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3 things to consider when substituting yarns

by Charles Voth

Yarn substitution is a bit of a fine art. Today we’ll look at how best to substitute yarn so that you can use Universal Yarn Bella Cash to knit up your favorite sport weight yarn pattern or find a really good pattern to match.

Bella Cash from Universal Yarn is versatile and knits up to a variety of gauges with different needle sizes

Yarn label information shows fiber composition, recommended needle sizes, and suggested gauge.

Yesterday I covered the benefits of knitting with Bella Cash. I did some clicking around looking for patterns to knit up with this luxurious yet affordable yarn. One of the many exciting free patterns offered by Universal Yarn, designed for knitting with Bella Cash, is the ZigZag Lace Hat.

This free zig-zag lace hat pattern out of Bella Cash is completely reversible.

This zigzag lace hat out of Bella Cash is completely reversible, and the pattern is free!

It’s a remarkable pattern because it’s reversible. The zigzag lace stitch pattern looks great on both sides and you can even add buttons to both sides of the brim. It takes only 1 ball, making it a great way to try out Bella Cash.

But let’s say that you want more than a hat. You do a search for a #2 sport-weight yarn on Ravelry for an item that you want to knit and you find hundreds, if not thousands, of designs to choose from. You can also use the advanced search option to narrow your search down to fiber type, needle size, and gauge, too.

These are all important factors when choosing which yarn you want to substitute with another. It’s so nice to have this information at our fingertips!

When I worked in a yarn store 30 years ago, all we had to work with was the weight of the yarn in balls and the gauge in the pattern. We could find fiber content on the labels, but at that time only half of the companies listed yards or meters on the ball bands, and, if you didn’t have the distributor’s catalog, there was no way of knowing what yardage was. If a pattern called for 500 grams of worsted weight yarn, we would sell 500 grams of worsted weight yarn. We tried to convince the customers that an extra skein or ball was a good idea because we knew yardage varied, but we had little to go by.

The 10% cashmere Bella Cash yarn on the right is just as soft as the 100% cashmere on the right, and it gives better stitch definition.

Fiber content and twist are important factors when substituting yarns

I’ve learned so much more since those days!

First, yards per ounce or meters per gram is a very important number in yarn substitution. Check that first! Always.

The next consideration is the fiber content. Different fibers have different masses. Man-made fibers are generally lighter than wool and cotton, but not necessarily other natural fibers. This will affect the weight and ultimately the yardage. Fiber content also affects drape and elasticity and memory. Will gravity pull on a nylon-wool blend as much as on a cotton-acrylic blend? Probably not. Try to get a similar ratio of the different kinds of fiber content.

The next thing to consider is twist. Does the original yarn have a single-ply, 2-ply, or 4-ply construction? Is the yarn tightly or loosely twisted? Is it dense or lofty? Each of these factors will affect how the stitches look—crisp and pronounced or fuzzy and blended—and how it drapes. Where possible, try to find a substitute that has a similar twist and number of plies.

Bella Cash has a nice twice that yields amazing stitch definition compared to the more loosely twisted merino silk blend yarn.

The merino silk (top-left) has a looser twist, but knits more densely because of the fiber content. Bella Cash has nylon which, with the merino content, makes Bella Cash a loftier, and therefore lighter, yarn.

Color is, of course, somewhat important, but more in the case of ombre, variegated, or gradient yarns. Because Bella Cash all comes in solid colors, this consideration doesn’t apply here. I usually leave color out of the mix because it’s nearly impossible to find a decent match, even with solids.

Yarn thickness is another issue. Bella Cash has a range of suggested needle sizes and stitch gauges, so it’s apparent that the final look of the knit fabric will be very dependent on your knitting tension and needle choice.

As with any other project, it’s crucial to swatch to make sure you like the look of the fabric — if it’s close “enough” or really a good match. I recommend an 8″ x 8” or larger swatch, however, as drape really is hard to render in a little 4″ x 4” block.

The single ply wool yarn on the left is also a fingering weight, but its lack of twist and natural halo will knit up quite differently than Bella Cash, even if the gauge for both yarns is the same.

This single ply wool yarn is also a fingering weight, but it’s lack of twist and fuzz halo will naturally knit up quite differently than Bella Cash, even if the gauge is the same.

If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a great (new-to-me) website called It has a remarkable collection of yarn substitution options. It not only compares yarns similarly to the way I mention above, but it also provides a ballpark price comparison. The folks at also compare the put-ups of the different yarns, so you can avoid buying ten 50g skeins when you needed ten 100g skeins.

Bella Cash knits up much more evenly than this hemp, cotton, cashmere blend, which has no elasticity, will.

The lavender yarn on the left is a hemp, cotton, and cashmere blend. The sheer number of plies will make the knit fabric look different. In addition, the hemp yarn has no elasticity and every slight change in tension will be visible.

Look up Bella Cash on Ravelry and see what patterns people have made with it, or find designs that are specific to that yarn on the Universal Yarn site. Then you can check the gauge instructions, knit a test swatch, and you’re off to make a lovely knit out of a cashmere merino and nylon blend yarn, at a fraction of the cost of 100% cashmere.

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing more about different stitch patterns, and Universal Yarn Bella Cash.

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: Bella Cash-merely affordable luxury yarn



Heather Starastin July 2, 2017 - 9:37 pm

Really good advice here – I had never heard of Yarnsub and will definitely give it a go. Thank you!

pamela j July 2, 2017 - 1:11 pm

Thank you for this much needed information.

Jo B July 2, 2017 - 11:59 am

Thanks for the info. I enjoyed reading this.

Wanda B June 30, 2017 - 8:15 pm

It was good to read this advice. I’ve had a couple of disasters by doing this the wrong way.

Mary June 30, 2017 - 6:51 am

Thanks for sharing yarnsub, it looks like a great resource! Definitely something I wish I’d known about when I first started to knit-I was working with what was in my tiny local craft store, and assumed that yarn was basically yarn, as long as the gauge was right. Led to some interesting results on early projects, and took a while to realize the reason it didn’t look like the pictures wasn’t user error, but the yarn!

Trish O'Brien June 27, 2017 - 8:20 pm

Excellent information to have at your fingertips!!


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