All Yarn is Not Created Equal

Not too long ago, the crochet/knitting pattern you would have used would have come from a magazine from your country - or from some books sold alongside the yarn at your favorite yarn store - or from a book from a bookstore in your country.  All of these sources would have quoted locally available yarns - and chances are you would have purchased that exact same yarn.

These days with the internet and online purchasing of books and patterns, you are constantly thrown into the situation where the pattern you have found uses a yarn that isn't a local yarn.  There are a few things you can do in this situation.  If you believe the yarn is crucial to the success of your project (due to colour or texture), then you can order the yarn from overseas.  For example, in My Splendid Family we have a huge Doctor Who fan that wanted a scarf made like the one that his favorite Doctor Who actor wore. I found some instructions for the scarf that included several options for overseas yarns that had been matched as closely as possible to the original scarf from the 70s.  The scarf used some very quintessential 70s colours that I knew would be near impossible to match with local yarns.  So to me, any extra overseas postage costs were worth it as all the hard work had been done.  If you do this, you may want to think about ordering an extra ball than required - if you run out of yarn, the postage costs of $20 may make that last ball of yarn very expensive!  It may be cheaper to buy up just in case and have some yarn that you will no doubt come up with a use for one day!

In cases where you don't believe yarn is crucial for success, then a local yarn can do just as well.  The problem you run into here is that each part of the world likes to describe yarn differently.  So if your pattern specifies DK yarn, you would need to translate this into 8-ply yarn if you live in the UK and then find that yarn in your stash or at your favorite yarn store.  And of course knitting a gauge swatch will help fine tune any problems that may arise from your choice of a different yarn.

The characteristics of the yarn can affect the size of your project.  Here are two booties made with 8-ply acrylic yarn.  The one on the left used standard yarn and the one on the right used "soft" acrylic yarn.

Simple right?  Wrong!  Over the weekend I started to crochet my first pair of booties.  I happened to have some white 8-ply acrylic yarn in my stash which the pattern called for.  Not knowing the sex of the baby, it seemed like a reasonable thing to use - at least for a practice run even though instinct said it was probably a bit too scratchy for a baby item.  What I didn't expect was how big the bootie  would turn out!  I seriously thought I had gone wrong somewhere!  But not at all!  The next time I was at the shops, I bought the "soft" 8-ply version of white acrylic from the exact same brand.  I made up a bootie in the soft acrylic and the resulting size difference was simply amazing.  The soft acrylic seemed to want to meld together much more than the standard acrylic - the soft acrylic holes were much smaller than the standard acrylic holes.  And the soft acrylic has a nice sheen whereas the standard acrylic has none at all.  The soft acrylic gave the finished product a slightly glossy appearance whereas the standard acrylic product had a matt finish.  The soft acrylic was also more difficult to work with as the individual strands that make up the yarn were more prone to separating.

Not much was lost with my false start of using standard acrylic - I ultimately wanted to use the soft acrylic anyway if only for the feel of it.  But it makes me wonder about how a larger and more costly project could fail in this way and how it could be prevented?

The characteristics of the yarn can affect the size of your project.  Here are two booties made with 8-ply acrylic yarn.  The one on the left used standard yarn and the one on the right used "soft" acrylic yarn.
Obviously using the exact same yarn as in the pattern is one way this can be prevented - but there don't see to be any clear answers if you a substituting a yarn.  In my case, I used exactly the same yarn brand - both acrylic, both 8ply.  You can't eliminate any more factors than that and yet they behave very differently.  The pattern did not specify "soft" - so experience and gut feeling are often your best allies in choosing a local replacement yarn.  And don't forget to let your fingers help you - some "baby" yarns are available in pastel baby colours but in standard acrylic without the soft texture!

Two samples of 8-ply yarn from the same brand of acrylic yarn.  The one on the left is a "soft" acrylic, whereas the one on the right is a standard acrylic.

How do you deal with this problem when substituting a yarn?  I'd love to hear about your experiences and any tips you may have!


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