How To Substitute For A Discontinued Yarn

You’ve chosen a fabulous pattern and head off to your local yarn store, only to discover that the recommended yarn has been discontinued. What to do?

Let me say that this is actually a good thing as it gives you so many more options, as you will see.

Ask your yarn store staff what they would recommend (& why).

Find out what you can about the discontinued yarn as this will help you in choosing a substitute.

Let’s look at an example:

My (imaginary) pattern requires 12 balls of Cleckheaton Kaleidoscope, which I find is discontinued.

I look at the details in the pattern (and also using online resources, like Ravelry or Yarndex) to get as much information as I can on the discontinued yarn. Here’s what I find:

  • Kaleidoscope comes in 50gm balls of 71 yards/65 metres per ball
  • it is 100% wool
  • an Australian 10 ply yarn
  • suggested gauge of 17sts/10cm using 5.5mm needles

How to use this information to choose a substitute yarn:

 I need 12 balls for the jumper in the pattern. Each ball is 65 metres, so 12 balls means I need
 65 x 12 = 780m yarn.
Hint: work out the actual metres you need not the number of balls or skeins.

The original is 100% wool.
Different fibres behave differently. This means a 100% cotton yarn will give me a different result to a 100% wool yarn, which will be different to 100% alpaca etc. Blended yarns, like 50% wool/50% acrylic, 70% silk/30% alpaca etc will combine the features of each fibre in the blend.
There is a lot of information available (in books & online) about the properties of different fibres in yarns. Here are a few points to keep in mind when choosing to substitute yarns:

  • natural fibres (those from animals & plants, such as wool, cotton, cashmere, alpaca, linen) are usually more expensive than man made fibres (acrylic, viscose, nylon)
  • man made fibres normally don’t shrink and are pest resistant but can be uncomfortable to wear in humid conditions
  • natural fibres “breathe”
  • wool breathes, is water repellant, flame retardant, may be machine washable (labelled superwash) or handwash only
  • alpaca is heavier than wool so it can drape nicely but will also grow longer with wear. The fibre is hollow – this makes it very warm to wear (warmer than wool)
  • cotton is better suited to warmer climates. It is a heavy fibre that will stretch & droop (it can be restored to shape by washing & drying)
  • acrylic is water resistant, absorbs odours & stains, is not fire safe (can melt onto the skin & burn when exposed to a flame)
  • silk is very strong, smooth & shiny. It doesn’t shrink or stretch

Consider the composition of the yarn. Look at the pattern picture and think about how the yarn is behaving – look at the texture, the drape & the stitches used (if the stitch pattern is to be seen don’t use a mohair yarn for example). Think about the end use of what you are making. If you don’t need the warmth of 100% wool, then an acrylic may be just fine.

My ‘fictional’ pattern is for a 100% wool jumper that I want to wear in our mild winter so I would not want to substitute a 100% cotton or 100% alpaca yarn. Both would grow in length (which I could account for by making a shorter garment). The cotton may not provide enough warmth and the alpaca would be too warm. So I’m probably looking for another 100% wool yarn, or even a wool blend, such as 50%wool/50% acrylic or 80% wool/20% cotton.

The yarn is listed as an Australian 10 ply.

Just a point here about the use of “ply” in Australia when describing the weight/thickness of yarns. I grew up knitting with 4ply, 8ply and 10ply yarns …. which technically speaking are not necessarily made up of 4, 8 or 10 plys. A ply is a single thread of yarn. You spin a number of these together to get the required thickness …. 4 threads together is 4ply, 8 threads together is 8 ply & so on. This is why I much prefer the US system of naming yarn weights: sportweight, DK, worsted etc.

In this case I need an Aran weight yarn.

The pattern gives the gauge as 17sts/10cm using 5.5mm needles.

So for my substitute yarn I am looking for:
a 100% wool or wool blend yarn in Aran weight that knits to 17sts/10cm using 5.5mm needles.

This gives me a wide range of choices rather than being limited to just the suggested yarn in the pattern. Doing a search on the Ravelry yarn database for Aran weight yarns, typically knit on 5.5mm needles, that is not a discontinued yarn and is 100% wool gives me 370 choices! If I look at wool blends I have even more options!