The Woolly Badger guide to yarn substitution

There’s been a lot of talk in the online knitting community over the past few days about how to make sure that knitting is financially accessible for as many people as possible. As a large part of that responsibility rests with designers, and the yarns we choose to use, I wanted to lay out my approach to choosing yarn, providing alternative options, and helping people find the yarn that will work best for them. I’ve pulled together some helpful yarn substitution resources at the end of the post, so if you’re just here for them then skip to the end.

Yarn stash shot
Yes, that’s only part of my yarn stash. Yes, I have a problem.

Ah, yarn substitution. You funny old beast. I’ll be honest; for years, I didn’t even realise yarn substitution was a thing. I thought you had to knit the pattern in the yarn that the pattern told you to knit it in, or it would all go terribly bad and wrong. Every single time. No exceptions.

I now know that not to be the case.

And I also realise that yarn substitution is actually a pretty important thing. Switching in a different yarn can be the difference between being able to afford to knit, and not. When I first got into knitting a lot of my friends assumed I was going to save myself a lot of money by being able to knit my own jumpers, and I had to explain time and again that that’s really not the case. Unless you’re willing to knit everything in acrylic (and to be clear, I have nothing against acrylic except a bit of environmental unease, but that’s a whole other blog about how sometimes slow fashion made out of acrylic can be better than a constant stream of fast fashion made in terrible conditions with supposedly ‘better’ fibres), then chances are you’ll end up spending rather a lot more on your knitwear than you would if you bought similar on the high street.

So, yes, having yarns at a variety of price points is really important if knitting is going to be accessible for as many people as possible. And having patterns that work for yarns at a variety of price points is a pretty big deal too. I used to look at patterns and think I couldn’t knit them because I couldn’t get the yarn they called for. Sometimes because I couldn’t find it, but sometimes because I just couldn’t afford it.

These days I’m lucky enough to be able to afford some really, really lovely yarn. And as a designer, I really want to support other indie businesses by using their yarns in my designs. That’s why you’ll see a lot of fancy, hand-dyed yarn used in my patterns. But I also know that won’t work for everyone; spending £20 on a single skein of hand-dyed yarn is not going to work with everyone’s budget. And crucially, not everyone will have the knowledge, or indeed the confidence, to substitute the yarn I’ve used without getting a little help from somewhere.

So, the other side of my role as a designer is supporting people who need more affordable choices. I’m not going to lie here; I am not a yarn substitution expert. My preferred method for my own projects starts with looking at yarn weight, takes a brief sojourn past fibre content, and then invariably gets wildly distracted by colourways. It’s probably not the way you should do things.

But, I’m going to put my haphazard ways aside and make sure that where I can, I’m recommending at least one more affordable yarn choice with each of my patterns. But, that’s still not really enough. The great joy of the internet is that people from all over the world can use my patterns. The great ballache of that is that not every yarn is available in every country, so it’s going to be impossible for me to recommend a yarn for every possible scenario. But I can recommend places that help.

Your local yarn store

Man, local yarn stores are great. They’re run by people who love yarn, and who seriously know their stuff. If you ever need help substituting a yarn for any pattern you’re knitting, I’d really recommend starting there.

Now, I know not everyone is lucky enough to have a local yarn store they can just drop along to. But one of the (very few) good things about the Covid-19 pandemic is that more and more people are trading online, including yarn stores. Chances are a quick google will be able to bring up someone who will be happy to help you via phone or email, and then post your goods out to you.

Online resources

Now, I could write a nice blog about which fibres behave similarly, and which swapouts work particularly well. I could, but I’d largely be making it up. So instead, I’m going to point you towards some other resources from people who really do know what they’re talking about.

So there you go. That’s the Woolly Badger guide to doing yarn substitution the right way, as opposed to the haphazard way. Writing this post has almost convinced me to start following my own advice.

Almost.

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