A Guide to Yarn Substitution

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How many of us find ourselves in this situation?…we find a pattern we like, oh it’s beautiful…but….

You add up the cost of all those balls of lovely wool used in the design and almost faint at the outcome! Oh no, ONE MILLION FLORINS! (or currency of your choice) just for a sweater/socks/shawl!

Quick, send chocolate….


But don’t panic, we can substitute.

I’ve used metres throughout here, but you can use yards instead if needed. Always use the same unit, either the metres or the yards, when making all your calculations.

Hopefully, the pattern will give you the total number of metres of yarn used for the size you want to make. Make a note of this number. You can see it here in one of my patterns. So for Mariana in a size 42-44 you will need 930 yards/851 metres.

yarn tut 1


If your pattern has no total yards or metres, you will need to work this number out based on the recommended yarn. You’ll need two things, the number of balls/skeins/etc the pattern tells you, and the yarn name. Here’s another of my patterns, Filigree, just as an example. You can see it uses Rowan Cocoon, 5 ½ balls.

yarn tut 2

You can look up yarns in several places online. Now we need to find out the number of metres per ball of Rowan Cocoon.

On the manufacturer’s site (will give you the most up-to-date and correct info usually)

Here is the Rowan link for Cocoon

On Ravelry (also useful for reading comments about the yarn which may help you in picking a substitute with similar qualities)

Here is the Ravelry yarn page for Cocoon

On Yarndex (very useful for vintage and discontinued yarns)

Here is the Yarndex page for Cocoon.

So we can see from these pages that each ball of Rowan Cocoon is 115 metres.

We need 5 ½ skeins, so we need to multiply the metres per skein, by the number of skeins to get the total metres for our pattern.

115 x 5.5 = 632 metres

Now we have the total number of metres/yards we will need to knit Filigree.

The next most important thing is to pick a yarn with properties that are quite close, if we want to achieve a similar effect to the pattern photo. Rowan Cocoon is a chunky weight yarn. So we will pick a chunky. Cocoon has wool content. This helps a little with a lace design when it is blocked out. Well we can still have that, even on a much lower budget. Cocoon is a smooth yarn, and comes in muted solid shades. Lets see what we can find…this is the fun part! Just have a browse around for chunky yarns that have what you’re looking for.

Picked out your substitute yarn? Great. Now lets work out how much we need to buy.

For this example, I’ve picked out Hayfield Chunky with Wool. Now this comes in 100g skeins. Rowan Cocoon comes in 100g skeins. Yet Hayfield Chunky has more metres/yards per skein. So if we did a straight substitution of the number of skeins and interpreted that as needing 5 ½ skeins of Hayfield Chunky with Wool, there would be enough left over to knit a small child (possibly, as yet untested…).

So, have a look at the ball band, or do an internet search again for the substitute yarn as before.

Our total metres/yards needed is 632

Our substitute, Hayfield Chunky with Wool has 145 metres/yards per ball.

So next we divide the total metres by metres per ball of the substitute.

 632 ÷145 = 4.35

This last number is the number of skeins of substitute yarn you will need to knit Filigree. Of course we can’t buy partial skeins, so for Cocoon we would need to buy 6. For Hayfield Chunky with Wool we would need to buy only 5.

So if you made it in Rowan Cocoon,

you would need to buy 6 skeins @ £9.50 each = £57

If you made it in Hayfield Chunky with Wool

You would need to buy 5 skeins @ £3.79 each = £18.95

Substituting has reduced the price to purchase the yarn for this shawl substantially. And if you happened to have partial skeins of your chosen yarn and working from stash, even better!

And here is a little of the lace pattern in the substitute yarn. This was a test swatch. Looks just as nice as it does in the pricier yarn! yarn tut 3


Here is a handy Pocket Reference for you to use, just fill in the numbers and you are ready to get stitching!yarn tut 4

Prices used in the examples are taken from the Deramores website, Feb 2014.

Filigree will of course include total metres/yards, will not actually contain a photo of me in front of my filing cabinet, and is currently in the testing/editing phase. To be released in March 2014, watch this space….!

Chocolate Bar and Wrapper pattern by Craftbits