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How to successfully substitute yarn for a knitted pattern

by Fiona Stevenson

Yesterday, we threw aside knitting a swatch and dove into our project with wild abandon. Today we’re ditching the yarn recommendation of the Faroese Style Shawl pattern for the wild and lovely Bamboo Bloom Handpaint by Universal Yarn.

Some people, I understand, actually insist on using the exact same yarn that’s recommended by the designer of their knitting pattern. I’m not one of those people. I like to substitute different yarns, especially if I think it will bring a new dimension to the project. Even with my years of experience, I can make a mistake in my substitute yarn choice, but that’s kind of the adventure of it. If you’re up for it, you can toss the pattern yarn recommendation to the wind, and take a leap of faith, too.

 

My choice of substitute yarn for the Faroese Style Shawl

 

 

Sometimes it’s best to take baby steps when veering away from the designer’s choice of yarn. If you’re a newbie knitter, or have just never substituted yarn before; it’s best to take it easy on your first attempt.

Choose a different yarn that has the same gauge as the pattern. It’s safest to keep the same fiber content. You can swap a superwash wool for a regular Merino, for example. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can try a yarn with a different fiber content (ie: switching wool for acrylic).

Be careful when you switch fibers, though. Each one has different qualities that may or may not work with your pattern. Click here to see some of the differences between fibers. Substituting a yarn with different qualities, but of the same gauge means you don’t have to adjust the pattern to achieve the right fit. It’s safest when just starting out with yarn switching to stick to non-fitted item like the knitted items list I put in yesterday’s post.

 

Top: Bamboo Bloom, Lights Out
Bottom: Bamboo Bloom, Handpaint Sensei

 

Okay, say you’re a bit more of an experienced knitter, now you can really begin to play! You can switch yarns of different types, weights, and colors. With my Faroese Style Shawl, I substituted Poems Silk with Bamboo Bloom but kept the same 8mm needles. Because this project was a shawl, I knew fitting wouldn’t be an issue. If you want to make something fitted with a different gauge of yarn, you’ll need to adapt the pattern to ensure a proper fit.

For example, if you’ve chosen to use a worsted weight yarn instead of a DK, you may decide to go down a needle size to get the gauge (caution this will make a stiffer fabric). You could also choose to knit with the recommended needle size (usually US7 [4.5mm] for worsted), and do a size smaller than you would with DK. Since the worsted gauge is slightly bigger your knitted item will be a size up. So a ‘small’ knitted item should come out close to a ‘medium’ hopefully.

I suggest, when you begin substituting yarn, to do a couple of things to ensure you get a project you can enjoy. First, until you’ve had some experience with it, choose to switch either yarn weight or fiber content, not both. Second, if you’re not sure about the yarn you chose, go to your LYS, stop by a community knitting group, or visit Uncle Gustav (or any fabulous knitter you know) to get advice. Getting a second opinion about your yarn choice with the pattern you’ve chosen can save you a lot of heartache and time.

Change your yarn, change your knitting. In this example, I’m knitting up the Faroese Style Shawl in the adventurous and exciting Universal Yarn Bamboo Bloom Handpaint

 

Things can get a bit tricky when substituting yarn, but that’s where the magic happens. Be brave. Be adventurous. Be a rebel. Make it your yarn, your project, your vision.

Tomorrow let’s spin the wheel of fortune one more time, and rewrite the Faroese Style Shawl, from the name to lace border, to suit our fancy. And what better yarn to be adventurous with than Universal Yarn Bamboo Bloom Handpaint! Sometimes you just gotta go off-script, and go wild!

 

 

This is part 3 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 2: Swatch out! When, in knitting, is it okay to skip the swatch?

Go to part 4: Express yourself: change a knitting pattern and make it your own!

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