How to substitute yarn

Want to use a DK yarn in a pattern that calls for 4ply? Belinda Boaden explains how in her step-by-step guide.

How to substitute yarns in knitting

Every knitter knows this feeling. You see a pattern you know you have to cast on immediately, but a trip to your local yarn shop is out of the question, and you think, ‘I must have something I can use’. A quick flick through the stash yields incompatible yarn, however. Or does it? Can you really knit a design written up for aran-weight yarn in DK or 4ply?

As ever, the answer is ‘yes, depending’. With a willingness to swatch and do a few calculations this may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic!

In the first post in this knitting masterclass we take you through the initial steps of yarn substitution.

How to use Ravelry

First steps in yarn substitution

Consider the yarn the pattern is written for and the yarn you wish to knit it up in

Certainly if it’s your first venture off-piste, then aim to keep within the same fibre family, as that will help to give you a garment that looks and behaves the same way as the sample – a wool-based yarn for another wool-based yarn, for example (as opposed to a cotton or viscose).

Also don’t try to work with a substitute yarn that is hugely different in weight-aran to DK is not too much of a leap, but aran to 4ply might be a step too far for a first attempt at yarn substitution.

Consider exactly what you need to do

If it seems just too onerous a task, then go and buy new yarn. Subbing will take effort if you want to be sure of a decent garment, and it’s not wrong or bad to decide that you don’t want to bother.

What is soul-destroying is to start, then get discouraged, not finish it or (even worse) hate what you end up with.


Next time we’ll look at how knitting a swatch can help you to substitute yarn successfully, and then cover the use of measurements and tension in yarn substitution.

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