Friday, December 28, 2018

Substituting Yarns in Knitting Patterns

Have you ever wondered what happens when you use a different yarn than the pattern calls for? Depending on the type of yarn you are using, your project could be larger, smaller, drapier, denser, or (if you're lucky!) the same as the sample using the specified yarn. Today, we'll talk about the effects of gauge, fiber content, and color usage when substituting yarn in any pattern.

Gauge Considerations
When substituting yarn in any pattern, it is critical to knit a gauge swatch before you do anything else! Even if a yarn is labeled as the same weight as the called-for yarn, it may behave differently when you knit with it. Make sure that your swatch is large enough to give you a sense of the fabric you'll be creating, and you'll also want to block it in the same manner you plan to do with the finished piece, whether it's hand washing in Allure, spray blocking, or steaming.


When measuring your gauge, count the stitches and rows in a 4-inch area in at least 3 different spots on your swatch, then take an average of those numbers to calculate your actual gauge in 4 inches. This will give you a more accurate measurement overall, since it's likely that every single stitch isn't uniform (after all, that's what gives a hand knit item character!).

If your gauge is too small, try going up a needle size. If your gauge is too large, try a smaller needle size to get the required number of stitches and rows. If you are still having trouble getting the required number of stitches or rows, you may need to pick one of your gauge swatches and do a little bit of math to figure out how the difference in gauge will affect your finished piece (we cover this topic more on this blog post).

Fiber Content
If you plan on substituting one yarn blend for another of the same yarn weight, your gauge swatch will also come into play here. How a specific fiber or blend of fibers behaves in a knitted piece is a very vast discussion, so we'll use an example from our own pattern catalog to illustrate the point: the Fir Trees Cowl was designed and knit in Seraphim, our angora-blend lace weight yarn. The resulting cowl has excellent stitch definition with a very slight halo and matte appearance; although the finished piece is soft and lightweight, it is also quite warm.

Fir Trees Cowl in Seraphim Yarn

Now, let's see this same pattern knit up in Shangri-La, our 50/50 blend of mulberry silk and yak down:
Fir Trees Cowl knit by Larkspur Studios in Shangri-La

The smoothness of the yarn provides crisp stitch definition, but the finished piece has a lot more drape and shine due to the mulberry silk content. By changing up the yarn, you can create a more polished look using the exact same pattern!

Color Usage
Some knitters are nervous about using different colors than what's used in the sample, especially for patterns requiring multiple colors of yarn. We have created several color palettes which are designed to be used together, making it easy to mix and match within a multi-color pattern.

Seriously, It's In Tasmania! is dyed for us by MJ Yarns - click here to see more of this year's color palettes.

Just because a pattern is shown knit up in one color doesn't mean that you can't get creative and use two! In our Explore Collection by Colorful Eclectic, each variegated color of Shangri-La yarn includes 5 variegated and 5 tonal colors which are designed to be used together. From this collection, we paired Mission with Choose to Accept to create a two-color version of our Outlander-inspired shawl, Blood of my Blood:


Originally knitted with 2 skeins of Ruby Shangri-La, the pattern is easily converted to a 2-color version by using 2 skeins of a variegated color for the body section and 1 skein of a tonal color for the lace border.


We've also seen lots of suggestions for using mini skeins in patterns, but have you ever thought about doing the opposite? The Danke Shawl uses two sets of our Lhasa Wilderness Mini Skein Sets, and would look just as lovely when knit with 2 colors of Lhasa Wilderness - try pairing a variegated color from the Reflections Collection with a semisolid color from our house colors for a unique twist on this fun-to-knit shawl, Another option for this pattern is to use two different sets of mini skeins for an more colorful version!

The Mahalo Cowl could also be converted into a two-color project. When choosing your yarn colors, you will want to find the right amount of contrast to bring out the mosaic stitch design; a fun trick you can use is to photograph your skeins of yarn together, then convert to a grayscale image to see if you have enough contrast!

We hope this post inspires you to "think outside the box" and perhaps even color outside of the lines with your next knitting project. Be sure to share what you're making with Bijou Spun Yarns using the #bijoubasinranch hashtag on Instagram for your chance to be featured on our account!

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