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Choosing Yarn: Testing the Draping of Your Knitted Swatch

In knitting when we think about yarn substitution, most of us are guilty of just matching the gauge and moving on. It doesn’t matter how that gauge looks to us, even if the stitches look like they’re packed in there tightly. If we get the correct amount of stitches per inch, we’re happy.

This usually works out for us if we’re knitting something like a tech case. But what if it’s a wearable? Things can go wrong in ways you never expected when you don’t consider draping while choosing yarn for your project.

Draping isn’t some fancy knitting term. It’s exactly what you think it is: how fabric (including knitted fabric) moves and hangs.

Think about loose drapes, like light, airy mohair shawls. Or how about something that barely has drape at all, like a super bulky-weight knit in a gauge so tiny the stitches have nowhere to go and therefore stand at attention?

Let’s use this beautiful Arcadian shawl by Bluprint member Knitting Kninja as an example:

Woman Wearing Green and Yellow Shawl

This shawl was knit with an alpaca-silk blend (yummy!) and a merino lace edging. Notice how it gathers and falls around the neck and shoulders. Let’s say you want to substitute this yarn for something in your stash of the same weight. The weight matches, and you’ve managed to achieve the same gauge as the pattern. So does that make it a good substitution? Eh, not exactly. If your yarn sub is made of something a bit stiffer (say, a wool for example) then your shawl is not going to tuck and roll like the one in this photo. It might actually stand straight up instead.

How to solve a drape problem

There are a couple of things you can do to avoid completing a 20+ hour project only to find the drape makes it totally unwearable.

1. Research online

Search online to find knitters who have used the yarn you’re thinking about using as a substitution. If they made an item similar to the one you want to make, even better! Notice how the yarn drapes in the photos. Do you like it?

2. Knit a bigger swatch

Knitting a larger swatch has a lot of advantages, and draping is one of them. If you just knit the usual 4″ x 4″ swatch, you can’t tell much about it. Knitting a larger swatch not only gives you a more accurate gauge measurement, but it also makes the draping much more obvious. A small, lightweight swatch isn’t going to show off the drape, especially if that little swatch is going to turn into something like a big, cozy sweater.

3. Test your swatch

Don’t just measure your swatch. Put it through the same routine as you would your clothing. Wad it up, wash it. Knitting designer Lily Chin is a fan of hanging your swatch on the wall to see how it falls and hangs. Does it droop? Does it stand perfectly straight? These are all good indicators of how the yarn will look and behave once it’s knitted into a bigger project.

Achieving the right drape is just the first step in knitting well-fit knits. Check out Bluprint’s Fit Your Knits with Stefanie Japel and Feminine Fit with Joan McGowan-Michael for tips on everything you need to know about fitting knits before you even put the project on the needles, from calculating increases to adding bust darts.

Have you ever experienced a yarn substitution draping nightmare?



Great article. I frequently substitute yarn from what the sample pattern is knit up with, mostly because of budget. I have learned over the years to take drape into consideration after several mishaps. My very first (and worst) substitution was a sweater I knitted for my then fiancee. The pattern called for this very expensive wool blend and I was rather poor so I substituted a budget acrylic. I made my 4″ gauge swatch, washed it and blocked it (although at the time I didn’t know that acrylic really doesn’t block well). Once I was satisfied that I was knitting the right gauge to make the sweater fit correctly I knitted it up. I spent weeks working on the sweater and when it was finished I presented the sweater as a Christmas gift to my fiancee. When he pulled it out of the gift box he gave me an odd look, but said how much he loved the color and the pattern that I had chosen. He kept the sweater in his dresser drawer, always at the top so it was the first thing he saw when he opened the drawer, but I never saw him wear the sweater. Our marriage unfortunately did not survive and we parted ways, but remained friends. Years later I was unpacking my son’s room in our new house and I found the sweater among his belongings. I asked him where he had gotten it and he told me his dad had given it to him. He told our son that he should always keep the sweater at the top of the drawer to remind him that my love was as bullet proof as the sweater and that’s why he had kept it at the top of his drawer for all those years. The moral of the story is, had I knitted up a larger swatch of the budget yarn I would have easily seen that the yarn, while right on target gauge wise, was much too stiff to use for a pullover sweater.


Such a nice story. Thank you for sharing, Marcia! Even if no one ever wore the sweater, at least it is getting lots of use as a memento!


Many of my friends and I have taught ourselves to knit and crochet. Unfortunately you don’t see much about draping qualities written and so we learn the hard way about things like using the wrong yarn for a project. Many times, the experiences are very expensive, frustrating and so bad that we quit, or never try the same thing again. It would be so nice to find one book that really discusses all facets of knitting or crocheting so that you don’t have to buy a ton of books to learn. I had never thought of using the term draping for yarn. I just thought it was the wrong yarn for a project. I sew and know that draping fabrics is very important. Just didn’t associate the term with yarn. Now I know and have learned something today. Thanks for this article.

Margaux Ford

You make a good point in explaining the importance of testing the swatch to achieve the right drape, and putting it it through the same routine as you would your clothing. This is a good advice to my friend who’s fond of knitting. Thanks for mentioning that hanging the swatch on the wall to see how it falls and hangs is a good indicator of how the yarn will look and behave once it’s knitted into a bigger project. Thanks for the tips!


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