Beginner tip, tutorial

When you are new to knitting finding the right yarn for a project may seem complicated. Especially if you are still unfamiliar with the jargon. With so many yarns and patterns now available, understanding how to substitute one yarn for another is very useful. It helps you planning ahead for future projects and gives you more options on where to source your materials. Talking to customers we realise that many of you struggle with this so we decided to write a simple step by step guide on how to match a yarn to a pattern.

This is something we’ve start talking about in one of our previous post. First we’re going to discuss some of the points already mentioned in this article before to go on developing on swatching and yardage calculation.

The first thing to look for is the yarn weight recommended by the pattern. For example if the pattern asks for a DK weight yarn you know you will have to look into the DK section of your shop/online store.
Here the term weight stands for the actual thickness of the thread. There are 7 main yarn weights which from thinner to thicker include: lace, 4ply, sport, DK, worsted/aran, chunky and super chunky. 4ply is also known as fingering and the terms worsted and aran can in some instances be substituted for one another. Although it is worth noting that some aran yarns can be slightly heavier than worsted.

Weekender | yak

To make things a little more confusing the terminology varies from one country to another. In Australia and New Zealand yarn weight are referred to as 2ply, 4ply, 5ply, 8ply, 10ply, 12ply and 14ply.

Once you’ve determined what yarn weight is required for your project you will need to look at the gauge of your pattern. The gauge – or tension – corresponds to the number of stitches and rows measured over a 4 inches square using a specific needle size. Gauge can usually be found on the yarn label. You will need to find a yarn with a gauge closely matching the one of your pattern.

For example Weekender by Andrea Mowry asks for a worsted weight yarn and has a gauge of 18 stitches and 27 rows in stockinette stitch using 5.5mm needles. De Rerum Natura Gilliatt has an average gauge of 18 stitches and 26 rows using needles in between 4 and 5mm. This is a very close match and therefore would be suitable for that project.

As we all knit with slightly different tension you should always swatch before casting on for a new project. A swatch is a 5×5 inches – or 12×12 cm – knitted square that is used to measure your own gauge. It needs to be done with the same needle size and stitch than the one recommended on your pattern. If your pattern is worked in the round you will need to swatch in the round as your tension will differ from when you knit ‘flat’. It is also very important to block your swatch before measuring your gauge. Depending on the yarn you’re using, the fibre might ‘grow’ after blocking and so you will end with a slightly different stitch count.

Gilliatt | yak

The purpose of swatching is to insure that your finished garment will have the right fit and measurements. If your gauge is tighter or looser that the one recommended on your pattern your finished project will end up being slightly smaller or slightly bigger. Now if you end up with a slightly different tension no need to panic. You will just need to go up or down a needle size to adjust your gauge. For example looking at the gauges of Gilliatt and The Weekender jumper, it is likely that the right tension could be reached on 4.5 mm or 5.00 mm needles instead of a 5.5mm.

Please note that some patterns are designed with non standard gauges that are either much tighter or much looser than what would be expected from the recommended yarn weight. In such instances you won’t able to match the gauge of the pattern with the gauge on the yarn label. If you find yourself in that situation the best thing to do is to choose a yarn of the same weight and swatch using the recommended needle sizes. Then adjust your gauge if necessary.

The yardage corresponds to how many meters of yarn is required to complete a project. It can be given in meters or yards. Most often both.
To calculate the quantity of yarn needed you simply need to divide the total yardage of the pattern by the yardage of one single ball of yarn. Let’s say we want to knit The Weekender in a size medium. The total yardage needed is 1130 yards or 1033 meters. Gilliatt has 250 meters per ball.
1033/250 = 4.132. You will therefore need 5 balls of Gilliattto complete that project.

Designers often recommend a slightly higher yardage than what is actually needed to complete the project. This ‘buffer’ insures that no one runs out of yarn before completing the pattern. Following that logic you might be able to get away knitting the Weekender in size medium with just 4 balls of Gilliatt. However to avoid any disappointment it is always preferable to buy the exact amount of yarn required in one purchase.

Of course there are other criteria to take into account when substituting one yarn for another. Like the drape, fibre and handle. As these elements have been extensively discussed in our previous post we will refer you to this article to learn more about them. If you have any questions regarding one of the notion discussed above please feel free to leave a comment in the section bellow.

Until Next Time… Happy Knitting!

Comments (19)

  1. I’m making socks need a size bigger than the pattern it’s in aran.I If I substitute it for chunky will I get the bigger size.

    1. Hi Susan,
      Substituting chunky yarn in place of aran will make the sock come out bigger however it may come out a lot bigger than just 1 size up. It really depends on how much chunkier the chunky is but because the stitches are so big with aran and chunky yarn even just 2 stitches difference could make the sock come out several inches bigger. If you want to check you should swatch with your chunky yarn (you might want to go up a needle size as well or it’ll be very tight) and check how many stitches per inch you are getting. Then divide the number of stitches the patterns asks you to cast on by the swatch number and this will tell you the circumference of your chunky sock. Then compare to your foot circumference. This is the theory of working it out but it might be quicker to find a new pattern which accommodates the size you want to make.

    1. Hi Laura,

      Ideally you’d want to stick to a DK yarn as there’s quite a bit of a difference in thickness in between a DK and a Aran weight. Even if you were able to get gauge by going down a needle size it is quite likely that the fabric will end up being too stiff at the result. There’s a method that would allow you to use your Aran even if your gauge were off but that would require you to recalculate the sizes of your pattern based on your gauge. Please refer to the following tutorial to see all the calculations:

  2. I have a pattern that uses super chunky however the colours I need are out of stock everywhere ☹️ What would you recommend I used instead? Would it work using double strands of DK or Aran?

    1. Hi Jaime,
      It will require a bit of trial and error but that is definitely an option. What is the gauge recommended by your pattern? Depending on how chunky the original yarn is I would start knitting a swatch holding two strands of DK and see how the gauge compare to the one recommended by the pattern. If it’s not bulky enough then switch to two strands of Worsted/Aran. Super chunky is a bit of an umbrella term and some yarn that are classified as super chunky aren’t necessarily that thick. However if it’s a real super chunky you might want to swatch straight away with two strands of worsted. Let me know what the gauge is so I can advise further.

    1. Hello Linda, It is hard to say without seeing the pattern / yarn recommendations. It will require a bit of trial and error in order to make up the gauge, you may need to alter the needles size slightly or possible even hold a lace weight with the Aran to make up the thickness. If you would like to email me with the pattern information and the yarn you want to use I will be able to advise you further.

      If you create a tension swatch with your Aran weight and compare the gauge to the one in the pattern you will be able to get a better idea of how much alterations – if any – you will need to make.
      Our blog post on adapting pattern sizes may help –

  3. I would like to make the boulevard blanket. The
    pattern calls for size 6 super bulky yarn but I’d like to substitute and use a size 4 medium yarn instead. I’m new to knitting and wonder if it’s possible to do this type of substitution and how I can figure out the needle size to use for the smaller yarn. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated

  4. Hi. I have downloaded a pattern for a one size (men/women) adult cardigan knitted in Super Chunky on UK size 0 needles. I’m going to knit it in Chunky on smaller pins in the hope it will knit up smaller to fit a slim 13 year old. How do I work out how much yarn to order? Will I need less? Thanks

    1. Hello,
      Calculating how much yarn you will need when changing the yarn in a pattern requires some swatching and maths. Please read this article to figure out how to do it (you will be weighing your swatch instead of a sample garment).
      If you don’t want to do the working out then it is likely that you will need more yarn than the pattern states however there is no way to guess how much. Looking at other patterns on Ravelry with the yardages they used will give you an idea. It may be easier to find a suitable pattern for the size you would like, using the chunky yarn.

    1. Hello Karen,
      The difference between a chunky wool and a super chunky wool can vary drastically from yarn to yarn. Depending on the recommended needle size and tension of the yarn you want to use and the yarn in the pattern it may be possible, but it may require some calculations to adapt the pattern. If you are interested in trying this out then please read the following tutorial:

  5. I have an Aran pattern for a child and was wondering can I use double knitting wool instead and would I have to double the wool and also what size needles would I use it’s says 3-1/4 mm and 4-1/2 for a child’s chest if 26. Thanks in advance

    1. Hello Val,
      Ideally you would want to stick to an Aran weight as there is quite a bit of difference in-between and Aran and a DK. Two DK yarns held together would be too thick, you would be closer to gauge by holding a DK with a lace weight but we always suggest a tension swatch first, especially when substituting yarns.
      As for the needles, are the sizes you wrote for the pattern or for the yarn you want to use? Always do you tension swatch with the needles suggested in the pattern and if you don’t get gauge you can try going up or down a size. The needles you wrote seem too small for a standard Aran pattern which would usually be around a 5 to a 5.5mm, but some patterns do work from an off gauge.

  6. hey there, my name is Nick how are you?

    i was just wonderin. my mum is going to knit me a jumper that i like. the pattern is for 12 ply, however, the wool that we like is 10 ply.

    would what happen if she just copies the pattern, should she knit a size bigger?

    thanks so much

    1. Hi Nick,
      10 ply and 12 ply yarns can be quite similar but they can also be quite different, it really depends on the yarn brand. Have a look at the recommended needle size on the ball band of the 10 ply yarn and compare it to the needle size used in the pattern. If they are the same, or very close then I would suggest that your mum swatches with the needle size in the pattern to see if she can get the right gauge and if its close but not quite right, she might be able to just go up or down 1 size to get gauge.
      If in the first instance the needle sizes are very different then she should use the needle recommended on the ball band rather than the pattern for the gauge swatch. Which as you said will mean the whole jumper will come out smaller so she could knit a bigger size. But you will need to check the gauge against a measurement in the pattern to check how many sizes bigger. For example divide the number of stitches just before starting the armholes by the gauge to find how big the chest will be. A small difference in gauge can make a big difference and you might find that you need to go up 2 or even 3 sizes to reach your desired size.
      I hope that helps. Kate

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