Yarn substitution

I'm considering making a vest (waistcoat) from a "vintage" (30s? 40s?) English pattern which calls for 11 oz. of worsted-weight yarn.  I prefer working with finer yarn and needles and have no problem with modifying the pattern to suit my smaller gauge, but I'm not sure how much wool to buy.  Can I substitute 11 oz. (300 g.) of fingering-weight yarn for 11 oz. of worsted and have about the right amount?  I know I'm not likely to find if for 7 d. per ounce as mentioned in the pattern, so I'd like to have some idea of how much to buy.


What's the recommended needle size?  There is sometimes a difference in the use of wool-weight terms then and the plys used now and they were often different, although not greatly so, between manufacturers which is why they often put a caveat about using the recommended wool - usually a branded one.

Due to austerity reasons, they knitted finer wool on slightly larger needles than we now would to make it go farther.

I would also politely point out that 1930's men were considerably skinnier than today and you need to factor this in for wearability in the final garment.  It was usual to wear these waistcoats tight so a 36" chest would be exactly that!!!

The patterns were rarely knitted in what is called double-knitting here and the usual weight was a 3-ply, which is still available although not easy to get.  4-ply would be a suitable subsitute.  Anyway, let me know the needle size recommended and I'll reference it against my old patterns.  Simon

Thanks for the info, Simon.  The pattern calls for (English) size 5 needles and a gauge of 9 stictches = 2 inches.  Using US 9 needles and what is currently sold in the US as worsted I obtain roughly the same.  I would, however, like to use finer yarn and smaller needles rather than try to match the original.  I'm just not sure how much to buy.

The pattern doesn't mention the finished size, and I certainly can't wear a 36", so I guess I'll need to graph the garment on tissue paper to be sure I know what I'm getting.  I suppose in the end I'll just be copying the basic design rather than following the original instructions.

JPaul's picture

Wow, this sounds like an interesting project!  I love those old patterns that tell you next to nothing about the finished product.  Gives an indication of how little knitters of the past depended on written instructions.

Where did you find the pattern?


I found the pattern on the Victoria & Albert Museum website.  Unfortunately, I printed it off and didn't save the link.

I think you're in luck.  I've checked the pattern and it's a 40" chest . The link is still on the V&A website.  The wool would seem to be quite thick. An old size 5 would certainly be thicker than you would nornally need for double-knitting wool - it's about 5.5mm which is almost an aran weight size but I have found the wool on ebay (uk site) and it's certainly a double knitting wool.  I think it would be quite difficult to accurately buy a different gauge wool and be sure that you have enough.  Somewhere I have some old waistcoat patterns.  If you want to hang on and wait I can dig a suitable one out in a fine(er) gauge.

JPaul's picture

Simon, I'd love to see the patterns you have, too!

I'll have a rummage and sort some out.  I've always liked vintage patterns but was really taken with a old gentleman I saw wearing a very smart hand-knitted waistcoat in a fine tweed wool.  The back was a large chevron of ribbing reaching from the waist up to the armholes.  This shaped the waistcoat perfectly.  Maybe I'm getting old but I think they look rather nice under a loose fitting tweed jacket over a linen indian collar shirt. Just need the rocking chair and pipe.

YarnGuy716's picture

My favorite resouce is The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns by Ann Budd.  It contains basic designs in multiple sizes and gauges.  Being that most patterns just aren't written at a large enough size, I take the style, make a gauge swatch using the pattern stitch given and use the numbers given in the book.

I used this to make my own pattern for a Harry Potter Quidditch Sweater, as the only pattern out there is for a woman's 38.  I'm also taking a pullover pattern from a 1975 pattern book and have adapted it to make myself a vest.

As far as amounts of yarn... I tend to overbuy when I purchase yarn for a project, or I am working from a rather sizeable stash, which will have something I can use to complete the project.  Your local yarn store should be able to help you figure out how much you would need.  Plus most will accept returns of unused yarn with a receipt

From what I've learned at my Fashion Institute of Technology classes you'd need to make a swatch & use that to remeasure how many stitches you need after measuring the body you are knitting for. There was a formula I think but I don't have my notes with me right now.

Knit away, knit away

"They say best men are moulded out of faults; and, for the most, become much more the better for being a little bad." William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

kiwiknitter's picture

I have many old knitting patterns but I find them to be far more useful for inspiration than for the actual pattern.  The difficulties are that the sizes charted are not large enough for me and that the men from those eras seem to have been quite small and trim and liked to wear form-fitting clothes.  So, I will use the pattern design and then knit it according to today's sizing and knitting wools.  I, too, find the Ann Budd book to be very useful when making the transition from vintage to contemporary. 

Friends don't let friends knit drunk.

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly

Hi guys - I hope you will permit the intrusion of someone of the female persuasion. What I would do is knit a decent-sized swatch with the yarn you want to use, and figure out how much yarn went into it - either yardage or weight. Then figure the square inches of your waistcoat pattern, and divide by the size of your swatch to get the number of swatches worth of yarn needed for your waistcoat. It will certainly be more yards of a finer yarn, but less weight. Hope that helps... Susan