At first glance, figuring out how much yarn to buy seems easy. Just buy what the pattern tells you to buy.
Not so fast.
In reality, yarn buying almost always falls into one of two scenarios:
Scenario #1: The yarn listed in the pattern is unavailable, too expensive, or you just don’t like it.
Scenario #2: You’ve fallen in love with some yarn and haven’t even picked a pattern yet.
This is when yarn buying becomes tricky and it happens more often than not.
Scenario #1: The yarn listed in my pattern is unavailable/too expensive/I don’t like it.
How do I figure out how much substitute yarn I need to buy? And which one should I buy anyway?
Let’s assume you have a pattern in mind. The pattern will tell you that you need x number of balls of Brand A yarn in color A, color B, etc. If you’re lucky, they’ll list an alternative yarn choice or specify what the yarn weight is.
If you’re really lucky, the yarn will still be available, it will be within your budget, and you’ll like it enough to go ahead and buy it. These 3 conditions are rarely met.
This does make buying the correct amount more tricky. Sometimes the manufacturer of the recommended yarn will have a suggested replacement yarn.
More often, you’ll have to find a yarn of the same weight and, preferably, similar fiber content. The fiber content has a pretty big impact on the drape of your finished project and how your stitch pattern shows up. Yarn texture matters a lot here, too.
Check the pattern for the number of balls/skeins it tells you to buy and multiply that by the number of yards in each ball/skein.
For example: Your pattern calls for 9 balls of Beautiful Blend, which is made up of 70% mohair and 30% silk. You don’t like mohair and decide to substitute Lovely Luxury, an alpaca/silk yarn with a similar texture. The pattern tells you that each ball of Beautiful Blend weighs 0.9 oz, and 230yds of yarn. You need 9 x 230 = 2,070yards of yarn.
Check the yarn label for the yardage. Buy enough yarn to meet the yardage listed in the pattern, then buy one or two more skeins or balls.
In this example, Lovely Luxury also comes in balls weighing 0.9oz, with 232yds/ball. (Lucky!)
2,070yds (total original yarn yardage) divided by 232yds (substitute yarn ball yardage) = 8.9 balls.
Usually, the ball size and yardage aren’t so similar. This is an easy substitution, and you would buy 9 balls, plus the extra one or two balls for “just in case.” (The extra 2 yards/ball of the Lovely Luxury will not provide enough yarn “insurance.”)
Scenario #2: I’ve fallen in love with this yarn, but I don’t have a pattern in mind. How much yarn should I buy?
There are two answers to this question.
1. The first answer is “none.” Do not buy yarn when you don’t have a project in mind or your stash will quickly take over your house and achieve SABLE (Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy)!
2. If you have plenty of room and money, or this is a once a year splurge for you, the second answer is about 1500 yards, if it’s a DK or worsted weight yarn.
Knitting experts typically tell you to buy a little more than your pattern requires. Not helpful when you haven’t chosen a pattern yet. Here’s my rule of thumb, buy 1500 yards. It’s very rare that the yardage will work out to exactly 1500 yards, so always round up and you’ll be in good shape.
Why buy 1500 yards?
Over the years, I’ve found that about 1500 yards of DK or worsted weight will almost always give you enough for a project. I’m amazed at how many projects require something in the range of 1500 yards.
- A good sized scarf
- a shawl
- a lapghan or baby blanket
- a largish sweater
These all fall in the 1500yds range. Yes, there will be some variation depending on your pattern and the yarn weight, but if you’re in the DK or worsted weight range, and you fall in love with a yarn, but don’t have a pattern in mind yet, get 1500 yards, plus a little extra.
And set some limits on this kind of purchase, like once/year, or only when you’ve used up your last 1500 yard lot of spec yarn.
Tools for Estimating how much yarn you need to buy
The low tech approach to this is the yarn chart. If you print it out, or save it on your phone, you’ll always have it with you when you’re buying yarn. This makes spur of the moment purchases much easier. (Your call on whether or not that’s a good thing.)
LoveCrafts has some nice charts available on their site, as well as a yarn calculator and a chart for converting between US, British, and Australian weight terms.
That last one can be particularly helpful. Australians use the number of plies to indicate weight, but since it’s indicating weight, it has nothing to do with the actual number of plies in the yarn! Before I discovered this chart, hitting my head on the table was more fun than trying to figure out how much Australian yarn to buy.
Karen’s Yarn Buying Formula
Starting Point: Yarn Weight DK/#3 or Worsted Weight/#4 = 1500 yards
Rule: Minus One Weight class (from DK or Worsted Weight), Add 500 yards.
Sport or Sock weight/#2 = 1500 + 500 yards = 2000 yds Fine/#1 = 1500 + 1000 yards = 2500 yds
Laceweight/#0 = 1500 + 1500 yards = 3000 yds
Yarn buying is one of the great pleasures of knitting. But it helps to have a plan and be focused about your yarn acquisitions. Use one or more of the techniques presented here to keep your stash under control and make sure you have enough to finish your projects.
Don’t let your yarniphilia take over! Don’t play yarn chicken either – it’s stressful!
Any adventures in stash-busting or yarn chicken you’d like to share? Have you surrendered to SABLE?