I thought it would be helpful to talk a little about substituting yarn today, especially because my latest design Reminisce uses yarn that is now (sadly) unavailable. I've been trying to design with yarn from my stash and so there will be cases where the yarn I've used or the colour I've chosen has been discontinued. You might find that this a reasonably common situation in any case, particularly where designers use yarn hand-dyed by indie dyers. The colourway they've chosen might be a one off, or the base they've used may have only been available for a short while.
Using yarn different to that specified in the pattern might be a terrifying prospect for some knitters, while others might be quite confident trying something else. In my efforts to use yarn in my stash, indie dyers or local yarn, I almost always substitute yarn when I'm using someone else's pattern and I thought I'd break my thought process down into a few steps to make it easier for you to give it a go too.
One of my test knitters Jen knitted a beautiful Reminisce hat with Red Riding Hood Yarns - Bon DK (100% Merino) Isn't the stitch definition gorgeous?
WHICH YARN HAS THE DESIGNER USED?
The first thing I do is look at the yarn used in the pattern and note its weight and composition. The yarn I used for the hat in my Reminisce pattern pictures was a DK weight yarn hand-dyed by Skein Queen. I'm a big fan of natural fibres and this yarn was a blend of 40% superfine alpaca, 40% merino and 20% silk.
So, what does that mean?
It means that you'll want to find something similar in weight, so look for a DK or light worsted weight yarn (I'll talk about "gauge" shortly - but this is all you need to note at the moment). It also means that you'll want to find a fibre that behaves in a similar way to those in my blend if you want a similar result.
What's in my blend of yarn for Reminisce?
Alpaca is soft, has a bit of a sheen and slight halo so it gives a slightly etherial look to the hat and helps it look cosy. It has quite a lot of drape if it isn't knitted too tightly but tends to sit stiff if it is. A pure alpaca yarn may droop over time as it is quite a heavy yarn compared with wool.
Merino is lightweight, elastic, and very soft so it has nice bounce, holds its shape and shows off your stitches clearly.
Silk has lovely sheen and great drape so it gives your hat a luxurious look and falls beautifully. It has reasonable stitch definition but lies a bit flatter than animal fibres. Bear in mind it has little "memory" (it doesn't bounce back into shape) so a high proportion of silk in a yarn blend will have a tendency to sag.
One of my lovely test knitters Jen (see the photos) used a 100% merino for her Reminisce hat. You can see how it has slightly less drape than mine but her stitches are beautifully defined and the hat itself will feel gloriously soft to the touch.
If you're wanting to knit Reminisce, I suggest you find a yarn with a higher concentration of merino or another soft wool fibre such as Blue Faced Leicester rather than something with a higher percentage of alpaca, silk or possum for example. Too much alpaca or possum and you'd loose the stitch definition in the fuzz and it might get a bit too slouchy, too much silk and it'd flop out of shape. On the other hand, if you used a pure stiff, sticky or scratchy wool your hat could knit up a bit more rigid. More akin to a beanie than a slightly slouchy beret.
Swatching with your new yarn will tell you a lot about how it will behave. How does it hang? Does it sit stiff as a board? Or, is it fluid and soft? If you want a hat that slouches softly like mine you'll be looking for a little bit of drape in the fabric.
WHAT IS THE SPECIFIED GAUGE?
Argh! Gauge! I know, I know! BUT if you want a hat that ends up one of the sizes included in the pattern you'll have to make sure your stitches and your rows are the same width and height as mine. When I designed Reminisce I knitted a large square and carefully measured the width and height of my stitches and used those measurements to work out how many stitches you'd have to cast on and how many rows you'd have to knit in order to make this hat. (Even if you're lucky enough to have some Skein Queen Elixir in your stash (the yarn I used) you might find that you're a looser or tigher knitter than me and you might have to change your needles for a larger or smaller size to get the same gauge as me.)
The gauge called for in Reminisce is 20 stitches and 30 rows over 10cm / 4inches - knitted in the round. I used 4mm / US 6 needles but you might find you need to go up or down a size to get gauge. If you're trying out a new yarn it's a great idea to knit a large swatch, about 6 inches square, making sure you knit it in the round rather than flat and soak and dry it flat (block it) before you measure it. Then, with a firm ruler, count how many stitches fit into 10cm / 4inches and how many rows. I like to count in the middle of my swatch rather than at the edges.
Ideally you'd try different needles and yarns until you get perfect stitch and row gauge. But if you are having trouble getting gauge and you have to choose between stitch and row gauge, make sure your stitch gauge is spot on. Too many stitches and your hat will fall off, too few and it'll be too tight. Row gauge is (slightly) more flexible but bear in mind that if your number of rows is much larger, your hat will turn out much longer than mine and if it's much shorter, it'll lose all it's slouch.
As a final point, you might find that different needle material makes a difference to your gauge. For this design I used wooden needles but you might like to try metal, carbon or resin if you're having trouble getting gauge. I've talked about this before on the blog and it's something that I'm experimenting with more often now.
HOW MUCH YARN WILL I NEED?
When you're substituting yarn look for the length of yarn required rather than the weight. Some fibres are heavier than others so length is likely to be more accurate.
My Reminisce design uses between 138 - 166m / 151 - 182 yards depending on which size you knit. You'll want to find at least that much yarn and maybe a little more if you're winging it with your gauge measurements or if you don't plan to re-use the yarn you swatched with.
Jen's beautiful hat uses a New Zealand hand-dyed yarn by Red Riding Hood Yarns.
WHAT YARN HAVE OTHER PEOPLE USED?
Ravelry is an amazing resource and one of the features that I use the most is the ability to search through other projects of patterns I plan to knit.
You'll find Reminisce on Ravelry and if you click on the "projects" link in the tabs at the top of the Ravelry page you can see other examples of Reminisce hats and how they turned out in different yarns. There is also a tab called "yarn ideas" and that will list the yarns other knitters have used for Reminisce already.
When I discovered that the gorgeous yarn I used for Reminisce was no longer available, I contacted Debbie Orr, the talented dyer of Skein Queen yarns. She suggested that another of her yarns; Blissful Plump, a DK Blue Faced Leicester might be a good substitute. She described it as "not as drapey, a bit more woolly but would give good stitch definition". I think it sounds like it could work nicely and if you're interested in getting hold of some, Debbie will have a few skeins ready to go into her next shop update this week, on 5 February. Skein Queen is one of my favourite dyers and her colours are just divine - I can really recommend her!
I do hope these steps will be useful when you're deciding to substitute yarns. If you knit Reminisce I'd love it if you'd post your hat on Ravelry and indicate the yarn you used. It'd be interesting for me and super useful for other knitters.
What do you consider when you're substituing yarns? Are your steps similar to mine or do you think about other factors too? Tell me in the comments, I'd love to hear your ideas.
If you'd like to try out my Reminisce hat pattern you can find it in my Ravelry shop here. You don't need to be a member of Ravelry to buy patterns.