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Have you ever found the perfect crochet pattern? One that lights up your creative muse, sending your heart into little flutters of anticipation? But then, as you read through the materials list- your face falls- you can’t use the yarn listed in the pattern!
Whether you have very specific color requests, or fiber allergies; when you live outside the shipping area of the yarn company, or the yarn is tragically discontinued (why, oh why do all the pretty yarns get discontinued!) at some point in your crochet career, you’ll need to substitute yarn.
Especially for crochet sweaters and sized garments, swapping yarn willy nilly can lead to disastrous results. “Little Billy’s New Christmas hat is too big for Dad” type results. And since those labors of love are often big investments of time, yarn, and money, you’ll want some help to make sure you get it right.
After you learn the yarn substitution tips in this article, you’ll be able to confidently stash dive and online shop, knowing your yarn choice will be a great fit for the project you’ve intended, AND meet all your special requirements. (Because Little Billy ONLY wears royal blue, not sky blue, or periwinkle. He’s a big kid.)
So don’t let substituting yarn for crochet patterns stop you from creating any longer! Here are my best tips for finding yarn substitutions for crochet (and knit!) patterns.
Pin this for the next time you need to swap yarn!
1. Look at Your Yarn Label
There’s a LOT of handy information listed on those yarn jackets! They do much more than just keep your yarn tidy.
For starters, you should consider substituting yarns that have the same yarn weight category. So if your pattern calls for a Worsted weight yarn, you’ll want a  weight yarn. This is usually prominent on the label.
The gauge swatch information helps you get even closer. You probably know that yarn weights can encompass a range of yarns that are all similar, but not exactly matched in weight. For example, Caron Simply Soft and Caron One Pound are both 100% acrylic  weight yarns, but Simply Soft works up much thinner than One Pound.
You can see this reflected in the gauge info listed on the yarn jacket. Caron Simply Soft is 18 stitches in 4″, and One Pound has only 16 stitches in 4″. While that doesn’t seem like such a big difference, if you do the math, it can go wildly off for a larger project.
A 36″ cowl, for example, would require 162 stitches in Simply Soft, and 144 stitches in One Pound. So if you are using a pattern written to measure 36″ with One pound, and substitute Simply Soft without swatching, your cowl would probably measure only 32″ around. Sure, it will still fit over your head, but it will lay and drape differently. And if you’re making a sweater, 4″ difference in the circumference will completely alter the fit and style.
2. Use the Ravelry Yarn Database for More Info
Occasionally, you’ll find that you might like more information than is available on your yarn jacket. When that’s the case, I like to use the Ravelry Yarn Database to help me find a substitute yarn.
For example, some of my luxury hand dyed yarns don’t have gauge information listed on the smaller label that fits on a twisted hank, but it is available on the Ravelry database page. You can also find the WPI listed.
When you’ve got all the info you need, you can then find appropriate substitutes in their advanced search. There are all sorts of tick boxes to play with to find the perfect yarn, but my recommendations are:
- Weight Category
- Discontinued (make sure it’s still available in stores!)
- Care (Machine washable, and Superwash for the win!)
3. Check the WPI of Unlabeled Yarn
One situation that’s uniquely frustrating is trying to use yarn that doesn’t have a label as a substitute. Of course you can (and should!) make a gauge swatch, but a quicker way to tell whether the yarn might work is to compare the WPI, or Wraps Per Inch.
You’ll be able to find the WPI of the suggested yarn in the pattern pretty easily on Ravelry, as mentioned just above. Then, you can compare your yarn to see if it fits.
To measure WPI, simply wrap your yarn around a ruler or other object. Make sure you don’t keep too much tension on the yarn, because that can cause the yarn to lay thinner against your surface. Keep it neat and tidy, but not tight.
Then, use a ruler to measure how many strands of yarn wrap around one inch of your material.
If you like cute keychains, I have this adorable WPI crocheter’s tool keychain that I bought on Etsy. Isn’t it cute? This makes it really easy for me to measure WPI, take gauge swatch measurements, and even open a cold one. Plus, it’s just adorable!
4. Check the Yarn Sub Website!
When you’re rushed for time, you can also check out the Yarn Sub website, at YarnSub.com. This awesome yarn database is a dream for yarn swapping!
This database analyzes the yarn suggested based on gauge, weight, fiber, and so many more categories I won’t list them all. It will give you a match percentage, and advice on whether you may need to adjust your hook/needle size to meet gauge.
The only reason I don’t use it ALL the time, is because this site places a heavy emphasis on matching fiber type, and for certain situations (i.e. allergy to a particular fiber), it’s a bit difficult to get the exact results you’re looking for.
That said, if you’re just looking for an updated suggestion for a discontinued yarn, this is the fastest way to find a substitute.
Do you use these tips for finding yarn substitutions?
Leave a comment and let me know which of these tips is most helpful for you, or tell us if there’s another tip you have for finding good yarn substitutions!