Yarn Substitution and Measuring Gauge – Part I

September 4, 2007 at 8:36 am 4 comments

Figuring out how to find a good yarn substitute for a knitting or crochet pattern can be a challenge.

Sometimes, it’s a cinch if the yarn is more basic and has a “common” gauge (e.g. 4 or 5 stitches to the inch).

Other times, it can be more difficult if the original yarn used in the pattern has a special blend or unique characteristics…

Here are some basic tips on substituting yarn and measuring gauge.

(If you have a great tip to share on yarn substituting, please email it to advice@sweaterbabe.com.)

If you want to test a yarn and see if it might substitute well for the yarn called for in a pattern, the most important thing is the match the gauge.

Using the needles or hook size suggested in the pattern, make a gauge swatch, i.e. knit or crochet a small 4″ x 4″ or so sample in your yarn.  Work the sample in whatever stitch pattern is stated in the Gauge section of your pattern. 

Sometimes, it will just be St st, or sc.  Sometimes, the gauge is given with the specific lace, cable, or whatever special pattern stitch is used in the project.  If this is the case, making the swatch is also a great opportunity for you to try out the pattern stitch and make sure you feel comforable doing it.  If the pattern stitch is worked over a multiple of 10 sts plus 1, for example, use the closest multiple that will give you enough of a swatch to measure your gauge nicely.  So, if in this same example, the Gauge says 20 sts = 4″, then cast on 21 sts to do 2 repeats of the pattern stitch.

When making a gauge swatch, make sure you work at least 3-4″ , and then BIND OFF!  Resist the urge to measure while your swatch is still on your needles, as it is too easy to make your measurements “fit” the desired gauge.  Be careful not to cast off too tightly as well.

You may also wish to block the swatch (if you plan to block the finished item as well) before measuring to be even more accurate.

Lay the swatch out on a flat surface (a table, not your lap!) and measure with a ruler or tape measure.  Measure across your swatch and count full stitches, NOT half or partial stitches.  If you are looking across your ruler and the 3″ marker does not nicely land at the edge of a stitch, then look at the 4″ marker and see if that is at the edge of a stitch.  If still not, then try the 5″ marker, etc.

If you find that you have MORE stitches per inch than the pattern Gauge, then try your swatch again with a larger needle or hook.

If you find that you have LESS stitches per inch than the pattern Gauge, then try your swatch again with a smaller needle or hook.

If your gauge is still not matching, you can keep trying, or you may have to try a different yarn.  Some yarns are just not good substitutes for each other because of yarn weight or the fiber.  You may also reach a point that the gauge you are getting is “close enough.”  This may work for you if your project is a blanket or something where fit is not crucial.  Do remember that even being a half stitch off can get multipled across the full width of a sweater or blanket and give you a dramatically different width than what you intended AND may eat up more yarn (if your gauge was larger, i.e. you had fewer stitcher per inch) than you wanted (and therefore cost more $$!).  Just beware.

Generally, stitch gauge is FAR more important than row gauge.  The number of stitches you cast on or use for your rows defines your width and can’t be changed without altering the pattern.  If your row gauge is slightly off, you can usually just knit or crochet a few extra or less with no problem. 

Here are some initial thoughts on finding possible yarn substitutes for a pattern:

— Use the internet to search on “substitute for [yarn brand] [yarn name]” or a similar search. You may find good yarn substitutes that others have used and commented on in their blogs. It’s worth a shot.

— Try your local yarn shop and ask the salespeople for some advice. If they have a decent selection, you may be able to find something similar just by browsing around.

— If your local yarn shop is not a good option or you can’t find anything there… try to search online yarn shops for similar yarns. See what yarn weight category the original yarn is and search the yarns that are a similar weight.

More on this topic in a future post!  Please comment with your thoughts, questions, and tips!


Entry filed under: Ask SweaterBabe, Knitting Questions and How to.

Understanding Knitting Instructions What’s Hot at Friends of Wool.

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Adrienne  |  September 30, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    I am knitting a 1940s-vintage men’s sweater vest, and I suddenly can’t understand a repeat instruction. The instructions are to do particular stitches for a row and to repeat that row 4 times. Does that mean do the row and then do it 4 more times, or do the row plus 3 repeats? I can’t believe I haven’t been confounded by this before.
    Thanks for any clarification.

  • 2. Katherine aka SweaterBabe  |  October 5, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Hi Adrienne,

    I would interpret that to mean do the stitches for a row, then do it 4 MORE times. When in doubt, I take it as “straight-forwardly” as I can. Look at the next section too and see if it indicates whether you should be on the wrong side or right side and maybe that will give you more clarification (assuming the thing you are repeating is only 1 row and you are doing it on consecutive rows [vs. every other]). Hope that helps! Katherine

  • 3. Adrienne  |  October 27, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Hi, Katherine-
    As you suggested, I did read (and reread and reread) beyond that point and I believe you are absolutely correct.
    Thanks so much for your help (and please stand by 🙂

  • 4. Yarn Substitution for a knitting pattern.  |  March 28, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    […] For more on measuring and matching gauge… you can see this previous post on this same topic at: http://sweaterbabe.com/WordPressBlog/knitting-questions-and-how-to/yarn-substitution-and-measuring-gauge-part-i/. […]

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