Choosing yarn for a project

One of my friends has asked me how I choose yarn for projects, and I realized that it’s an interesting, complex, almost endless topic.

The simplest answer – use the yarn that is suggested by the pattern :).  However, that’s not always possible, or you may simply want to try something different. Next safest bet is to find a substitute yarn that has similar fiber composition, and gr/m ratio. For example, Kid Seta by Schulana is 70% mohair and 30% silk, with 211 meters per 25 gr. Kid Seta by Madil/Grignasco would be an almost perfect substitute. It’s also 70% mohair and 30% silk, with 210 meters per 25 gr.  They yarns may differ slightly in feel and gauge, but are very close to each other. Haiku by Alchemy Yarns is similar, but with more differences. It’s 60/40 mohair and silk, and has 297 meters per 25 gr. So this yarn is thinner than the other two, and you may have more difficulty getting the same gauge. But still, overall it’s a lace yarn with silk and mohair, so you can create rather similar garments with Haiku and Kid Seta (either of them).

To move away even further in  your substitution choices, you need to analyse the garment that is the aim of the pattern in question. You need to look at the following questions: what should the fabric be like (i.e. drapes easily or stiff, lacy or not, shaped or not, whether it will tend to stretch out of shape etc). Then you need to select a yarn that will give you roughly the same fabric. This means that on one hand it should be in the same or similar weight category. The bigger the difference in weight, the more modifications you would need to make to the pattern, and the more different your creation would be from the original pattern. No one says you cannot take a lace shawl pattern, and use bulky yarn to make it. BUT!! You will need to use different size of needles. Your gauge will be very different, so to avoid a huuuuuge result, you’d change the number of pattern repeats (and possibly cast on different number of stitches). And, of course, you cannot expect your shawl to be as light and well-draping as the one on the picture of the pattern. So maybe modifying the whole thing to a scarf would be a great idea if you like the stitch… ALSO, unless you are looking to make a bold experiment, try to look for yarns that are made of fiber that has similar qualities as the originally suggested yarn. For example, if you are making a market bag, and the pattern calls for nylon thread, you can substitute with cotton, as it’s also strong and non-elastic, but using wool may be not a very wise choice – wool will stretch out with wear quickly, making your bag a mess. Unless you add a lining :).  Bear in mind that gr/m ratio is only an indicator of the thickness of the string within the same material. For example 100% nylon is very heavy. It can be 45 m/50g, with a thread that is somewhere in sports/DK range. To compare, wool will have maybe 120-130 m/50 gr with the same thickness. A good indicator in such extreme substitutions is look at suggested needle/hook size and gauge indication on the label.

This is what I love about knitting. There is hardly a thing you cannot do. There’s no knitting police, luckily. And there are so many ways to  do things, and to solve obstacles in the way. There are no hard and fool proof rules. You can but the same yarn as the pattern calls for, and still never get the same gauge and/or fabric texture. I never ever get the same gauge as the pattern. The more you knit (and/or crochet), the better feel you will get for what your gauge is like, and how different yarns behave (that is, if you try out different yarns). The more you experiment with substitution, the more mistakes you make along the way, the easier it become for you to choose yarns for projects. You have to learn what doesn’t work, in order to get to the stage where mistakes are less often.

Once you’ve got the yarn, you may want to make a proper swatch, to see if you get the gauge of the pattern and like the fabric. If the answer to both questions is yes, you’re good to go. If not, you may want to turn to something else, or you swatch until you get the right fabric, and then modify the pattern to accommodate gauge discrepancies. I will write soon about how to do that.


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  1. 2
    Karen Kupka

    Sometimes I delude myself that I am buying the right yarn for a project just so I can go buy more yarn when my first choice doesn’t work. Then I lose both receipts. I’m considering storing yarn in my oven, which I never use.

    I do, however, swatch.

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