Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Estimating Yarn Needs for ANY Knitting Project

tips and tricks for having enough yarn ...

tips and tricks for having enough yarn …

Paula over at Fletchington Farms asked a great question the other day:

But I’d really like to know how you go about figuring out how much yarn a new design will need. I want to make my own shawls and things, but it always holds me back because I don’t know how much yarn I will need.

Well, ok, Paula (and all the rest of you who also may want to know) … the quick and dirty answer is: you don’t know how much you’ll truly need until you’re completely finished. You can make a pretty good estimate … which is what the rest of this post will cover … but it is an art and not a science. You could knit the same thing, ten different times with the same fiber and still come up differently. It’s the nature of knitting.

Now, all that said, you can get a pretty good estimate by using one of the following methods:

  • find a similar pattern that you’d like to try (on Ravelry or Craftsy or in a book or magazine) … one that is a similar size and uses a similar yarn. This is also a good way to get your first shot at what needle size to use (particularly when working lace … more about that in another tips/tricks post).
  • use a resource like Ann Budd’s The Knitters Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements (a slim folder that I keep in my traveling-knitting bag so I always have it with me) or one of her books, The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns or her The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns … both of which I would grab if I knew I’d be stranded on a desert island (along with a few buckets of yarn stash, of course!). The folder and the books are very similar: Budd gives estimates for yarn amounts based on the gauge obtained (rounded to whole numbers). The gauge refers to the size of the yarn based on the following “standard” from the Craft Yarn Council:
    Standard Yarn Weight System
    So again, you have a starting place for what yarn works best with what size needle.
  • keep track of similar projects you’ve worked … either others or your own design … how much yarn did YOU use? How close did you come to the designer’s estimated yarn needs? Are you a looser knitter or a tighter knitter? Did you use an odd needle size to obtain gauge (which will affect yarn usage)?
  • As I mentioned earlier, this is not a science — you won’t use the same amount each time. Even using the “standards” given by Ann Budd (or other sites) for yarn estimates are just that: estimates! These yarn-use calculators are based on a plain sweater or simple scarf. Always err on the side of too much rather than too little — add 10-25% to the yardage estimate, more if you have lots of fiber-sucking cables or will be doing stranded colorwork. If you worry about “wasting” the money on too much yarn, keep one skein unwound (with the receipt) and return it to the shop (always check the shop’s return policy — my LYS will take yarn within 30days of purchase) … or you could make a cap or bag to match the garment … or just add the extra yarn to your stash for multi-colored projects or small knitted toys or whatever.

    This is where searching on a site like Ravelry can be so much help — you have access to hundreds of thousands of patterns where the yarn estimate, needle size and other information has already been determined. You can average what you find or pick one or two similar designs that reflect what you have in mind. Remember, though, if the design comes in multiple sizes the yarn estimates are based on yarn usage for one or two of the sizes in the pattern — increase this estimate accordingly. Further, some designs give the yarn estimate in number of skeins of the sample yarn used. This is not going to be nearly as accurate as designs that give yardage (as most all of mine do) since a skein can have 400 yards on it and the need for two skeins could use 450 yards or 800 yards exactly. On my patterns, if I used just a bit of another skein or ALL of a skein, I will make note of it so that if someone is substituting (or knits differently than I do) they can estimate yarn needs accordingly.

    Hope that helps, Paula (and others).

    Please mention any questions or issues you might like me to address in other “Tips and Tricks Tuesday” posts.sig file

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