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How to Substitute Yarns in a Weaving Pattern

So you've found a pattern you love, but don't have the exact yarn it calls for. Can you substitute a stash yarn or something other than what the designer specified? The answer, like so many in weaving, is it depends. You can’t always substitute one yarn for another and get the same hand or the same size project as in the pattern. You may have to make some adjustments to get the outcome you want. 

Group of Gist Yarn

Things to Consider Before Substituting a Yarn

Here are a couple of key factors to consider when thinking about adapting your project to use a different yarn:

The content of the yarn specified vs what you prefer to use

Different yarns have different elasticities under tension on a loom.

The size of the yarn specified vs what you prefer to use

The same sett used for two different yarns may give you unexpected results! 

The pattern structure

Some structures like plain weave are very stable, where others like waffle weave may take up and shrink significantly, potentially resulting in a smaller finished project than you anticipated.

Running Stitch Napkins weaving pattern

An Example: Running Stitch Napkins

Let’s say you want to weave the Running Stitch Napkins, which use Duet Cotton/Linen, but have an abundance of Beam Organic Cotton. How do you weave a pattern written for a thin-ish (2,390 yards per pound) cotton/linen blend in a thicker (1,260 yards per pound), 100% cotton yarn and get a project you like?

To start, you need a little bit of information about the project and both of the yarns, which often can be found in the specifications section of our patterns.

Looking at the Running Stitch Napkins pattern, we can see that the structure is plain weave. Woven in Duet and sett at 12 EPI,  11” in the reed, yields a 10” wide napkin. That is about 10% width shrinkage. The woven length of the napkin at 12 PPI is 11.25”, resulting in a napkin that is  10” long, so slightly more shrinkage at 12.5%. 

Now that we know how Duet behaves in this pattern, how can we guess what Beam would be like in this pattern?

Fortunately we have some plain weave Beam patterns at the same sett! The Color and Weave Placemats, Confetti Runner and Beginner Cotton Towels are all sett at 12 EPI and have a range of 16-19% width shrinkage. The PPIs are 10 for each project and each one shrinks about 18% in length after wet finishing. (Keep in mind that this PPI-to-EPI imbalance might distort the Running Stitch motif, since that was written for a balanced weave.)

Where the Duet version of the napkins required weaving an 11 x 11.25” dimension to get a 10” square napkin, the Beam napkins have to be woven closer to 11.6 x 11.8” to get a similarly-sized napkin, but the napkins will probably be quite dense since Beam is almost twice as thick as Duet. This thickness is desirable for a place mat, runner or towel, but may be too thick for a napkin. 

To get a cloth with more drape, you may wish to try Beam at 10 EPI. The Houndstooth Scarf was threaded at 10 EPI and woven at 10 PPI, for a balanced weave, which is also how the Running Stitch Napkins were written. This slightly wider sett worked well for a scarf and would probably make a lovely-feeling napkin as well. The shrinkage rates for this project were 21% and 19% respectively, meaning you’d want to warp and weave approximately 12 x 12” to get 10 x 10” napkins.

Once you have a good sense of the take up and shrinkage rates, and the size you need to weave to get the final dimension you want, you can calculate how many ends and how long a warp you need.

Having a few patterns written in similar setts and in the same structure for the yarn you wish to use takes a bit of the guesswork out of adapting a favorite pattern to a different yarn, but, as always, the best way to know for sure is to sample.

About Christine Jablonski

In addition to being Gist Yarn’s Director of Channel Development and Customer Experience, Christine Jablonski is a weaver and exhibiting fiber artist whose work has been shown in New England galleries and is held in private collections across the country. She is a contributor to Little Looms and Handwoven magazines, and the author of SoulSpace Notes, a monthly column on weaving, art and life.

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