One of the most invaluable skills I learned about early was yarn substitutions. I was extremely lucky and am very happy the way I went around learning to knit. It was totally on accident as well. I was looking up patterns for my first sweater project when I saw a pattern that I LOVED! I had to have it immediately, but it was only available in the book.
This happened to be Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Seamless Hybrid Sweater. This was published in Knitting without Tears, which was first published June 1971. I went out looking for this book at bookstores; checked if I could order it from Chapters etc. No such luck, it was re-printed 1995 as a Fireside paperback edition. I gave up on bookstores after discovering that some yarn stores carried books (don’t judge me, this was in my knitting infancy). I ended up finding it at the third store I checked and promptly bought it and headed back home. I had already seen the yarn requirements from Ravelry, and wanted to cast on immediately.
If anyone has ever read an EZ pattern, you will know that it is a little more difficult than just casting on 98 stitches and doing the ribbing. On one hand, I had not expected this and was slightly annoyed, but on the other hand, it really made me THINK. It gave me that fundamental understanding of gauge and how it worked. There are instructions on how to measure your store bought sweaters and work with a swatch and those numbers to specifically get the perfect size for yourself!
Knowing this now, I always use a witch-crafty combination of checking my actual gauge and what size I want the garment to be and comparing the patterns gauge and what the expected outcomes will be. This might sound confusing, but it allows me to measure a well fitting sweater and figure out how many stitches I would have to cast on (at my current gauge) to get that size. Then I look at the pattern and check if that is a legitimate size.
This process definitely sounds overly complicated, and it totally is. There are much easier ways of checking your gauge, BUT what happens when you have a totally different yarn size and the pattern gauge is just not going to hack it?
I am actually re-writing a pattern for a friend right now. She chose a smaller yarn size than the pattern calls for and it is an all-over cable style. This was not too bad; I just had to take the measurements of the sweater and her gauge swatch and apply it to the pattern. If pattern has to be a multiple of 8 for the cables to work out (I am just using random numbers for the example) and the number of stitches is 200, then you’re golden! It is a little bit trickier with cables, because 8 stitches cabled is not the same as 8 stitches in stockinette; but I digress and there is a formula for that!
I think this book deserves it’s own place in my Technical Tuesday posts, because it built an AMAZING foundation for learning about gauge. If there is one knitting book I would prompt someone to read, it would be this one. Elizabeth Zimmerman was a clever, witty woman and I think I can lay at least part of my open-mindedness in knitting at her door.