Yarn Substitutions - A Quick Primer

When we teach in local yarn shops, one of our favorite topics to cover is making yarn substitutions. Knowing how to make a successful yarn substitution means you can always make a sweater work for you, no matter what yarn the designer used.

Jen wears a celadon green seamless raglan knit from the top down. This pattern calls for a lofty, grippy yarn.

Want to knit YOUR Sunup but you don't know which yarn to choose?

Read through for Jen's recommendations on choosing a yarn for Sunup on 82nd. Sunup is an Old Fave pattern which has been given a proper renewal and rereleased with some upgrades!

Learn more!

Properties first

The first step for making a great yarn substitution is to identify which properties of the yarn matter for your project. Here are some examples:

Yarn color or pattern: If you're working a pattern for assigned pooling, the yarn color definitely matters. If you're working a stitch texture that you want to pop, then you might prefer a solid or gently tonal yarn. And if it's a stockinette sweater? Maybe color or pattern doesn't matter at all!

Texture: Is the prescribed yarn slippery, grippy, or somewhere in between? And does that matter? If the designer used yarn with silk content and created a glossy, drapey tank, you'll want to find a similarly slippery yarn. If they used a grippy farm yarn to create a boxy, light silhouette - look for that. Sometimes the texture of the yarn might be specific, but not important to the outcome of the project. Be aware of the texture of the yarns you're considering and how they'll affect your project.

Loft: Is your yarn lofty (light and airy) or dense? If you're making an oversized sweater designed for an airy mohair and want to substitute that with linen, you're going to get a very different result. On the other hand, you might be able to sub in a lofty brushed merino perfectly.

Fabric density: Looking at a yarn's put up (yards per grams in a skein) can help you determine what other yarns might be good substitutions. But be aware that yarns knit up very differently. You may need to make several swatches to find a yarn that creates both the same gauge AND the same fabric. 6 stitches per inch in mohair can be very different from 6 stitches per inch in wool.

Stitch definition: How crisp are the stitches, and how crisp do you want yours? The more plies in a yarn, the more round the yarn and the more crisp the stitches will be. Something soft and haloed will absorb stitch texture, a worsted-spun wool in Targhee will pop.

Finding those properties

Now that you know what properties you need to meet, how do you find them? Many knitters like to use YarnSub.com. You can also try finding yarns on Ravelry. Personally, I like scrolling through things I've saved to my favorites on Instagram, or checking my favorite dyer's websites.

Jen's steely blue eyes gaze into the camera, they nearly match the celadon green sweater she knit herself from the sunup on 82nd pattern

Example: Making yarn substitutions for Sunup on 82nd

When I first designed Sunup, I used superwash fingering held with mohair. It was, in fact, the first and last time I knit a sweater with mohair, because it turns out that I cannot stand wearing mohair against my skin.

When I decided to re-release it, I followed this exact process to asses substitutions. It's an in-the-round, seamless raglan, which ruled out slippery yarns. Why? Because I want to recommend a yarn that works well for all the sizes, and the larger sizes weigh more than the smaller sizes. In those sizes and in DK weight yarns, I don't trust slippery yarns to keep their shape well without seams.

I also knew I wanted it to be soft against my skin so I could wear it like a shirt. That means soft merinos, or even cotton-wool blends.

The garter stitch detail is part of what makes this sweater special, so I knew I wanted a yarn that was solid or tonal. And I knew I'd want to style it with light-colored bottoms, so I wanted a light color so that the eye would still be drawn up to my face.

For me, that meant that Explorer Knit's Earthy DK was a winner. You might decide that other things create your dream garment - maybe you want it sheer and slinky, and knit in straight up brushed suri alpaca lace. Maybe you're knitting a smaller size, and want to go with superwash DK. Or maybe you love the original and you're going to go with sock yarn held with mohair lace.


  1. Understand the properties of the yarn used in the pattern.
  2. Determine which ones matter.
  3. Find yarns with similar properties.
  4. Knitting success!
A wide shot of Jen on a leather couch wearing Sunup on 82nd
Yarn Substitutions - A Quick Primer
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