Grist: A Secret Measurement for Substituting Yarn

July 25, 2018
Jillian Moreno is a font of fiber facts. Know your Ps and Qs of rams and ewes!

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80 Comments
  • Thank you. I have been knitting for over 50 years and have never heard about “grist”. It makes so much sense. Have saved and pinned the post for future reference,

  • Brilliant article—I used to work in my LYS, and I wish I had had this article when I was trying to explain to my co-workers why you can’t knit everything out of Cascade 220 even if you can find a needle size that will give you gauge!

    • This article and this particular comment have just helped me avoid a biiiig mistake! 🙂

  • Brilliant thank you!

  • Mystery Date! We spent hours opening and closing that door, though I don’t remember ever playing the game as intended.

  • Super helpful. Thank you. I am saving this one!

  • What a great article! Thank you so much the information will help me so much,

  • Jillian! You are my new hero! Thank you for supplying another piece to the yarn puzzle. Also, I have figured out that if my LYS owner is also a spinner I will get better answers.

  • I do this all the time but had no idea there was a word for it! Thanks! Now that I’ve learned something new, I wonder if I can call it a day and head home? (It’s not even 8am yet but I checked, just in case. Boss laughed. Back to work,)

  • Wow. Never heard of grist. This information is extremely useful since we all sub yarns all the time!

  • Thank you so very much for all that wonderful,useful info AND how to save the article. My little sister had the Mystery Date game – what a hoot to see that corny commercial again!

  • My mind has been blown. I never even thought that yarn substitution would affect the weight of the finished project (other than woolen v. worsted spun). Wow! Saving article!

  • This was so helpful. I feel like I have a place to start from with my stash and substitutions. I appreciate the article and visuals. thank you

  • Whoa! Clicked and saved! Thank you so much for this.

  • WOW! That’s all I can say!

  • Thank you!!! Just another piece of the puzzle I have been needing. So much to learn, so little time.

  • Thank you! This information is so very helpful!

  • This is so very helpful! My co-worker just recently came to me with two rolled balls of yarn (both 4-ply) without tags and asked if she could make a shawl with it. She doesn’t know the name of the yarn or anything other than she has 2 balls of yarn. I knew I would need to do something like this, but you took all the guess-work and fuss out of it and I’m actually excited to figure out the mystery yarn and will make it a dream mystery date for my co-worker!

  • Great info! I knew a little about finding the yardage for mystery yarns, but I never thought about the weight of the project . Something really good to consider!

  • Thank you for this very helpful information!! I knew that there must be some formula that would take away the ambiguity when substituting yarn. I have some lovely hand spun and dyed yarn that is neither here nor there; fingering, lace, ‘flace’ who knows? This will help enormously. Math saves everything.

  • Such helpful information, thank you!

  • Wow. I’m working on something with a substitute and eating up yarn too quick. Now I may know why!

  • Wow. I hope my mystery date of a cardigan turns out!!! I could do the math, but don’t want to look behind door #1 to find out. Lol.

  • Wow, who knew ? Thanks !

  • Thank you for the sound advice. Going to a friend’s house to have Knitting Day. Will bring along this article to share. So wise!!!

  • That looks like a great scale, mine definitely is not accurate to .001 ounces! What brand is it?

  • Instead of thinking of gristle – think of grist mill, used for grinding grain for meal or flour.

    Thanks for the information.

    • Exactly my thought. “Grist for the mill” to me means that it’s raw material (a dream, thoughts) that might be useful sometime.

  • I have never heard of yarn ‘grist’, but after too many years of hit-or-miss yarn subs (‘the swatch looks great, they’re both listed as fingering, it must work’), it dawned on me recently that weight of yarn had to be factored into a sub. (A ‘DUH’ moment. But a happy one, which saved my most recent sweater.)
    Even still, I hadn’t considered the weight of the finished project and I will want to calculate that too, if I don’t want to end up with a 12 pound sweater – which would be a dud date for sure. Another ‘DUH’ moment! Thank you!

  • Thank you!
    And thank you for showing how to save this article!
    Mystery Date, my sisters and I had tons of fun playing that game! Which is weird considering the diverse neighborhood I grew up in!

  • Such a great, useful article but…math are hard!!! And I don’t own a scale so I guess I’ll continue to play Mystery Date with my yarn subs 🙂 I will save the article, maybe my brain will engage after another cup of coffee

    • Check thrift shops for digital kitchen scales – very often under $10

    • “Math are hard” oh the giggles you supplied with that phase!! Thanks I needed that!!

    • Scales are super cheap on Amazon. Mine was under $10 with free shipping and I’m very happy with it . Brand is Ozeri

  • Thank you!! Today I learned the difference between worsted-spun and woolen-spun yarns AND about grist. New knowledge to set me on the right path!

    • It is so sad to see that knitting classes no longer teach all the essentials, like they once did. How are new knitters going to know all this when they are not being taught it?? I feel so sorry for the next generation!! They will never survive!

  • This is going to be super helpful with my oft-repeated (and occasionally followed) promise to knit from stash instead of buying new yarn for a project. I’m not quite at the “don’t buy green bananas” stage yet, but knitting from stash isn’t far behind.

  • thank you! very helpful info with useful examples.

  • Thank you so so much for your fantastic article. I crochet and am constantly subbing yarns. I usually just change up the hook size but your article sheds a whole new light on things. Thanks again.

  • Wow. Thank you! This info is going to help me so much (says someone who knit a REALLY HEAVY shawl last year).

  • I’ve used the expression “grist for the mill” my whole life, and frequently, and never once thought of associating “grist” with “gristle.” Yuck.
    That said…this is a fully-packed useful post, and I will read it multiple times, I’m sure! Thanks very much 🙂

  • Grist is just a complicated way of saying that when you substitute yarn you look for a one that knits to close to the same suggested gauge, is a fiber with similar properties, & has approximately the same yardage/ounce or gram as the yarn used in the original pattern. Takes a teensy bit of math if the two yarns aren’t in the same size put up, but most of the time you don’t even need a calculator.

  • Thank you for this wonderful explanation! I have knitted since God created sheep and love to substitute yarns out of my stash or from falling in love with a different yarn in a shop. Over the years I have come up with the concept of “not quite right-ness” of one yarn for another and therefore moving on to a different. one The factors included weight, tightness of ply or density, how it felt and looked in comparison to the original but I didn’t have a word for it. Now I do: GRIST. I can hardly wait to use it.

  • Wow…so helpful! Thank you.

  • I make dolls and other children’s toy pets . Would the product be good for these items

  • Brilliant post! Thank you!

  • This is life altering, thank you!

  • Thank you too much for this explanation. I’ll be sure to use the info when subbing yarns from other countries (inherited).

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you…funny that I had just noticed YPP recently and wondered what it meant!

  • Wow, thanks. Very informative. BTW, I loved the Mystery Date video!

  • I worked in a yarn store back in the – ahem – 80s, and we never would’ve swapped yarn out any other way. The term “grist”, though, is new to me.

  • Thanks for the great (re)statement and definition of grist. I had done this for awhile, after few really dud dates (cotton?), but you helped me to understand grist at SAFF. Good to have the information renewed.

  • Wow! Great info. I have numerous balls of yarn which I have weighed and label but I have on idea of how many yards I have. Any secret to find out without unwinding and measuring?

    • Take a look at Jillian’s last section above, with the pink tangle of yarn. She measured out 10 yards of it, weighed it, and from those 2 data points she was able to calculate how many yards were in the tangle.

  • Great article! I’m debating what to do with my unfinished shawl made with a substitute yarn … do I rip back and add stripes to make it not look like I ran out of yarn or try to find a colour match for 5 year old stash yarn? I’m saving this article article and going to use it for all future projects.

    • I love this striping strategy. It has the bonus of being a fun way to communicate with other knitters without words. They will see the stripes and know the score! Seriously though, I’ve seen it work really successfully.

      • Thanks Kay! Stripes it is!!

  • Another for my very long list entitled ” Helpful Things I Have learned from Ann & Kay” . Along with the concept, what a great name for it. GRIST!

  • Gosh, this is how I’ve always subbed yarn, but I didn’t know it had a name! In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it was considered a legitimate way to find a suitable sub – I just knew that it had always worked for me. I feel so smart now!

  • So helpful! Cheers!

  • Thank you, thank you!!

  • This was brilliant – the “girl, that date is a dud” is hilarious. I will definitely be using this math today to estimate yardage on a 1/4 skein I have. But I have a question about date #1. Why can’t she just compare the yardage and see that she will be short yardage for the project? I see how it works for date #2 and date #3 but not sure what extra it revealed for date 1 when the yardage, yarn type and gauge was known.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I had mystery yarn from Value Villige, The look and feel of yarn plus the Grist measurements, burn test, WPI, and guage swatch, etc. I have been able to figure out that it is most likely 100% fingering weight cotton with grist of 3.33 yards per gram equalling a total of 4,155.84 yards

  • Then, there’s the McMorran balance, an extremely clever, useful, and fun-to-play-with tool for measuring ypp. Maybe grist for a future article?

  • Brilliant! Thank you.

  • Hi Jillian. This is a fabulous resource for knitters. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve included your post in our latest craft inspiration roundup. https://craftylikegranny.com/lifelong-learning-of-craft/ Cheers Jodie 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing such GREAT INFO!!
    HAPPY KNITTING AND SPINNING!

  • Huh. Who knew? That answers a lot of questions. Thank you!

  • Thank you so much! I have sweater quantities of a gorgeous Rowan tweed from the 90’s. But how much exactly? Now I can find out!

  • This article was so informative, thank you so much! This opens up a whole new world for me.

  • I’ve been married and divorced twice. I always like to look back on different phases of my life and think of something positive and useful that I learned from them.

    From my first ex-husband I learned not to marry philandering jerks. In retrospect I wish that I hadn’t narrowed that down to one specific category of jerks.

    From my second ex-husband (an entirely different sort of jerk from the first one) who spent his career in marine shipping logistics, I learned the lesson of grist. In the days of sailing ships carrying cargo around the world, it was very important that they used the right gauge ropes in the rigging and this is exactly how they checked – using a balance scale as opposed to a little digital kitchen scale. At the time I learned this lesson about 25 years ago, I bought a little McMorran balance scale which I’ve used many times on mystery yarns and have had some lovely knitting dates.

    As they’ve been saying for a very long time, since the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible, there’s very little new under the sun.

    PS: From my two marriages I learned that I’m very bad at choosing husbands and that I’d be far better off living with my wonderful yarn stash that I built up for my retirement, and a cat. I’m delighted to say that I finally got it right. My cat, my stash and I are loving every moment of my retirement.

  • I’m printing this article and filing it, so I remember I have it and can refer to it immediately! Thank you for the insights and methods to substitute with aplomb!

  • “You are my density!”

    “Grist” reminds me of “grift,” which might be appropriate if you’re trying to get away with substituting a yarn without enough substance. Don’t become a grifter by messing with the grist!

  • This was so helpful in understanding why some yarns are problematic when substituting for others in a pattern. You made my day!!

  • I seem to have issues with Pilling. Is this the way I knit or is this the yarn?

  • This article gives the right way to use grist information. I once used it the wrong way: I was planning to knit Timpani, a beautiful jacket by Connie Chang Chinchio, with sideways cables that looks a little like a band uniform. I thought that the designer’s yarn choice, Green Mountain Spinnery Cotton Comfort, must actually be a sport weight rather than the DK weight it claimed to be, because its grist (180 yards / 57 grams) was more in line with a typical sport weight. So I substituted a sport weight yarn with roughly the same grist. That resulted in the jacket being a wee bit tight, although still wearable and very chic. I’ve since learned to spin and understand that grist doesn’t line up exactly with yarn class, because of the difference between woolen spun yarns and worsted spun yarns. Woolen spun yarns are airier and can appear (and knit up) as thicker than their grist would suggest.
    Another caveat: cotton is heavier than wool, and comparing yarn class and grist between cotton, cotton blend and wool yarns can be confusing.

    • I agree!

    • lol and here i was, trying to compare woolen and cotton worsted to see if i could use the cotton organic on a baby cardigan. i knew it was heavier, thus all the math. i think i’ll search out a different organic worsted appropriate for spring.

  • Well … THIS explains a lot! Just checked the grist on my current project. Wrong!!! I kept having this niggling suspicion that the project wasn’t going to come out as hoped. I was right. Now to go pull out 800 yards of yarn. {heavy sigh}

  • Sorry I am late to this party. Question: is there an easy way to measure the yardage of a mystery yarn in order to determine its grist?