At my regular Monday night class at the Yarnery last week ,there were three students with yarn sub questions. It got me thinking, so I thought I’d think here. I keep putting off this type of writing on the blog, but I need to do it to keep my ideas somewhere I can find them!
The topic of yarn substitution could cover an entire book. Or at a bare minimum a 3-hour workshop. I thought I’d start discussing it because one of the premises of Drop Dead Easy Knits is that the patterns use basic yarns (yarn-store yarn) at a basic gauge to allow for easy subbing.
I’ve re-knitted a few of the projects in other yarns. I’ve been happy with the results and learned a few lessons. Always more to learn in life, isn’t there?
For this initial bit of chat, I’m focusing on the Star-Eyed Julep blanket from DDE. (Photo by Gale Zucker.)
It is an extremely clever bit of log-cabin construction from Mason Dixon Knitting, one of our guest designers. Guest designer sounds like we put them up in a lovely cottage and fed them treats while they worked. Not hardly. Lots of email and airmail and they had to provide their own snacks..
Let’s unpack this, shall we? I just said that because ‘unpack’ is the current phrase I love to hate. I want to smack the people who use it constantly in work meetings, like the zillion I sat through this week. I hate unpacking my regular suitcase or even grocery bags. I’m not going to unpack a perfectly explained bit of a project.
Ok, rant over. The obvious first place to start when looking to sub is the yarn label. If the pattern calls for a worsted-weight yarn, look at the yarn shop for yarn labeled as such. Warning – what yarn companies say about their yarn and what others who have knit with it believe is not always the same thing. More on that in a future post.
The blanket was designed with Rowan Pure Wool Worsted, but I’m currently knitting Star-Eyed Julep in Berroco Ultra Wool. A change in distribution has made it harder for some US shops to stock the Rowan at the moment, so we wanted to show it another yarn. Also, the Ultra Wool is really nice yarn and widely available in the US and Canada.
There are plenty of other popular worsted weight wool yarns that could work, and acrylic blends, as well. (Canadiana, Vintage, Encore come to mind.) Check the label, talk to the sales person, and most of all, SWATCH.
Does it feel the way you want it to feel? Drape in the right way? Only you can decide that.
If you decide to purchase yarn online, think about buying only one skein initially, or make sure you can return it. I have a couple of bins of yarn that didn’t work as intended…
Back to the yarn label. From the Rowan website for Pure Wool Worsted:
Yarn Ball Weight: 100g Yarn Meterage/Yardage: 200/219 Tension/Gauge Stitches: 20 Tension/Gauge Rows: 25
From the Berroco website for Ultra Wool:
Ball Weight: 3.5 oz / 100 g Ball Length: 219 yds / 200 m Knitting Gauge #1: 4.5 sts = 1" on size 8 US / 5 mm needles 18 sts & 24 rows = 4" (10cm) Knitting Gauge #2: 5 sts = 1" on size 7 US / 4.5 mm needles 20 sts & 27 rows = 4" (10cm)
Both yarns are 100% superwash wool. Looks like a close match to substitute. Easy decision.
What about colors?
I rarely make something with the colors shown, even when using the suggested yarn. In this case, I wanted to try and match the colors in the book photos, since that is so often what knitters want. Plus, in addition to being Drop Dead Easy, it is Drop Dead Gorgeous. Those MDK folks are geniuses.
I opted for Ultra Wool, and Berroco generously supplied yarns that appeared to be an excellent match for the colors. Did I take my own advice and swatch? I did not. Well, I did for gauge, but not for colors. I have even participated in a silly video of tips that reminds knitters of an easy way to check for adequate contrast. I should know better. I did know, within a few rows of introducing the medium grey, Fog, that the contrast wasn’t going to work. Also, Fog looked more blue in when knitted up with the other colors than it did in the skein. (Color theory explains the why, which I don’t remember, although it has been explained to me. I just know it does.)
What did I do? I kept knitting. “And still she persisted.” isn’t always a good thing, I guess. I even took a picture at one point to convince myself that it would work. The black and white to show lack of contrast is on the right. If it weren’t for the blue tone, which I can’t quite reproduce here, I might have kept going, because I didn’t want to stop.
The worst thing about ripping out log cabin-style construction? So many little balls of yarn. Such much more ripping that a few rows of normal knitting. SWATCH!!
I tracked down another grey, Storm, that I think is working. Really. It is. Storm isn’t a heathered color as the others are, but that is ok with me. I know it bothers some people to mix heathered and solid, but I have never understood that preference.
Before, the mix with Fog
After, with Storm – Partially used skein, so it looks a bit flat.)
A redone square, in progress.
Are you looking for other color ideas? Drop Dead Easy Color Genius Kirsten Kapur pulled a few together to get you started thinking. Remember, we chose these from colors on a monitor. Your mileage may vary.
I am glad no one in my office is unpacking things at the moment!
I think you should just turn this Into to a proposal for your next book. Speaking of books I have a cookbook I need to discuss with you and the accompanying show to binge watch before the ground thaws. I need a MLE fix!
The Book is Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard and the show is A Chef’s Life. I am certain You are already familiar with both.
This is great! I almost always end up substituting yarns, because I am all about immediate gratification (and supporting my LYS), and hate to wait until something comes in the mail. I’m not so bad at figuring out gauge (I’ve even been known to knit things in totally different-weight yarns, figuring out which pattern size will get me what I want), but color is a whole nother kettle of fish…
Thanks for this. I am always annoyed when a designer specifies some esoteric yarn for a project that is really expensive and difficult to track down. It seems self-indulgent on their part.
For upcoming posts how about addressing what to think about/expect when subbing using different weights? I’ve had some great experiences using light worsted in place of fingering for a shawl. Of course the mileage did vary!
If not a book, this whole subject would be a popular class on the Sheep & Wool circuit. We in the mid-Atlantic would love to see you at Maryland Sheep & Wool! Just saying.
I have found YarnSub —
helpful, especially because where I might be comparing two yarns I have in hand, they sometimes have a half-dozen suggestions, so there are a lot more options for me to choose from.