Every one of us, crocheters and knitters alike, have found the perfect pattern, and then had the sinking feeling that comes with realising you can’t get the yarn. It’s discontinued. You’re allergic to the fibre content. It’s only available in New Zealand.

People come into the shop all the time with exactly this dilemma. So here’s how to find a good substitute yarn.

The first thing to sort out is the weight of the yarn. In yarn-shop terminology, this refers to the thickness of the yarn (not what it weighs, as we’ll see). In principle, DK weight yarns will happily sub for each other, so if your pattern specifies DK, that’s the place to start. If it wants Aran, then sub with Aran.

If you’re making something that needs to come out a particular size, then the size of the stitches matters just as much when you’re using a different yarn, so you need to swatch. So buy a single ball of your intended alternate, and check that you’re getting the pattern tension. But swatching tells you far more than just your tension. You can be reasonably sure that the pattern designer has chosen a yarn that suits the project, but if you’re subbing, you need to consider the fabric a little more carefully.

Not all fibres behave the same – for example, wool is elastic and resilient, cotton is inelastic and tends to grow downwards with gravity. For that reason, it’s usually not a good idea to use cotton for a pattern written for wool – the designer will have taken the elasticity of the fibre into account, and using one with little stretch but lots of sag won’t work. If your heart’s set on cotton, much better to search out a pattern that was intended for it. In the same way, if you want to make an slinky evening top with gorgeous drape, then a pure wool DK may not be the best choice.

Your swatch will also tell you whether that yarn will work with your intended pattern – if it’s very soft and fluffy, it mightn’t show off the intricate cables you’ve planned. If it’s very smooth and tightly plied, perhaps you don’t want to make a diaphanous evening shrug from it.

To give an idea of how much yarns of one designated weight can vary, have a look at the picture up above. They’re all DK, but they’re very different. As you can see from the shape of the balls, the fibres behave very differently – Louisa Harding Merletto on the extreme left is smooth and drapy compared to the floofy Sublime Lustrous at top right.

These two balls of yarn illustrate our final point very well. In patterns, yarn is typically described by weight (in the non-yarn-shop sense): you’re told to get ten 50g balls for your jumper. So it’s easy to assume that you need to get ten balls of your substitute yarn. That can go very badly wrong indeed.

Because different yarns, even of the same fibre content, can be spun very differently, and because different fibres are less bulky than others for the same weight, you cannot rely on the weight in grammes of the substitute yarn. Here’s an example: the Merletto on the left in the picture above weighs 50g. Suppose you’re subbing it into a pattern that calls for ten 50g balls of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino. It’s easy to think that ten balls of the Merletto will be just fine.

Easy to think, but quite wrong: Merletto’s 50g only stretches for 90m. Cashmerino’s 50g is 110m. So ten balls of Merletto is 900m, while ten balls of Cashmerino is 1100m – or over two balls of Merletto in difference. If you know this when you’re buying the yarn, you can get enough to complete your project. More and more patterns tell you the total yardage required, but not all do and it’s easy to check when you’re aware of it.

Indeed, the yarn at the top right in the picture illustrates how weight and thickness can be deceptive: that’s Sublime Lustrous, a very luxurious yarn that’s new for Autumn/Winter. To look at it there, it’s close to Cashmerino in thickness and floof. When you pick it up, you notice the difference. A ball is 95m, which makes it shorter in yardage, but that 95m only weighs 25g. In other words, it’s half the weight of all the others. Light and warm for winter? Oh yes!

Of course, we’re delighted to help with substitution issues in the shop as well, so if you come across your ideal project and want to change the yarn, it’s possible and it’s fun. And who knows – your version in your newly chosen yarn may even be lovelier than the original!


Last night our friend Brendan Kehoe, Elana’s husband and E and P’s father, passed away peacefully. He was one of the very best: friendly, generous and totally cool in his unique geeky-hacker way. He was greatly loved. We are heartbroken.

Our thoughts and all our love are with his family and friends.

Edited to add: Arrangements for the service are here.

Finished objects

Three months ago (really? it doesn’t seem that long), we started the Spring KAL. There’s a pleasing number of finished objects in the KAL Ravelry thread, though some people are still working on theirs.

So it seemed like a good time to post a couple of FO pictures. We’ve got one Clam and one Breaker, the first knitted by Lisa and the second by Jacqui.

Here’s the Clam:

Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t the cabling just lovely?

Isn’t the sleeve very pleasing?

Well, there was a point when that sleeve wasn’t quite so pleasing. When it was first attached to the body and gleefully tried on, it became horridly obvious that it was out of alignment by half a row, so that the seam fell at the front of the arm rather than the back.

After the gnashing of teeth died away, the sleeve was rescued. Snipping a single thread just above the cable, ripping out a row and capturing all the stitches from both sides, the sleeve was turned round the right way and grafted into its new position. The fix is invisible, so a small amount of labour and fiddle meant that Lisa’s Clam is a lovely and wearable garment instead of a sulking mass at the bottom of a drawer.

Jacqui’s Breaker went very smoothly indeed. We’ve already blogged about knitting the fronts and back in one piece with a fake seam, which meant that there was much less making up to do.

This is the back view. Aren’t the little vents at the cuffs with the buttons an elegant touch?

But the best thing about this KAL was watching our customers’ garments take shape. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we’re already thinking about another. Watch this space!


Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to save your knitting as you work it, like a Word document or a game? Wouldn’t it be good to look back at what you’ve done and know that whatever happens, you won’t have to rip that part back?

Today’s post is a step-by-step guide to saving your work as you go. The trick is to use lifelines.

A lifeline is a piece of contrasting yarn passed through all the stitches on a row. That’s it. It just sits there, receding further down from the needles as you knit onward from it, minding its own business. At the end of the work, it just pulls right out, with no sign that it was ever there. The yarn can be anything smooth that isn’t going to leave fibres in your knitting – in other words, crochet cotton would be excellent and mohair would be daft. Some people use dental floss (it works).

To insert a lifeline, all you need is an ordinary yarn needle, threaded with your lifeline yarn. At the end of a section that you’re sure is right, run the threaded needle through all the stitches, along the path of the knitting needle they’re sitting on. If you’re using stitch markers, just avoid them as you go, or they’ll be fixed in place by the lifeline.

When you’ve reached the end of the row (or round) and the lifeline’s through all the stitches, that’s it. Remove the yarn needle, leaving the lifeline in place.

Then you just knit onward, leaving the lifeline in place. After a few rows, your knitting will look like this, with the lifeline peacefully marking your perfect section off from the current work.

And there it stays, and it might never be needed. But in this scenario, something awful does happen. Something’s gone wrong here:

Not to worry – the lifeline is there to save the day. The stitches simply slip off the needle, and the rows back down to the lifeline rip out easily.

When you get to the lifeline, the ripping stops. It can’t go any further, because the stitches are held by the contrast yarn:

At this point, you just put the stitches back up on the needle, and then start knitting. The lifeline stays there in case it’s needed later on.

Lifelines are usually recommended for lace (the sample being knit here is the Party Lace Scarf), but you can use them in all sorts of knitting. What about just before you start the heel of a sock or the decreases for a sleeve? Whenever you pass a point that you’d prefer not to have to rip back past, it makes sense to save your work.

How often should you put one in? As often as you like – at regular intervals, like every tenth row or at the end of your pattern repeat makes sense. If you don’t know what row your lifeline’s on, it’s little use, so write down which row you’ve saved on. If you’re making lace with “rest rows”, lifeline a purl row, because it’s less fiddly to pick up a row with no yarnovers in it.

Some people live dangerously, pulling out their lifeline to reuse the yarn for the next one further up. Let’s just say that discovering a mistake on the second lifeline row after the first has been removed is enough to cure you of that tendency. It’s safer to use several lengths of contrast yarn and leave them all in until the end. (Ask us how we know this.)

And that’s it – no more ripping out 50 rows of work because you’ve noticed a mistake only six rows down. There’s something very relaxing about looking at the section below the line and knowing that no matter how badly things go wrong from now on, you don’t have to do that bit again. Relaxed knitters make fewer mistakes, so having a lifeline in means you’re less likely to need it. Funny, that!

Thank you for all the lovely memories of the last five years that you shared with us when we asked a couple of weeks ago. The Random Number Generator has picked out a winner for our prize of an intermediate knitting or crochet class, and it’s Lindy (rosknit on Ravelry). Congratulations, Lindy!

We had a party! (Episode II)

We were so lucky last week to have such talented designers joining us to celebrate, and to get a chance to see some of their designs in real life.

If crochet’s your thing, then the opportunity to see AoibheNí’s work was exciting. She’s doing fresh and beautiful things with crochet – have a look at these:

That’s the stitch pattern on her Dublin Bay Shawl (there’s more about it, and more pictures, on this Ravelry thread). And here’s Ruadh:

Aoibhe is one of our crochet teachers here, so if crochet isn’t your thing, we can help there!) You’ll be learning from one of the very best.

In the last few years, Carol Feller has become one of the most interesting knitting designers on the international stage. She came to us straight from TNNA, and her book Contemporary Irish Knits will be published very soon (we can hardly wait!).

The blue sweater in that picture is featured in the book, and the delicate shawl is Maenad.

When it came time for Debbie Bliss to introduce some of her new designs, we had such fun. Some of the partygoers got to model them, and they performed with aplomb. Here’s a selection:

The star of the show, without a doubt, was our youngest guest. Megan modelled several new Debbie Bliss designs, and when asked to give a twirl, gave us the best one of the night:

Seeing Debbie’s designs on lots of different people underlined an important part of her philosophy – it’s possible to make garments that look amazing on us all. Here’s a case in point: this cardigan jacket is designed for a woman, but doesn’t it look fantastic on a man?

Skippy’s sworn to make one this autumn – in fact, that was the reaction of a lot of our models: “I’m definitely making one of these for myself!” Of course, we will be getting the patterns and yarns for all of these and lots more over the next few months, so keep an eye here and in the newsletter.

There are exciting new yarns coming too. We can’t mention all of them, but here’s one we can’t keep to ourselves:

It’s a superbulky chainette yarn, it’s an alpaca/merino blend and words can’t convey how soft it is. You’ll have to feel it for yourself.

This party was the best way we could have celebrated our birthday, and we couldn’t have had better friends to do it.

Because of your generosity, we’re able to pass on €500 to the Irish Cancer Society. Thank you more than we can say.

… and at the end, you know, there was no cake at all.

We had a party! (Episode I)

We’ve got such a lot to tell you! In fact, we’ve got so much we want to cram in that we’re going to take two posts to do it. Today we’re going to share some memories of the party, and then on Friday we’ll talk about the lovely new designs that we got previews of.

On Wednesday, the loft looked like this:

When we were setting up on Thursday, it looked like this:

(That’s Debbie Bliss on the left!)

When seventy-odd lovely knitters, crocheters and designers had arrived, it looked like this:

There were flowers:

There was Prosecco served by charming barmen:

There was new yarn:

There were tantalising sample garments:

There were small knitted characters:

Best of all, wherever one looked, there were crocheters and knitters, working away, sharing patterns, chatting avidly….

That’s Skippy along with Debbie in the last picture. He’d flown in from Chicago!

There was, of course, cake, made specially by Marion and Dervla at the Pepperpot:

We’re so happy that so many of you were there, and we’re so sorry that some of you couldn’t make it. Thank you, all.

Not Mrs Tiggywinkle

It’s not all parties and dotey alpacas round here, you know. We also have this:

That is (some of) our current stock of Hedgehog Fibres yarn, hand-dyed by Beata in Glanmire in Co. Cork. That pile contains merino sock, silk laceweight, Blue-faced Leicester laceweight and pure cashmere laceweight, and it’s even more amazing in real life.

Want to see some more? Well, here’s the silk lace. The sheen has to be seen to be believed, and you can get an awful lot of knitting delight out of a kilometre:

This is the superwash merino sock – practical as well as beautiful:

The Blue-faced Leicester is also big yardage: eight hundred metres of loveliness:

This is what four hundred metres of pure cashmere laceweight looks like – the softest thing, in stunning saturated colours:

And if you’re looking for pattern ideas, could we recommend Spring Tuck, designed by our talented colleague Rose Anne? This example of it is made from Hedgehog Blue-faced Leicester. It’s a quick, elegant and interesting knit, and it would make a lovely gift either for yourself or someone else:

Last night’s birthday party was great fun – thank you to everyone who came along and helped us celebrate. We’ll tell you all about it soon – promise!