Can I substitute a thread/yarn for the one used in the pattern?

fine yarns
© F H Powell 2017

This post follows on from our earlier post Which yarn should I use?

Although it is often best to use the yarn recommended in the pattern, there maybe instances where this is not possible and substitutions may have to be made. This may be the case if a pattern calls for a thread or yarn which is unavailable in your country, not easily accessible or simply too expensive. Some people may have an allergy to wool, or do not like the hairiness of pure wool, so prefer not to use it. For this reason some people prefer to use a yarn which has a smoother finished surface. This is purely down to personal preference, but do check some of the points below before substituting any yarns. You may be unaware you already have suitable threads/yarns in your workbox you can use, but not identical to threads mentioned in the pattern. In some cases, substituting threads may also allow for a wider choice of colours, for example No 100 crochet cotton is generally only available in white, cream and black.

However you need to bear in mind that when a different type of yarn is used the finished article may not look the same as the photo in the pattern or may even turn out considerably larger or smaller than the original. If a particular type of yarn, such as cotton is called for, wool may not prove a suitable substitute. The two yarns behave in completely different ways when knitted or crocheted: wool has a natural springiness, which pulls the stitches together, whereas cotton gives more definition to lace stitches. Cable or Aran designs usually look better worked in wool.

In miniature knitting/crochet it often does not pay to use cheap yarn and it may not look the same as you were expecting from the pattern photos. It may be susceptible to moth damage or it may come out far larger than you expected and not fit the doll you intended the garment for. For example when using acrylic yarns the finished item will often be much larger than if the same article was worked in wool. This does not usually matter much in dolls houses, as dolls vary a lot in size (rather like humans). If your item is too large for one doll it may fit another. Generally, in miniature work, a pattern specifying wool will come up ¼-inch (0.6 cm) larger overall than if worked with acrylic wool or cotton. The simplest solution here is to use knitting needles or hook a size or two smaller.

Some yarns, within a certain thickness (such as 1-ply), may have quite a variation from one brand to another. So if yarns are substituted in a lace pattern, the lace effect may become more open or more closed depending on the thickness of the yarn substituted and may alter the look of the design completely. Also bear in mind that an intricate lace pattern may be lost if knitted in wool and may show up much better if worked in silk, acrylic or cotton yarn.

Some pure wool yarns (apart from not being mothproofed) may also not be strong enough for miniature knitting or crochet, especially if travelling stitches (as in Aran patterns) are used and huge stresses are put on the fine yarn, which could break. Some very fine wool sold for lace knitting in full size, may not be strong enough to cope with the stresses of miniature knitting, as the lace wool is generally used on much larger knitting needles to give a very open effect. It can be heartbreaking to find the yarn suddenly parts in the middle of a complex pattern.

Finally when considering yarn substitutions, you need to decide where you will display the article, this may be different from the way the item is displayed on the pattern:
Is it to be draped over a chair? Placed on a bed? Hung on a hanger or even worn by a doll? All these factors may influence the type of yarn you choose to work with.

1. Drape of finished article
If you wish to drape the article, for example a tablecloth or bedspread or even a dress laid out on a bed, it may be better to use a cotton or silk yarn rather than pure wool, which can be very stiff when worked up.
The size of the needles/hook or the thickness of the yarn will also affect the drape. Smaller needles/hook produce a tighter finished object, which will not drape as well as an article worked on larger needles/hook or using finer yarn.

2. Insect damage
If you are displaying an article in a dolls house or roombox you may wish to take into account possible insect damage, such as moth larvae eating through untreated wool or silk. In some cases small amounts of lavender tucked inside items of furniture, cushions or pillows may deter moths.
If using pure wool it is best to use wool that has been mothproofed by the manufacturer (such as most wool sold for tapestry.) It can be devastating to spend several days (or weeks) making a miniature item only to find that moth larvae have eaten right through the work. If the work is being displayed in a closed environment, such as under glass, this may not be such an important consideration.

Our next post will list the yarns/threads which can be substituted for others in miniature work, ranging from No 100 crochet cotton to No 10 and 2-ply yarns