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Love The Yarn You're With

Oct 6, 2008

 Note from Sandi: In the U.S., it is National Spinning and Weaving Week (October 4-10). Since every one of the lovely yarns we use is made by a spinner (somewhere...), I asked spinner and weaver Liz Gipson (yes, she of the cashmere goats!) to come back and talk to us about how to substitute a yarn you love for the one specified in the pattern. Liz talks about spinning her own yarn, but the wraps per inch method she describes here can be used with any yarn in your stash, or on the shelves of your local yarn shop. Heeeerree's Liz!


To celebrate Spinning and Weaving Week, Sandi picked a present for you—a free scarf pattern—and then challenged me to spin yarn for a handspun version. Her selection is a knitted ribbed scarf with a crocheted edging adapted by Ann Budd from Weldon's Practical Needlework for Piecework magazine.

Unlike a shaped garment, a scarf is pretty forgiving. I suspect that most of you who are reading this post knit better then you spin. Rather than worry about creating (or finding) a yarn that fits the pattern, why not adapt the pattern to fit the yarn?

To put this concept to the test, I set myself a little challenge. I didn't look at the pattern specifics just snuck a peak of the photo to get a feel of the project. Then I proceeded to pluck a luscious medium brown Alpaca top (top=combed fiber) from my stash and got to work. I set about spinning with nothing in mind other than spending a sunny afternoon on my back porch—periodically "chatting" with the goats. They bleat and I say something in reply. Then the cat chimes in. . . The result was 5 ounces of yarn or 187 yards. Now the million dollar question: What size needles do I need?

Wraps per Inch

There is no way around it--you are going to have to knit a swatch. You could guess what needles size to use, but I'm pretty sure you won't be as happy with the results.

 How to determine wraps per inch: To judge the approximate weight of your yarn, wrap it around the space of an inch using a ruler or an inch gauge. The strands should be touching, but not overlapping. Don’t pull the yarn too tightly when you wrap. You want the yarn to be relaxed so that it will be a good measure of how it will act in the knitted cloth.

Years ago Spin-Off magazine compiled this extraordinarily handy chart for plain yarns. These numbers are compiled from a number of sources and from the experience of the editors, none of which precisely agree! Use them as rough estimates only.


Yarn Style Wraps per Inch Gauge stitches/inch Needle size US Needle size Metric
Lace 18+ 8+ 00–2 2–3 mm
Fingering 16 6–8 2–4 2.75–3.5mm
Sport 14 5–6 1/2 4–6 3.5–4.5 mm
Worsted 12 4–5 7–9 4.5–6
Bulky 10 3–4 10–11 6–7.5
Very Bulky 8 or fewer 2–3 13–15 8–9mm


My yarn measures 13 wraps per inch, placing it in the worsted to sport range. By using the chart I surmised that a good starting place would be to use either a size 6 or 7 needle. I started with a 7 and knitted, washed, and blocked a 4-inch stockinette swatch. I concluded that the hand--the feel of the fabric--was a little stiff so I moved to a larger needle. The dark brown scarf-in-progress (top photo) is made using a size 8 needle. It was perfect. How ironic is it that the pattern calls for this needle size!

But wait, my yarn did not produce the same gauge—isn't yarn fickle! This is probably because my yarn is much denser than the yarn in the pattern. I could either decided to cast on few stitches or follow the pattern exactly or to create a wider scarf. I went with the latter.

In Summary: Spin; Measure w.p.i (wraps per inch); Swatch; Swatch again; Start knitting!


A Final Note: Every knitter who wants to spin has to get Ann Budd's The Knitters Handy Book of Patterns. You will simply never have to fret that your yarn won't work in any of these patterns. Ann's clever system is based on the same philosophy above—if you can't create the yarn you need, love the yarn you make.


--Liz Gipson
past managing editor of Spin-Off magazine
co-host of Knitting Daily TV


YARN SUBSTITUTION TIP FOR KNITTERS (those who aren't spinners!)

You can use the wraps per inch method with yarns you already have in your stash to help you determine needle size, gauge, and yarn "weight." In the back of each issue of Interweave Knits (as well as Interweave Crochet) is a page called Sources for Supplies that lists the wraps per inch information for the yarn specified in the pattern. You can compare this number to the wraps per inch of yarns you have on hand--or that beautiful yarn you couldn't resist buying at your local yarn shop--as an aid in yarn substitution.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Still seaming, seaming. I am stitching up the Camisa, and weaving in the ends. And yes, even I have to rip out a seam a time or two until I am satisfied with the way it looks. I had to rip the side seam three times....

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Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 16, 2008 12:52 PM

Reply to Elizabeth,

Wraps per Inch (wpi) is a way to determine how thick or thin the yarn is.  Is it very fine, such as a sock yarn that knits to 7-8 inches per inch.  Or is it very thick, such as a bulky weight that knits to 3 stitches per inch.  Yarn labels usually have a suggested gauge to them on the label as well as the length of yarn in the skein you are purchasing.  If you are looking at a pattern that calls for "worsted" weight, approximately 5 stitches to the inch, then another yarn that knits at 5 stitches to the inch would work.  To find out how many skeins of the substitute B you need, you then need to calculate how many yards/meters needed in yarn A, then buy the same number of yards in yarn B.  Does that make sense?

HollyY wrote
on Oct 11, 2008 10:12 PM

Message to Elizabeth,

In your experience, why couldn't comparing length per gram be used in yarn substitution?  If Brand 'A' has the same length per gram as Brand 'B' and they are both the same fibre wouldn't they be approximately the same thickness?

Of course it would be ideal to compare the wpi, but I don't think there's too many yarn stores out there who mind you pulling apart a skein to determine the wpi before you buy.  But you can compare the number of yards in skein before you buy.

Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 8, 2008 10:41 AM

To Holly--I don't think the length of the yarn would help in substitution.  You need to know how thick or thin it is (wpi).

Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 8, 2008 10:37 AM

Let me echo Lois's comment.  I just puchased Ann Budd's book recently and I love it.  It helps me understand the process of making a sweater, how to get it to fit, and you start with the yarn you choose.  I recommend it to everyone!

Thanks for this very informative article on yarn substitution, a big mystery to me.  This finally explains the wpi I have seen at the back of the Interweave Mags for so long.

I have a question.  Why does Interweave not use the Yarn Council Rating of 1 2 3 4 5 for yarn weights?  This is a very standardized, easy way to figure out which weight your pattern is using?

Another question.  I understand this wpi gets you into the proper weight category.  But there are other mysteries in yarn substitution.  Drape for one.  Even though it is the proper weight, how do it know it will hang properly.  There seem to be other considerations to yarn substitution that I, as a non spinner, would need to know:  yarn characteistics.

Dimsware wrote
on Oct 7, 2008 4:15 PM

Dear Liz - I'm thrilled to find this chart again - I could never remember where it was published. One big question I have - and perhaps others have, is that the category for DK yarns are missing. Since it's such a hugely used category in today's knitting - tell me your (and Spin-off's) thinking when this was published. Are you considering Sport to be synonymous with DK? Many people disagree and I'm not sure where I am with that question. I rarely hear the term sport these days in referring to yarn weight in a store, yet I hear DK all the time. Could it be just who I run with? I'd dearly love SpinOff to ponder this question specifically for this chart and either add the DK category or mark on the chart that Sport and DK are considered the same weight for these purposes.

Respectfully, Linda "K"

DebF@2 wrote
on Oct 7, 2008 1:41 PM

Funny you have just written a piece about yarn substitution - I REALLY need your help!

I'm desperate to crochet the Northern Dreams Pullover from the latest mag but living in England it is of course impossible to get the right yarn without blowing my last remaining credit-crunch-proof savings on postage.

So I have some Artesano "inca cloud" sport weight alpaca which I reckon has the same wpi as the Misti Sport Alpaca in the mag (18), but even if i use a 3.5 instead of a 4.5 hook the swatch still comes out to big. Could it be because pattern is blo in the round whereas my swatch is blo back-and-forth which looks different? Help! Take pity on us poor yarn-deprived Brits!!

Lois Newton wrote
on Oct 7, 2008 6:11 AM

I would like to put in a plug for Ann Budd's "The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns" and the companion volume, "The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Pattenrs".  I have used both of these CONSTANTLY, as I have a son-in-law who's a strange size (large waist, short arms, narrow shoulders) & 3 daughters who always want a chunky-yarn pattern made in DK weight yarn (or vice versa).  I have modified many patterns using her books & gauges.  They have been a LIFESAVER for me many, many times!

IngridS wrote
on Oct 7, 2008 5:45 AM

I'd like to know how to get the WPI with one of the bumpy yarns.  How do you determine needle size?  I just had to buy some yarn called "Poodle" since I have all things Poodle.  How do I figure out the WPI or even get a clue to the gauge even with a swatch due to the texture?  


sandybeth wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 10:43 PM

Thanks for this lovely scarf pattern and once again for sharing your wealth of information with us.  You make knitting a joy to enjoy!

...Sandebeth,  Australia

KathleenP wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 10:42 PM

Would you be able or willing to publish the specifications for a WPI tool? You wouldn't believe the wood working machinery in the garage and I would love to make (truthfully, have my husband make) a tool rather than buy one.

HollyY wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 9:00 PM

Would comparing the number of yards/metres per gram also work for yarn substitutions?  E.g.  if the pattern uses a wool yarn that is 100 grams and 200 yards and the yarn I'm looking at in the store is also wool, 100 grams but 220 yards, would this be close enough to be equivalent?  If this system works then I wouldn't have to buy the yarn to calculate the wpi.

Gail@3 wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 8:22 PM

I assume that what you wrap the yarn around is an inch long -- what then is the height?  Thanks!

Terry W wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 6:38 PM

Here is the link from the email version of the post <a href="">Ribbed Scarf</a>

BetsyN wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 3:01 PM

I love the scarf!  I'm a handspinner and always make a good sample in a few needle sizes to see how it will work.  Can we get the scarf pattern?   Betsy

TerriM wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 2:44 PM

It would be extremely useful if manufacturers would start putting the wpi of their yarns with the other info on the wrappers and websites, along with yardage, weight class, fiber content, gauge, etc.  Designers, too, could include this info on their patterns.  This would be very helpful in making informed substitutions based on the WPI, as even yarns in the same weight class can vary a lot.  It gets really tough to find comparable yarns once the one specified goes out of production--a real frustration at times, especially when using older patterns!  Thanks for the informative explanations, Terri M.

CharylB wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 2:19 PM

Thank you, thank you for the awesome w.p.i. chart! I'm notorious for not making a swatch and have had quite a few wthings turn out far from what expected!!!  Fortunately I've been able to fix or give to someone other than the project was intended for but know someday, there will be a major disaster!  Thanks again!

Knitto in Texas

Liz Gipson wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 1:59 PM

Check with your LYS. This gauge was made by a "Woody" a woodworker in New Mexico who has just retired after many decades of service to the fiber community.

PauletteM@2 wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 1:58 PM

TJ, try using the same size crochet hook according to its Metric size -- the mm -- the millimeters listed on the hooks.  Compare these to the Metric equivalents of the knitting needle sizes in Liz's table for the yarn you want to use and see if this works.

Liz thanks for such a clear article and method, its much easier to understand this way than in the back of the magazines.

SusanS@3 wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 1:49 PM

I like the little gadget shown in the picture for measuring wraps per inch.  It seems much more accurate than the stick like ones I've seen for sale.  Does anyone know where this one is available?  I know, I could make my own from cardboard or something, but I like the look of this wooden one.

Susan S.

JoanS wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 1:14 PM

Okay, I think I get it - it'd be sort of like cutting little strands and laying them side-by-side on a 1" scale, so it doesn't matter if you wrap it around a ruler or something the size of a credit card. This is very helpful...I never understood the WPI concept before. Thanks!!!

LauraK wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 1:00 PM

Great article! I'm learning to spin (thanks to Sandi!)  and love this chart will come in very handy to love the yarn I'm with!

Liz Gipson wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:59 PM

You can use any darn solid object you want to wrap your yarns. I don't recomment using your finger or anything with give as it could throw off your results.

ClaudiaN wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:54 PM

Does it matter what item you wrap around?  Would it be the same if you wrapped around a ruler or wrapped around a knitting needle (which would be much thinner)?

EllyD wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:51 PM

'Love the Yarn You're With' a mantra for the fickle knitters (and spinners) among us, and I'm surely one of those!  Elly

teresa@106 wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:50 PM

Great to have this kind of information. I'd love it if you would add to that table a column for suggested size of CROCHET hooks?! Thanks!

Liz Gipson wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:42 PM

Yikes!  Mea culpa: that should be 18+ w.p.i for lace weight. Everything else is correct.


elsteffo wrote
on Oct 6, 2008 12:35 PM

Ummmm, I don't get it. How can laceweight be 10+ wraps per inch, when bulky yarn is 10 wraps per inch? Doesn't make sense to me.