Yarn Substitution

I was over the moon to discover a new website recently yarnsub.com that suggests a range of alternative yarns based on a wide range of important factors. I know this website is going to be a great help to me as a designer, helping me try out some new yarns. I also think its going to be great for knitters and crocheters looking to change the yarn that a pattern suggests – either due to availability or cost. I know I’ll be using it to select comparisons to trial against in my cheap and cheerful yarn reviews!

I was intrigued by the site and the work and research behind it. Wendy Peterson the mastermind behind it kindly agreed to be interviewed.



You’ve recently launched a new site yarnsub.com. Tell me a little more about it and how the idea came about?

I used to work in IT but took a long break when I had children and it wasn’t easy getting back into that kind of job. I knit like an addict and have always wanted to work on something knitting-related. I came up with a few different business ideas and settled on Yarnsub. When substituting yarn I had searched for a site like it and not found anything. There are so many different yarn manufacturers that it’s almost impossible to know all the options. I found comments online along the lines of “When you find a yarn substitution site, let me know!” I couldn’t find one, so I decided to build one!

How on earth did you go about researching so many different yarns? Have you actually knit with them all?

I have knit and designed with lots of yarns and fibers, but not that many! I’ve also made plenty of mistakes in my choice of yarns over the years, which has helped to boot me along the learning curve. But I needed to know a lot more for Yarnsub. I started by researching different fibers. Clara Parkes and Deborah Robson were both major sources of knowledge for me, their books are fantastic. I read a lot online and from books then bought single skeins of many yarns and knitted endless swatches! The girls in my knitting group don’t even bother asking me what I’m making any more. They just roll their eyes at yet another swatch. It is a shame that knitting-wise there’s not something usable to show for it, but I’ve loved trying such a variety of fibers and learning through having the yarn in my hands. I worked at different gauges too, to see how far you could push a yarn of one gauge to be a substitute for a yarn of a different gauge. I’ll write that up as an article at some point.

Once I’d done all the research I went about making a ‘model’ of the different fibers that our software can understand – their characteristics such as warmth, durability, softness, elasticity, absorbency etc. Getting that model right has taken some time, and is also why Yarnsub is in ‘beta’ mode at the moment, trying to encourage other people to try it out and report any issues.

To keep the database current we have automated systems in place that check on the major manufacturer’s sites every day to find new or discontinued yarns. I check more manufacturers and add more yarns to the database every day.

Your husband did all the coding on the site. Was he always fully behind the idea or did he take some persuading?

He has always been very supportive of my knitting habit. Years ago I felt embarrassed even admitting to friends that I sat knitting every evening, so I was taken aback that he thought it was cool. I questioned what made me hide it and realised that my friends didn’t have a problem with it, only I did!

When I was setting up as Muddy Sheep, he also encouraged me to think more widely about ways to provide value for knitters. So there wasn’t much persuading left to do when it came to helping me with Yarnsub.

Running a popular website costs money. Will you be taking advertising to pay for it once it gets out of beta or will you have a subscription model for users?

Once Yarnsub is ready, our aim is to set up affiliate links to stockists and receive a small percentage when someone follows a link on Yarnsub to buy their chosen yarn. There are costs to running the site, plus we all have bills to pay, so if the affiliate links don’t work well enough we’ll think about advertising. We don’t have plans to put a subscription model in place.

Apart from yarnsub.com you run an etsy store and sell patterns on Ravelry. How long have you been designing and what got you started?

My poor Etsy store has been sadly neglected. I have many ideas for it, but for now it’s just ticking over.

I love, love, love designing, it’s a layer of creativity on top of the knitting itself that I find very fulfilling. But it was a real eye-opener finding out how much time and effort is required to take pages of scribbled notes and turn them into something that someone else can use to produce a piece of knitting. There’s so much work that goes into producing the patterns available online, and these days I’d rather pay to say thank you to the designer than use a free one! I’ll continue designing and pattern writing; it’s rewarding despite the sweat and tears.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

I’ve been experimenting with shaped intarsia over the past year or so. I had the idea after knitting a blanket of heart shapes, using increases and decreases as necessary to create the right shape. The hearts were then sewn together, but I wondered if I could use the increases and decreases either side of a colour change to make a shaped edge in an intarsia design. It turns out you can, but it’s not straightforward when it comes to moving beyond a basic straight line. Of course nothing is new in knitting, so I subsequently found that Daniella Nii published an article about a similar technique in Interweave Knits’ Knit.Wear Spring 2013 issue.


Getting the technique right is one thing, but incorporating it into a garment that someone would want to wear is a separate challenge. I’m enjoying working on that as I get time.


And now some quick fun questions – which do you prefer?

Wine or cheese? Wine. Something sparkling and cold.

DPNs or magic loop? DPNs

Sun or snow? I’m not good in either. Snow.

Cast on or cast off? Cast on.

Chocolate or crisps? Chocolate.

Blog or tweet? Tweet. Less brain-ache!


Thanks so much to Wendy for answering my questions! – I’ve really found her answers interesting. I hope you will all head over to yarnsub and have a play. Do let me know what you think in the comments!