A Look At Yarn Substitution


The more you knit, the more likely you are going to encounter a scenario when you don’t have the yarn that your next pattern calls for. There are several situations that could require you to use a different yarn - the yarn called for is discontinued, too expensive, or a fiber you may be allergic to - so refer to this article as a guide when selecting the new yarn for your project.

What to Look for in a Yarn Substitute

Weight & Gauge

Review the yarn weight & gauge of the original pattern. This will help you narrow down the field of available yarns. For example, if the pattern calls for a DK weight yarn you’ll want to choose a substitute that is also a DK weight yarn. The gauge is also a helpful guide so don’t disregard it entirely. You’ll refer to the gauge when it’s time to swatch.


The fiber content of the yarn provides a clue of the structure and drape of the finished piece. Patterns that call for silk, bamboo, tencel, or other viscose yarns will have a lot more drape than a pattern knit with wool or cotton. The fiber will also determine the amount of sheen of the finished garment.


This may seem like a no-brainer but let this serve as a gentle reminder. You’ll need to purchase the correct amount of yardage in your substitute of choice. Some patterns don’t include the total yardage and just list the required number of skeins for the yarn they selected. If the pattern calls for two skeins that each have 400 yards, you need to buy at least 800 yards of your substitute.

Quick tip - Round up and buy an extra skein if you’re worried. Most stores will allow you to exchange or return unwound skeins.


You’ll need to look at the characteristics of the design. Is it a colorwork project? Does it feature a lot of textured stitches? Is it a lace pattern? These things come into play when you’re choosing your yarn because different fibers will look

Look at the design characteristics -

  • drape -

  • Stitches

    • colorwork - tend to look and block best in wool

    • textured - smoother, plied yarns will allow textured stitches to pop

    • lace - yarns that don’t have overly variegated or tonal colors will allow lace stitches to be distinguished from others.

When in doubt, swatch. Knit a test swatch to see if your new pick is a good match for drape, and you can see the stitch pattern.

Don’t forget, practice makes perfect. The more you swap, the more you learn.


A real-life example : Wild Dunes Shawl and Prism Yarns Delicato Layers

I purchased these skeins several years ago and unfortunately this yarn has since been discontinued. It’s not always possible to knit a project with the yarn specified in the pattern which means you’ll need to find a yarn substitute.

There are several factors that you’ll need to look at when choosing a substitute:

  • Weight

  • Ply

  • Fiber Content

  • Yardage

For example, The Prism Yarns Delicato is a lace weight, plied, 100% tencel yarn with 630 yards per skein. The factors to look for in an appropriate substitute would be the weight (lace) and the fiber (tencel) so that the finished shawl will have a similar look and hand of the original sample. Some good options are listed below.

Yarn Substitutions for Wild Dunes

Manos Del Uruguay Marina

While the ply & fiber are different, the tonal colors of Marina would look delicate & lovely on the Wild Dunes Shawl.

Shibui Lunar

The 40% silk blend of Lunar would lend a lovely hand to the Wild Dunes shawl and a perfect fit for those who are wary of tonal yarns. Check out their latest colors, it will be hard to pick just one!

Valley Yarns 5/2 Bamboo

The 5/2 bamboo is a lace weight yarn that is touch heavier than the original but the bamboo fiber will easily mimic the texture of the tencel yarn used in the sample.

Habu Textiles Bamboo XS-24 and 24B

This bamboo is a very luxurious substitute for prism ($102 per skein) but it would be a very close match for the resulting drape. You lose some of the tonality of the color of Delicato, but the lace pattern will still stand out. You can make a smaller shawl if you want to maximize 1 skein of this yarn.