge with this yarn? How does the fabric look and feel?  Is the stitch pattern clear?  I've often heard that people don't like to swatch, and yet it's crucial to success.  Just as a fine chef tastes ingredients before making a meal, or a painter mixes colors before setting brush to canvas, the preparation for a project is your swatch. 

I'd love to see comments and/or questions here about your personal experiences with substituting yarns.


PS. We'd love to announce the winner of the Knit Red book from Tuesday's post! Thanks to choosing a random number for us, the winner is: Commenter #1- Janet who said: 

"I love Kristen's red-heart-lace bag - adorable!"

Janet, please e-mail us at to claim your book!

Thanks so much to everyone who commented and for supporting Stitch Red and Knit Red!

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