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Selecting The Right Yarn For Your Project

Before I launch into this blog post, I need to clarify one thing. When I put in my patterns or in my class materials the brand and base of yarn I selected for the sample, this is just a suggestion. There are many people who purchase a pattern and think that they have to make it in “that color”. Working in my local yarn shop for several years, I cannot tell you how many times I would hear that in a week. That is when I decided to add to all of my patterns what yarn I used for that particular one. But you, dear follower, are completely different! The question I get the most, in the classroom as well as my inbox, has got to be about swapping yarns for the yarn I suggest in my patterns and class materials. This can be a very scary proposition, especially when you are pulling yarns from your stash. “I absolutely have to use that color for this hat” or “this is exactly the softness I want for my sweater” sometimes can become a huge disappointment when you actually start making the project. Fortunately, there are a few ways for you to zero in on how to chose a yarn that may not be the exact yarn used for the pattern sample, but still, get the best of results.

Check the original yarn’s weight and fiber blend

So let’s say you have a hat pattern that was developed using Ella Rae Cozy Alpaca. If you look at the label you will see that it is a Worsted Weight Yarn (CYC #4) and it is a 70% Acrylic, 30% Baby Alpaca blend. If you want the hat to have the same look as the one in the pattern, you are going to need to find a yarn that is a #4 and has a similar blend as the acrylic/alpaca in the Cozy Alpaca. Getting the same fiber content will cause the yarn to behave in a very similar way.
  • Acrylic – Acrylic fiber is meant to imitate wool, but it lacks wool’s insulating properties. It can be very durable and soft, but pilling can be an issue.
  • Alpaca – Alpaca is a soft fiber, with sheen and slight halo, giving it an ethereal and cozy look. It can have a lot of drape but pure alpaca yarn will droop because by itself it is a very heavy fiber.
  • Mix the two together and you have a yarn that will have structure but the cozy, warmth of alpaca.

Selecting yarn with a different fiber or blend

If all you can find in your stash is a lovely #4 in superwash merino, or even a 100% acrylic, you will have to do some swatching.
  • First – can you get the same gauge? Ugh. ← I can hear you saying that now!  For anything that is wearable, you must first be sure the gauge will work out. This is non-negotiable.
  • Next the swatch needs to tell you a few things about how the fabric will act.
    • How does it drape? Is it soft and have movement or, does it sit stiffly?
    • If you stretch it, does it go back to shape or, does it stretch out and stay put?
If the hat should be slouchy, you want to make sure the fabric moves and drapes.  If it is supposed to be more of a beanie that sits close to the head, you want to make sure it stretches and goes back to shape but still have a bit of movement.

Use yardage to help select yarns

Some fibers are thicker and heavier than others so when you are selecting a different yarn than suggested, you want to look for the yardage rather than how many ounces. For example: If you are working on a sweater that uses merino fingering weight at 450 yards a skein for 3.5 oz but wants to swap for alpaca, you’ll want to find a fingering weight that is closer to 450 yards. A hank of fingering with alpaca in it might weigh 3.5 oz (as that can be a standard for fingering hanks) but may only have 380 yards in it. Remember alpaca is heavier than merino.

Know your fibers for yarn selection

My favorite book for looking up fibers and their properties is the Clara Parkes Classic: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn. Yes, I know that it says “knitter’s” in the title. But remember, everything here applies to crochet too! I think it is the best resource to help you choose yarns for what every project you might be working on. Question:  What is your biggest problem when you are selecting yarns for a project? Tell me in the comments.


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