Achieving Yarn Freedom: Yarn Substituting and Measuring Gauge

My adventures in yarn crafts have been relatively self-taught; meaning lots of mistakes, lots of frustration, and lots of learning. Two things I had to learn the hard way – gauge and yarn substituting. These two topics go hand-in-hand, and can really make or break your project.

First, let’s start with yarn substitution. Yarn substitution is the tricky art of using a yarn that is different from the one listed in a pattern. When I first started out, I assumed that you could simply substitute yarns based on their weight; bulky with bulky, worsted with worsted. Easy! But when I tried this, it didn’t always work out. Some of my projects turned out warped, misshapen, or the wrong size, and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. This made me substitute yarn less and less, which was frustrating because now not only did I have to like the pattern, but I had to also like (and have access to) the yarn the designer used.

In my frustration, I turned to my trusty friend Google and found this gem of a website: YarnSub . I can’t properly express how excited I was when I found this website.

YarnSub is a free and independent tool to help knitters and crocheters find workable substitutes for discontinued, hard to find (or just overly expensive) yarns. It has a large database of yarns from all the major manufacturers and many smaller brands too.” –

And that is exactly what they do. The search can be as broad as a weight class, or as specific as an exact yarn. It’s a great tool and has been so helpful for me. I would highly recommend taking a peek at it if you haven’t already.

Now this is is a great place to start, but if you want to gain real yarn freedom, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of gauge.

Gauge is the number of stitches and rows per unit of measurement (mm, cm, inch, etc) and is typically written in this format:

Gauge:  # stitches, # rows = sample size, in stitch type

Gauge: 7 stitches, 10 rows = 4 inches in HDC .

This means that if you were to make a 4 inch square on your swatch or object, the square should end up being 7 stitches across and 10 rows deep.

In order to check this, you will want to work up a quick swatch in the designated stitch that is slightly bigger than the dimensions listed. In the case above, you would work up a HDC square approximately 5″ x 5″ .

Knowing what the gauge should be, and measuring your own work is all well and good, but what you do with the measurements is the most important part. If your swatch matches the gauge listed – perfect! You and your yarn of choice are off to the races for this project. But what if your gauge doesn’t match?

Your stitch count is lower than the gauge = go down a hook size
You’re getting fewer stitches in per inch than you’re supposed to, meaning your stitches are larger or looser than the designer’s. A smaller hook will make smaller stitches! 

Your stitch count is higher than the gauge = go up a hook size
You’re getting more stitches in per inch than specified, meaning your stitches are smaller or tighter than the designer’s. A bigger hook will make bigger stitches! 

Crochet Hooks











Now you may be saying, “But the pattern calls for a 5mm hook! If I change my hook, will that mess up the pattern?” Short answer: No. Long answer: Gauge always trumps hook size in patterns.
The hook size is only listed to tell you what the designer used to achieve the gauge listed. Everyone crochets at a slightly different tension from one another, and hook size can minimize the impact of this variance on your projects.

Once you change up your hook size, you will need to re-swatch and re-measure. The more exact you are with the gauge, the closer your project will be to the designed outcome.

Hopefully with these two tools under your belt, you will feel more empowered to choose your yarn, and not have it chosen for you!


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