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Substituting and Estimating Yarn Amounts
by C.W. Carvalho
Certified Crochet Instructor, Certified Knitting Instructor, Certified Master Knitter

Found a pattern you love but don’t like the yarn used or can’t find it or afford it. How do you use the yarn you love with a pattern you love and make sure you have enough yarn to complete the project.

Commercial patterns are written for a specific yarn brand. To substitute a different yarn, first start with the commercial patterns suggested yarn weight, such as, bulky weight, worsted weight, fingering weight, or sport weight. Substitute a yarn of similar “weight” according to the chart below. You will never be able to substitute a fingering weight for a bulky weight yarn and have the finished project look right. You might be able to use double strands of yarn as substitutions if the gauge works out correctly.


Knitting Gauge

Crochet Gauge

Bulky Yarn – twice as thick as Worsted Weight Yarn 3 to 3-1/2 stitches per inch when worked on size 10 or 11 (USA) knitting needle 2 to 3 stitches per inch when worked on a size L, M, or N (USA) hook
Worsted Weight Yarn – twice as thick as Sport Weight Yarn 4 to 5 stitches per inch when worked on size 7, 8, or 9 (USA) knitting needle 3 to 4 stitches per inch when worked on a size G, H, or I (USA) crochet hook
Sport Weight Yarn – twice as thick as Fingering or Baby Weight Yarn 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 stitches per inch when worked on size 4 to 6 (USA) knitting needles 4 to 5 stitches per inch when worked on a size D, E, or F (USA) crochet hook
Fingering or Baby Weight Yarn 7 to 8 stitches per inch when worked on a size 1, 2, or 3 (USA) knitting needle 5-1/2 to 7 stitches per inch when worked on a size A, B, or C (USA) crochet hook

Next, look at the yardage and fiber content on the commercial pattern suggested yarn and compare to the yardage of your substitution yarn. The total yardage of the substitution yarn should be equal (and maybe a little bit more, just in case) to that of the total yardage on commercial pattern suggested yarn. For example, if the commercial pattern calls for 6 skeins of 100 yards each and the substitute yarn only has 50 yards per skein, you will need at least 12 skeins of the substitute yarn.

Do not compare yarns by their weights alone, look at the yardage and fiber content. 50 grams of mohair will probably be much lighter and therefore, have more yardage than 50 grams of cotton and you will require more yardage if your are substituting the cotton for the mohair. Also, because of the weight of dyes used in the dying process, 100 yards of black worsted weight yarn will “weight” more than 100 yards of pale pink worsted weight yarn. Therefore, if the original pattern calls for pale pink yarn, you will need more black yarn to complete the same project.

Weavers and spinners use a McMorran Balance to estimate the yardage of a yarn and this is a great tool for knitters and crocheters who want to substitute yarns. To use it, place the balance on the box (complete instructions are included with the Balance.) Next, cut a section of yarn and lay it across the notch on the balance. Trim off bits of the yarn until the arm balances. Great, now I have a short piece of yarn and what do I do with it. This short piece of yarn will tell you how many yards are in a pound of yarn. Simply measure the piece of yarn. The length of the yarn in inches multiplied by 100 equals the yardage per pound. For example, if the piece measures 7”, 7 x 100 = 700 yards per pound of yarn. If your commercial pattern calls for 700 yards of yarn, you will need one pound of the substitute yarn.

If you are designing your own original piece, the easiest way to “guestimate” is to use a commercial pattern yarn/yardage as a guide and just purchase a few extra skeins just to be on the safe side. For years, I’ve kept a workbook of items I’ve made and kept track of the yarns used, the needle/hook used, the gauge, and how much yarn needed to complete the project). This workbook is a valuable reference book when a new project is being planned. I simply look up what needle or hook I used with a specific yarn and look up how many skeins I needed to complete the project and buy the new yarn accordingly.

Finally, you want to make sure you have enough yarn to finish your project so buy a skein or two extra just to make sure you have enough. Most retailers will refund any leftover yarn if returned within a certain period of time. And keep in mind, that “leftover” combinations have made some of the loveliest afghans, hats, scarves, sweaters, or vests.

 copyright © MM, C.W. Carvalho. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This material is not for sale or reproductions without the written consent of the author. Do not copy or post to another web site.