How Many Balls Does it Take?

May 17, 2010

When you fall in love with a pattern (and who hasn’t?), you may decide that it’d really be much better with a different material than the one called for.  I won’t go into how you know this — you just know.  Perhaps it’d be perfect for that merino blend that’s been hiding in your stash just waiting to be knit into something wonderful.

But the yarn in the pattern is a different weight or size than your precious merino — say 96 yard (50 gram) balls instead of 140 yard skeins.  How do you figure out if your stash of precious merino will be enough?

A tutorial in calculating how much yarn you need. Yes, I said calculating — it’s not rocket science; it’s basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

N.B. This calculation assumes that your chosen yarn (the Precious Merino) knits in the same gauge as the yarn called for in the pattern (the pattern yarn). The ONLY way for you to know this is to knit a gauge swatch and measure.  Don’t eyeball it. Don’t hope it’ll knit up the same gauge. Pull up your big knitter pants and knit a swatch.  Do not skip the swatch.

– Figure out how much yarn, in yards or meters, the pattern calls for.  Let’s say it comes in 140 yard balls, and the pattern calls for 7 balls.

Yards of “pattern yarn” needed = 140 yds/ball x 7 balls = 980 yards

– The pattern calls for 980 yards, so you’ll need 980 yards of your other yarn, the precious merino. (Assuming, of course, that you’ve done your gauge swatch. You have, haven’t you?)

– Your merino is “packaged” differently. Let’s say it comes in 96 yards per 50 gram ball.  To figure out how much you’ll need, you divide the 980 yards needed for the pattern by 96 yards/ball.

980 yards/96  yards per ball = 10.2 balls

– Ta da!  You need 10.2 balls, which really means you need 11 balls.  There is no “rounding down” in knitting, unless you want to have one sleeve end at the elbow and the other at the wrist.  Even though 0.2 balls doesn’t seem like a lot, in this example, it’s about 20 yards, which can mean the difference between finishing and not finishing your project (and not discovering this tragic piece of news until you’re oh-so-very-close to the end).

If you’ve got 11 balls of your precious merino, go for it.  If you’ve got 12, that’s even better.  That extra ball is your insurance policy.

If you’re not knitting from your stash and are going to your Local Knitting Story to buy your yarn, buy 11 balls. (If you’re a very low-risk sort of person, buy 12, just to be safe)  Be sure they’re all from the same dye lot, marked on the label.  Save your receipt; put it someplace where you can find it when you’re all done, just in case you don’t need that extra ball after all.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?


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