Rosemary and Maxine, why are you thinking of substituting yarn for this pattern?
The recommended yarn for the pattern is Lion's Pride Woolspun which is 80% acrylic / 20% wool bulky weight (#5 in Craft Yarn Council yarn weight standards). The yarn has a lot of pluses going for it:
- It's sold exclusively through Michael's so it's ready available at several locations in our area and very affordable.
- It's very soft and cushy and feels wonderful.
- It's available in a wide variety of colors - this photo shows two of the colors. Maxine chose the light olive green on the right for her swatch and Rosemary chose the darker blue green on the left for her swatch. (As an aside, this also shows the difference between two crocheters - Rosemary made her swatch with a size K hook and Maxine made her swatch with size L - and both achieved gauge.)
But won't all yarns that are classified as #5 be bulky yarns?
Yes, it is true that all #5 yarns are classified as bulky but that does not mean that they are all exactly the same size. Some bulky yarns are, well, bulkier than others. You can't just look at the classification number of a yarn and automatically substitute any yarn with the same classification number.
How do you determine which yarns might be suitable for substitution?
The classification number is a good starting point. For example, for the CAL vest pattern, you could not easily substitute a #4 yarn because it would be almost impossible to make gauge. (Although if you're ready for some advanced work, see "Can't I rework the pattern to another yarn weight?" later in this blog article.)
For now let's assume you've found another bulky weight yarn that is a candidate for substitution. The one that we'll use to illustrate the process is Bernat Alpaca, a blend of 70% acrylic and 30% alpaca. The first step is to look at the yards per ounce and see if it's close to the suggested yarn. You shouldn't have to purchase the two yarns to do this comparison; Ravelry or the yarn manufacturer's website will usually provide this information.
The two yarns we're comparing are very close in yards per ounce, so Bernat Alpaca is a good candidate for substitution.
- One skein of Lion's Pride Woolspun is 3.5 ounce, 127 yard = 36.3 yd/oz
- One skein of Bernat Alpaca is 3.5 ounce, 120 yard = 34.3 yd/oz
The two yarns we're comparing differ in WPI. The Bernat Alpaca is definitely a lighter, less bulky yarn than the Lion's Pride Woolspun but, in this case, that's exactly what we wanted. This difference in WPI means that the Bernat Alpaca may take a larger hook then the LP Woolspun to achieve the same gauge.
- Lion's Pride Woolspun has 5 WPI
- Bernat Alpaca has 6 WPI
Once you have achieved gauge, there is a fourth and final step that makes a huge difference in your final result. Ask yourself: Do I like the feel of this fabric for the item that I'm making? If the answer is yes, then congratulations, you've found a good yarn for substitution. If the answer is no, then you're wise to keep looking rather than spend time working with a yarn that is not suitable for the project.
This photo shows the two swatches side by side - you may not be able to tell it here, but the Bernat Alpaca (purple) has much more drape than the Woolspun (green). Much as Maxine likes the soft, cushy olive green (her favorite color) Woolspun, she prefers the feel of the purple Bernat Alpaca fabric for her vest.
So what are some of the yarns you tried as substitutions for this pattern?
Altogether, Rosemary and Maxine made swatches with nine bulky-weight yarns and were able to achieve gauge with them all. Look below the photo for their comments.
Note: If you click on the picture, you'll see that each swatch has a number that corresponds to the number in the table below.
|Lion's Pride Woolspun (1)
80% acrylic, 20% wool
|Good color choice, easy to work with; not as much drape as some other yarns|
|Bernat Alpaca (2)
70% acrylic, 30% alpaca
|Good drape and feel, not a huge number of colors to choose from|
|Paton's Classic Wool Roving (3)
|Good drape but feels a little scratchy; single ply so good stitch definition; striking colors|
|Paton's Shetland Chunky (4)
75% acrylic, 25% wool
|Good selection of colors; very soft with good drape|
|Paton's Shetland Chunky Tweed (5)
72% acrylic, 25% wool, 3% viscose
|Small but sophisticated selection of colors; nice drape and very soft texture|
|Loops & Threads Woolike Chunky (6)
85% acrylic, 15% nylon
|Feels springy and spongy but does not have good drape; limited selection of colors|
|Lion Brand Jiffy (7)
|Soft fuzzy yarn, the lightest weight of all the bulkies (so it required a larger hook to get gauge); nice drape, excellent color selection|
|Lamb's Pride Bulky (8)
85% wool, 15% mohair
|The luxury yarn of the group, available at several LYS in a wide variety of colors; nice feel but not as much drape as some of the others|
|Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky Tweeds (9)
97% acrylic, 3% viscose
|Fairly good drape and feel; color selection very limited|
Can't I rework the pattern to another yarn weight?
She was not able to make gauge with the other yarn, Bernat / Vicky Howell Cottonish (also a #3); she was able to double the row count but not stitch count. This highlights what we said earlier - you can't assume two yarns will behave exactly the same just because they share the same weight classification number.
The other approach is to completely rework all stitch and row counts to the gauge of any weight yarn. You have to be willing to do a lot of calculations - and you have to be willing to experiment, knowing that experiments sometimes fail! These are the steps at a high-level for this approach:
- Make a generous swatch in the yarn you'd like to use, using the hook size that you feel makes the best fabric for the project. This is where some of the willingness to experiment comes into play - you may have to try several hook sizes.
- Note the stitches gauge and rows gauge that you achieved (traditionally over 4 inches).
- Look at the pattern to see if the schematic shows exact dimensions for each piece. If no dimensions are given, then you need to figure out the size (in inches) of each piece based on the gauge given in the pattern.
- Once you know the dimension in inches, divide those inches by gauge inches you achieved and then multiply by the gauge count. For example: If your back vest piece should be 20 inches wide and you achieved a gauge of 14 stitches and 12 rows over 4 inches, then you would perform the following math: 20 / 4 * 14 = 70 stitches.
- Repeat step 4 for every dimension; be sure to multiply by the row count for the vertical dimensions.