How to Substitute Yarn in a Knitting Pattern in 4 Easy Steps

No, you don’t have to use that super-pricey yarn for your next project! Learn how to substitute yarn in a knitting pattern and save a lot of money

how to substitute yarn

How often has this happened to you?

You fall madly in love with a free pattern. Everything about it makes your heart sing:

  • It looks beautiful.
  • You understand all the instructions.
  • You have the needle size and type you need.
  • You even have all the notions necessary.

And then you get to “Recommended yarn”… and your heart sinks. Because here, you find a yarn that either:

A) You’ve never heard of, or

B) You have heard of it… and it’s way outside your budget.

What do you do?

I know, dude. I can’t believe how much that yarn costs, either!

If you’re like me, you look for a substitute yarn. Substituting a less-expensive yarn that’s easier to track down is a great way to save money on your knitting.

New to substituting yarn? Or have you done it before, and you wonder if it might have something to do with why your last project didn’t turn out the way you expected?

Then read on for some tips on how to substitute yarn!

How to Substitute Yarn: a Guide

1. Look up the yarn online.

You can try Googling it, checking it out in the yarn directory on Ravelry, or try the appropriately-named YarnSub.

YarnSub will not only give you information about the yarn in question, but it will also offer yarn substitution suggestions!

Often, a pattern that uses a rare or local yarn will offer the necessary information about the yarn right in the pattern.

For successful yarn substitution, you’ll need to know the yarn’s gauge or weight, as well as its composition. Ravelry and YarnSub both offer this information.

2. Take a good look at the weight or gauge of the recommended yarn.

You probably know of the various types of yarn weights; they range from laceweight to the newly-appropriated jumbo. These may be indicated by numbers (laceweight is 0, jumbo is 7, as indicated by the Craft Council of America).

Or, they may be indicated merely by the gauge. Gauge is the number of stitches the yarn will achieve in 1 or 4 inches on a particular size of needle.

substituting yarn

The Craft Council of America yarn weight chart also describes the gauge of each type of yarn.

3. Look at the yarn’s composition.

Find out what fiber(s) the yarn is composed of (wool, acrylic, cotton, a blend, etc.). Because different fibers react differently when knitted, you need to come as close as you can to matching the original yarn’s composition.

As you become more experienced at substituting yarns and as a knitter, you’ll learn when you may be able to substitute a yarn of one composition for one of another kind.

But when you’re first starting to knit and/or substitute yarns, you’ll have more success if you stick to yarns of the same or at least a similar composition.


Once you’ve found a good substitute yarn, with the same weight and the same or similar composition, you need to knit a gauge swatch. All patterns will tell you the gauge you need to achieve in order to knit the pattern successfully.

substituting yarn
If you want to knit something like this, you’d better swatch first!

Knitters may sometimes be able to get away with not swatching before they begin knitting. However, when you’re substituting a yarn, it becomes essential that you do your swatching homework.

That’s especially true if you’re knitting something that must achieve a certain fit.

Now you know how to substitute yarn successfully. Time to enjoy the lessened hit on your wallet!

Want more information about yarn weight? Check out this post!

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  1. This was very helpful. I was wondering if you have anything on mixing fibers to achieve a certain weight? I never know what weight something mixed would make and often can’t get a certain gauge after getting home.


  2. Thank you for this article! I haven’t worked with patterns much over the last few years and my substitution skills are rusty. This was the perfect refresher for me.

  3. Finally had a few minutes to come and read your article. Thank you!! I’m a thrift shopper and I buy yarn when I can afford it. This is a very helpful guide!

  4. is a very useful site. Enter the brand and name of a yarn, and it brings up a number of appropriate alternatives. It rates the alternatives for similarity by percentage. It gives descriptive comparisons for each yarn that include information about fiber content, gauge, drape, and price.