There are many, many knitting patterns out there. So are yarns. We cannot carry all of them. However, we are pretty good at finding substitutes.

For some patterns it is easier (worsted weight anyone? we have lots!) for others we have to be on our toes and think around the corner. In most cases we do find a yarn that pleases and fits any bill. I think it is a good idea to tell you how it is done, it is not a trade secret that I cannot reveal, it is a lot to do with labels, composition and a calculator. Scared yet?

First of all, thanks to some industry revolution in the yarn business – I do hope it wasn’t bloody! – we have nowadays a systematic to classifiy yarns into several categories, which itself is an enormous help when you are looking for a substitute. I mean, there always has been a certain system, but with the arrival of modern yarns and so many options how yarn can be produced (yes, spinning is still one very good option, then again: ever heard of that yarn that was blown away? I’m not kidding.) it needed something better.

In the old system there was 4ply, 6ply, 8ply, 10ply, 12ply; the more plies, the thicker the yarn. Makes sense, eh? Enter the novelty yarns. Oy vey. No plies to be had. So one very clever soul (or maybe a lot of them) came up with the idea of grouping the yarn into gauge-related groups. Which makes total sense. I am not saying this system is flawless, I have often disagreed with it, but it is much better than having to figure it out the old way.

Now there are names for the different yarn weights. And those names are associated with gauge. Here is the list, starting with the thinnest yarns:

Cobweb  – Often a single ply yarn, though not necessarily. You’ll need a really small needle to knit this up at the gauge recommended: Anything from 32 to 42 stitches per 4″ is game, if it is lace you knit with it, it might be less stitches per 4″.

Lace – (2ply) Essentially two plies of cobweb yarn. Of course there will be differences in the actual thickness, the gauge ranges from whatever the lace pattern calls for up to 32 stitches per 4″.

Light Fingering – (3ply) Something between Lace and Fingering; I wager the gauge is between 28 and 32 stitches.

Fingering – (4ply); gauge ranges from 26 to 32 stitches. There is no separate category for sock yarns, though most of them are fingering weight.

Sport – (5ply); slightly thicker than Fingering this yarn knits up at gauges ranging from 23 to 26 stitches.

DK (Double Knit) – (8ply); this yarn usually knits up to a gauge of 21 to 23 stitches per 4″.

Worsted Weight – (10ply) There are so many worsted weights out there that it seems necessary to even categorize into ‘light worsted’ and ‘heavy worsted’. Worsted weight yarns knit up from 17 to 20 stitches per 4″.

Aran – (10ply); Slightly thicker than worsted weight this yarn knits up at 15-17 stitches per 4″.

Bulky – (12ply); knits up from 12-14 stitches per 4″

Anything bigger than that is categorized into ‘Super Bulky‘ – and yes, it knits up in anything less than 12 stitches per 4″.

The gauges given are referring to Stockinette Stitch swatches knit up with the recommended needle sizes.

Let me just mention at this point that if you feel discouraged by this load of information and think “I’ll never be able to remember all of this!” – I only encountered all of the above about 8 years ago when I started working for a designer and later on for a yarn company and had to learn it, too!


Yarns according to their classification.

A knitting pattern usually specifies the category of yarn it is knit in. If it doesn’t, gauge can be an indicator. I cannot neglect to mention that when we are not sure of the category of the yarn we refer to and their huge yarn data base. As I have specified in a former post, there can be a discrepancy between gauge in pattern and on the label. Always check the needle size the pattern is knit in – it often gives an explanation for any difference.

The second clue to a successful substitution is the composition of the yarn. If it is 100% wool it is usually straightforward. If it is a mix, there are some factors to be considered. We’ll always point those out to make your decision easier. For example, a sweater knit in a bulky wool yarn is not as heavy as the same sweater in a cotton. Amongst other things this can affect the fit. A sweater knit in a very drapey yarn looks different knit up in mohair. Having said all this, in the end the decision is up to you and your likings.

Lastly, check the yardage. Here is where the calculator comes into play. Once you have found a yarn you would like to work with, check the yardage of the pattern in the size you want to knit. For example: The pattern asks for 10 50g balls of XX with a yardage of 126 per ball. Meaning you need 1260 yds to knit the sweater. The yarn you chose has 145 yards per ball, so how many balls do you need? Take your calculator and divide 1260 by 145. The result is 8.69. Since we cannot sell you 8.69 balls of a yarn, you would have to buy 9 balls of said yarn to complete the sweater in your size.

As you can see now, there is no secret to figuring out which yarn works with the pattern you chose. It is more or less fact checking – facts you get from the yarn, pattern and – if needed – the internet. One of our tricks: If the pattern is listed on ravelry, check what yarns other people used to knit it. Which I still consider “fact checking”!

Happy Knitting, as ever!

– Mona

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