Adventures in Yarn Substitution: A Cautionary Tale

Sep 16, 2010
Sarah Read, project editor . Here at Interweave Crochet, we think long and hard about what yarns to select for projects in order to achieve the perfect look in drape, color, style, and stitch definition. Every yarn has its own unique attitude and behavior, based on its fiber and the way it is spun. Any given pattern will play nicely with certain types of fibers— and clash horribly with others. So there is an art to choosing the proper yarn for your project—an art learned over time, the hard way.

Fortunately, thanks to fabulous community sites like Crochet Me, we can share our triumphs and failures with each other, and maybe save a fellow crocheter some time and tears. I'm about to do that right now, in a humbling little piece I like to call "Vest Quest". I have crocheted three vests in the last year out of stash chosen only for the fact that there was sufficient quantity for a vest, and completely disregarding the laws of fiber properties. So, observe "what not to do, and why".
cotton vest .

Here is Vest Quest number one, which was made out of leftover mercerized kitchen cotton. This was born when I was stranded while travelling and bored of making the dishcloths that the rest of this yarn had become. I needed something more engaging to crochet, and my one-year-old son needed a vest for a chilly early spring. This vest served its purpose as a layer, but that's about it. Never mind the unfortunate pooling of the variegated yarn, this firm cotton has no stretch or drape. It stands up by itself—no joke. I love my hardy cottons for home projects, but this one wasn't built for garments (it was fabulous for those dishcloths).

acrylic vest . Vest Quest number two: After overestimating the amount of yarn needed for a baby blanket, I had enough left over for a vest (really—I don't do this on purpose...). I carefully sketched out my design and started making some lovely motifs, stitched them all together, and edged them to fit me like a glove. At least, it did for a few hours. The problem? Acrylic stitches will stretch out, but they won't block back or drape well. So the shoulder pieces on this vest elongated with wear, and I can't make them go back to the length they should be. The waist buttons keep the rest of the vest in place, so that when I relax my shoulders and lower my arms, the shoulders of my vest stay right where they were...hovering an inch above my actual shoulder. This vest would have been better in a yarn with some bounce-back, like a merino wool or something with a little bit of nylon in it (again, the yarn was great for its original purpose; it is still my go-to for blankies).
alpaca vest .

Vest Quest number three: Alpaca apocalypse. Having learned my lesson about drape, blocking, and stretch, I made another vest (I like vests) out of 100% alpaca. It is soft as butter and warmer than the average jacket, it drapes beautifully, and I can block it back into shape. So what on earth is wrong? Alpaca streeeeeeetches. A lot. Every time I wear this, it grows by the hour. By the end of the day, I am sitting on the back of it. This is a clear case of overcompensation. My conclusion? Alpaca is great for warm garments if it is blended with something else that will keep it from morphing into a sweater-vest-dress, or for accessories like hats and scarves.

So there are my humbling examples of what fibers did not work for me. Do note that I love all of these vests, and I still wear the two I made for take pride in your stitches, even if they don't work out! Next time around, we'll take a more positive angle and look at some yarn substitution successes! If you have some yarn cautionary tales to share, or some yarn substitution successes, leave a comment below and spread your hard-earned knowledge!

 Until next time,

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DianeC@65 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 7:43 AM

how do I get the pattern for vest quest #1?

Diane Criss

on Sep 16, 2010 7:47 AM

I like to use unusual materials to crochet like VHS tape mixed with a cheaper yarn to make recycled tote bags.  I love to try new things and it's fun to try to figure things out.  Keep up the good work being adventurous. It's how great creative ideas are born.

on Sep 16, 2010 7:47 AM

Loved your article! Thanks for the information. I've been away from the crochet scene for a while but I'm back and hungry for new and updated informtion.  P.S. I love vests too, and I'm looking for patterns....


cschwart wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 7:49 AM

What if you are VERY allergic to wool? What are your options for substitution while still getting its properties?

Dynila wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:14 AM

I'm still learning my way around my fibers and this was really helpful.  Iin fact, I'm on my fourth attempt at a scarf because the 1st THREE yarns I picked for it were awful! The 4th one would not be my go-to in the future, but since this was meant to be an easy stash buster I'm not too worried.

Now, about a pattern for that gorgeous vest #2?  So pretty and a lovely, slimming silhouette, too.

TurquoizBlue wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:14 AM

I am laughing because I can relate, as I am sure you know.  

margaretha2 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:17 AM

Vest 2 is really, really nice!  Sorry for the mishap with the yarn!

syd75 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:19 AM

I am curious, how do you choose your substitutes than?

imacrocheter wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:25 AM

I was trying to enlarge a dress pattern by using a thicker yarn and chose something soft.  I used microspun.  Oops  the dress looked gorgeous but it grew.  It started out just below my daughters knees and is now floor length .  

Patti Henson wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:26 AM

Like cschwart I am also allergic to wool. What other yarn would you recommend? I don't know if your vest quest 2 was suppose to be that low in the front but I actually love it! Do you have a pattern?

jane brannen wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:28 AM

I love vest quest #2 - where can I find the pattern?

vcsweeney wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:47 AM

I agree - I want the pattern for Vest Quest #2!  

LauraS@21 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:51 AM

I have no yarn substitution horrors to add, but I'm seconding (thirding, fourthing?) the call for the second vest pattern.  I'm not big on vests but that one is amazing!

sewberry wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 9:30 AM

This gave me such a chuckle!  I have had similar experiences with sewing garments, although most of "those" didn't make the appearance in public! My crochet skills are still in the intermediate beginner stage.  I have crocheted infant hats that would fit a 4-yr-old and adult hats that would fit Shreck! Oh well, guess I need to tighten up my tension alittle!

Tina M wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 9:38 AM

As previously asked how does one substitute yarns/fibers?  Could you supply a patten for vest #2 and #3?

thank you

AnnieBebop wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 10:03 AM

I have enough trouble just getting something to fit at all when I substitute yarns, much less worry about all these other attributes!    Sometimes I long for the days when there was much less yarn choice on the market!

7bluehands wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 10:24 AM

I love it! Thank goodness I'm not the only one who does this ...I keep little snips of the yarn used and a tag that says what was wrong ...or right to better make the choices inthe future.I live where I have no place to buy, so all the shopping is online! The scraps keep me some what organinzed as to the weights and the results when put together!

I made my granddog (A Mastiff) a sweater with acrylic camo pattern. My daughter has to wash it all the time to get it back to the shape because it grows on him and it is the size of a rug to begin  with!

nanagramms3 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 10:48 AM

Is there any way to get the pattern for Vest Quest #2?  My daughter would love that vest.

Bonnie@131 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 10:54 AM

Thank you so much for the vest yarns article!  I learned a lot.  It was so clear and concise and the illustrations/pictures really helped.  Yarns types are clearer now.

jeanmar wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:02 AM

I also love vest #2 and would love a pattern!

Lisa@321 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:15 AM

Gosh , I know I've made similar mistakes and have learned from them but I was just about to make another one until you stopped me. I have beautiful alpaca yarn and had planned on making a sweater. Based on what you said about it needing to be mixed with something or it stretches out, what should I do with the beautiful alpaca? Or what do I mix it with to make a sweater that fits me without stretching out? Any help is appreciated!

Betty BJ wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:23 AM

Count me in on vest #2 - love it !

If you`re ever thinking of sharing that pattern, it appears you have some excited crocheters who would really like to add that vest to their wardrobe.

Luckily I`m not allergic to wool; I love merino and it`s my go-to whenever I`m not sure about a yarn for a sweater or a vest.

catcobin wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:28 AM

I did the same thing when I made a dress for my granddaughter. It stood up by itself and I weighed a ton.

on Sep 16, 2010 11:36 AM

vest qwest #2 is gorgeous!!!! I must say that I also would love to see the pattern as well.  

Jan@222 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:43 AM

OM Gosh!!! Your informative tale above has given me the answer to a mystery that has plagued me for years.  I crochet and knit all the time and have for 50 years or so.  I am able to create lovely things for my home,  clothes for my grandchildren when they are tiny but never ONCE have I been able to create a sweater that fits a grown person and now I know why.....I try to be frugal so I have always used cheap yarn and you have made it clear to me why I cannot for the life of me make a sweater that fits someone. It does not pay to use cheap acrylic yarn for garments!!  Thank you, Thank you, for saving me from further frustration.  I now have hope.

donnasueg wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 11:47 AM

Thank you for sharing.I didn't want to laugh(but sorry I did)this has happened to Me sooo many times.

on Sep 16, 2010 12:26 PM

This was so interesting for me to read, as I have a similar dilemma right now, so maybe you can answer a question for me . . . I have crocheted since my daughter was a baby (she's 38 !!).  I have many OLD crochet magazines that I have saved all this time. .  In one of my magazines from the 70's there is a beautiful long sweater coat with a hood that my daughter-in-law would LOVE to have, so I decided to make it.  BUT when I read the pattern it calls for Spinnerin wool yarn, which try as I might, I cannot find anywhere, even with research on-line.  Therefore I am nervous about substituting the yarn without knowing the weight, type, etc. of the yarn this was meant to used.  It's a pretty hefty project and I don't want to get all done and realize I used the WRONG YARN!!  Any suggestions how I can find out what would be comparable yarn to use?   Any comments would be greatly appreciated.  I want to get started on it soon as cold weather is on its way in Minnesota.  Thanks ahead of time... !!

auntiehenno wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 12:49 PM

Thanks for the information on the yarns, etc.  Very informative!

jantjie wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 12:57 PM

Sarah I must have a pattern for vest no 3 PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Merry@4 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 1:09 PM

Since I am allergic to every fiber on earth, it seems, except 100% cotton, I am more than used to dealing with the differences caused by substitutions.  After dealing with this for overy 60 years, I have gotten more used to the differences that can occur with substitions, but since I have no other choice, I have learned to live with it.  I am just thankful I am not allergic to cats or dogs!  One major problem I encounter repeatedly is trying to use a pattern that does not give what I call the "weight number," i.e. 1 - baby yarn, 2 - fingering yarn, 3 - sport yarn, 4 - worsted yarn, etc.  Just knowing that number helps a great deal in choosing a cotton yarn to use as a substitute.

hotredmary wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 1:38 PM

Can you give me your pattern for Vest Quest number 2?  That looks awesome!! Also, tell me what yarn and hook to use.  Okay? Thanks in advance!

Lisa234519 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 1:44 PM

Love your story. I recently used dishcloth cotton to crochet a baby blanket for charity. I alternated rows between single and double crochet. When I was close to finishing I realized it was very heavy! After finishing it I decided to give it to Catholic Charities locally, rather than mail it to an organization giving blankets to preemies. I figured whoever received it could use it for what they wanted. Lesson learned, since yarn for crochet can be 1/3 more yardage than knitting a similar item.

Shari@6 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 2:40 PM

So glad to know I'm not the only person in the world who's tried to make a garment from dishcloth cotton - LOL! I think a bigger problem then our own substitutions though, is when a designer has not considered the properties of the yarn before selling their pattern - made a terrible sweater once that stood up on it's own because of that.

Nellie Bean wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 3:11 PM

Hi Sarah, I too hace learned about the diiferent patterns certain fibers are good for. Just recently I changed from a knit pattern with two different colors from the same type of yarn (100% Cotton) to a crochet pattern. I had done the knit pattern with the two colors separate of one another for embelishments, but the jacket turned out way wrong. I chose a crochet pattern that incorporates the two yarns together in a nice pattern stitch. The MC I used was more stiff and for warmth. The CC I used was very drapey and more for spring/summer apparel. The two combined in the new pattern makes a very nice warm and drapey jacket. It's perfect!

Annette Damron

Crafting Mama

Lucark wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 3:37 PM

I had to laugh while reading the description of your vests. I have had similar experiences but could never write about them as amusingly  as you do! I punish myself by unpicking the dreadful pieces, even if they are all sewn up. I don't recommend that solution.

johabli wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 3:37 PM

One of the reasons Interweave Crochet is my favorite of the three print magazines I receive is I learn something of import with almost every issue. The article on Crochet Me about yarn substitutions and characteristics taught me something I might have only learned the hard way. The temptation, for me at least, is to substitute whatever worsted weight yarn I have on hand for the yarn called for in the pattern. You have shown me the error of my ways.

alpacamom2 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 4:31 PM

Was the alpaca yarn that you used in vest #3 suri or huacaya?   Huacaya has crimp and should not stretch in the manner that you mentioned.  Sur on the other hand has no crimp and therefore no memory.  It will really stretch.

klyn4a wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 4:48 PM

I'm new to crocheting and fell in love with an acrylic yarn because of the color, I was about to try a sweater with it but you have stopped me!  What can I use it for?  I bought quite a bit of it!  

And PLEASE post the pattern for vest number 2, it is amazing!!!!

dreamdancer wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 5:10 PM

I have only crocheted a few garments, but so far I have found bamboo to be wonderful. It has outstanding drape, which is great for patterns that might otherwise be too stiff. It is very soft and silky, and from a renewable resource too. I am so pleased with the cardigan I made, I started making a tank top with another bamboo yarn.

RuthS@05 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 5:10 PM

How can I get pattern #2?


RuthS@05 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 5:13 PM

How can I get Pattern #2


CroKat wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 6:59 PM

Thank you, Sarah, for a very humorous and heartwarming article. Your #2 and #3 vest are both gorgeous! I am a new crocheter this year and am on my 3rd & 4th afghan simultaneously all made from yarns purchased from thrift stores. I am learning well the difference between different yarns and which ones I prefer working with, however they are all the cheaper ones to begin with. I have yet to be brave enough to venture into the clothing world although I hope to one day. Please do pass along the pattern for vest #2 as I can do granny squares! :)

CathyG1 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 7:01 PM

excellent post! Thank you for teaching us all!

on Sep 16, 2010 7:10 PM

Your story comes at the absolute perfect time--I actually just got back from Wal-Mart (I know, this is the beginning of a recipe for disaster!) looking for a DK weight yarn to substitute for some cascade 220 superwash merino for a kinomo-style vest that I want to crochet. Since turning last year's UFO from a sweater into a shrug, i had some cascade 220 superwash merino leftover, swatched it up, and loved the drape and the sheen. Just not sure if i have enough for said vest. And I'm making an effort to be less snooty about the yarns that I work with mostly cause I'm being cheap. I came home empty-handed having decided that I just need to get ahold of enough of the merino to make my vest.

You have validated my decision!!

kosbrink wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 7:21 PM

As a suggestion for future issues of your wonderful magazine, could you give us suggestions for yarn substituions when you publish the pattern.  There are some of us that are allergic to wool, cashmere, angora, etc.  We have NO choice but to substitute yarn!  It would help us avoid problems like those listed here.

TinaB@29 wrote
on Sep 16, 2010 8:34 PM

I'm really surprised about the alpaca, although the post about the difference between Suri and Huacaya explains it. I've made two sweaters out of 100% alpaca (one crocheted, one Tunisian crochet) and they've held up beautifully. In fact, the crocheted one pretty much bounced back. I'll have to be careful with my upcoming alpaca projects.

thanks -- Tina

RobinJ@9 wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 1:03 AM

the problem with substituting yarn in a pattern is that now a days, there are SO MANY brands.  the patterns will list the brand but not what the yarn was made out of or suggestions as to what type of yarn to use.

its the same with a pattern saying you need 6 skeins or 3 balls or 5 hanks.  what on earth does that mean?  how many yards is more important to me.  

as crocheters we are all creative, we love to take a pattern and make it our own.  but as you have said, the right fiber makes the pattern.  so how do you substitute when you have no idea what the brand Rinky Dink really is made out of?

and i do agree ... acrylic yarn looks HORRIBLE in crocheted clothing.  one of the reasons i think that crochet patterns get such a bad rap, they seem to all use acrylic yarn.

would love to see some sort of article in interweave crochet about types of yarn and their qualities, stretch, drape, stiffness, color fast, and pattern suggestions.

for instance, i have just recently learned that lace weight yarn stretches like crazy too ......  

Georgeta wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 2:08 AM


How do I get the pattern for vest qwest #2? It is beautiful!

Georgeta Popa

Coss wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 3:24 AM

Ahahahahaha! Hilarious...I've just spent 5 and a half hours surfing the net for yarns to substitute for a ridiculously expensive jumper pattern I'm making my 14yr old. A warning from the universe??? I HOPE NOT! lol. I'll let you know :-)

Jackie_M wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 6:04 AM

I would love the pattern for vest #2, are you sharing?

jince wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 10:33 AM

Hello Sarah,

  Nice way of using the left over yarns. I have a big collection of yarns. I made lot of hats and scarfs for my son, husband and others. But now interested in making vest. I thought of making one for my son. He is 5+yrs old. Can u give the patterns for the Vest #1.

Thanks in advance

jince wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 10:37 AM

Hello Sarah,

Nice way of using the leftover yarns. I have a big collection of yarns. I would like to make the vest #1 for my son. Can u provide me the pattern for the vest#1.

Thanks in advance

Sarah Read wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 11:39 AM


Thank for all the great feedback, everyone. You are such a lovely bunch of folks.

Here’s a bit of a mish mash response to some of your questions/comments.

7bluehands: I really MUST see a picture of the camo Mastiff sweater. Please?

Lisa@321: As several people mentioned, some types of alpaca stretch more than others, and will stretch more in certain stitches/patterns than in others as well. I really think the best way to tell would be to make the *gasp* dreaded swatch. Obviously I need to learn to take my own advice. In any case, I don’t think an alpaca sweater is out of the question at all. It sounds positively scrumptious. But if you do swatch and find that it seems a bit stretchy, you might want to hold it alongside a strand of wool to help it hold its shape.

Linda Gallaway: I did some searching for this elusive Spinnerin yarn. It seems that the company went out of business some time ago, and that they had a number of different kinds of yarn. You might take a look at my Wraps Per Inch blog to get some ideas about finding similar products. If wraps per inch measurements aren’t convenient to get, a bit of a shortcut is to look at the yards per ounce or the grams per meter. If those closely match, you’re on the right track.

Jan@222: Acrylic, like any other fiber, comes in a whole range of quality. I agree that it is not the best yarn for adult garments, but I have seen some seriously fabulous things done with it as well. Acrylic blends can be a fantastic compromise of washable, budget, and quality. My personal favorite is Berroco Vintage. It is super soft, affordable, has great drape, and comes in fabulous colors.

Sarah Read wrote
on Sep 17, 2010 11:39 AM

RobinJ@9, and many of the rest of you who have mentioned your wool allergy: As a fiber lover, I see wool allergies as tragic. You have my sincere sympathies. I am not allergic to wool, but I have a son who is allergic to wheat, dairy, egg, strawberries, and peanuts. I imagine finding yarn for you is much like finding food for him. It makes everything more challenging! Somehow, I manage to feed my son. Let me give you all some pointers on how to feed your yarn basket (or bin, or closet, or room…). I can’t speak much for other publications, but in Interweave Crochet we give you all the information you need to select a substitute yarn. In the materials list for each pattern, when we list the yarn, we also give its stats. Here’s an example of how it is written:

YARN Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Superwash Worsted (100% superwash wool; 200 yd [183 m]/3½ oz [100 g]; CYCA #4).

Here we have just about everything we need. We know that 200 yards of the yarn weighs 3½ ounces, and that it has a Craft Yarn Council of America measurement of #4, or worsted. According to the CYCA website, this means that this yarn has between 11 and 14 single crochet stitches in four inches. It has about 9 to 12 wraps per inch. In the back of our magazine, on the sources page where we picture all the yarns we used, we list the wraps per inch that I calculate for that particular yarn (yes, I sit on my office floor for hours, surrounded by scraps of yarn, wrapping each one around a ruler…it’s pretty much my favorite day of the press cycle).

With that information, you can look at the measurements on yarns that you know are safe for you to use, and find one that is as close a match as possible. The last step, as always, is to make a gauge swatch to find the hook size you need to use that yarn with that pattern. I hope this helps!

And now to address those of you who would like patterns for these vests: You are so sweet! I’m so touched that you like my projects enough to want to make them for yourselves and family members.

The bad news is that, when I made these vests, they were an experimental one-off kind of project, so I didn’t write down much detail about what I did. In fact, many of the design elements in vest #2 were put there to hide mistakes (i.e.: Shoulder straps too far apart? Make a pretty edging on the inside!), so part of not writing them down was hiding the evidence.

The good news is that they are all very basic designs, and I am planning a soon-to-come e-newsletter where I talk about how I designed them to fit my own measurements, with lots of tips, pointers, and access to the tools you would need to create your own versions. It will be a number of weeks in the planning, but you guys are too sweet to resist. Keep your eyes peeled for updates!

Much love,


PS: I’ll post this as a comment and also as a blog, so that some of the info above can be found more easily.

on Sep 17, 2010 3:08 PM

I rather like vest #1, at least from the picture.  I understand about the stiffness of cotton.  Sometimes fabric softner helps, sometimes not.  I'm not a big lover of grannies or boxy vests so #2 doesn't say much to me.  As for alpaca, weaving a running strand of the yarn diagonally from the top to bottom on the inside (making an X) will often take care of the "growth" problem, particularly if you anchor it to the shoulders.   After crocheting for 40+ years, I don't swatch for gauge.  I swatch to see how the yarn will look and act in a particular stitch pattern -- this can save me some headaches at the end of a project.  You gave some valuable comments about the yarn characteristics -- thanks.  

on Sep 18, 2010 9:42 AM

I really liked your vest quest  three do you have a pattern for it . Your article was very informative and helpful as it has been a long time since I  have crochet or knitted anythng.  Thank you Willene

classroom222 wrote
on Sep 18, 2010 10:34 AM


classroom222 wrote
on Sep 18, 2010 10:36 AM

you can upload your information our article web site

hereiaminmt wrote
on Sep 19, 2010 4:23 PM

I would LOVE to get the pattern for Vest Quest number two.  I just LOVE that vest!!!

bobochel wrote
on Sep 20, 2010 3:40 PM

I found a sweater design that called for a Worsted Weight Kid Mohair/Wool Blend #3 that created a loose open stitch for a light weight coverup with an overlap deep v collar that just rested on the neck. I used a 70% Wool - 30% Soy, Medium Weight #4 yarn that made it a heavier sweater for cold fall and winter days. The collar ended up being wider so that it folds over the shoulders beautifully. And the wool blend has felted nicely when washed. Hiding the stitch pattern to make a smooth blend of color. I absolutely love it and so has everyone who has seen it. I was going to include photos of both to show the difference, but I see no way to add. If you would like to see the result, please let me know how to send them to you.

tjones218 wrote
on Sep 22, 2010 9:02 AM

Great article--very useful.  

I recently subbed acrylic for cotton on a really cute market bag I've made several times in cotton.

The result:  looks ok,  but when filled "drops like grandpa's balls" according to my husband.  It nearly touches the floor.

The fix:  remove half of the rows in body and handles.  I make myself use this terrible bag as punishment.

lulyty wrote
on Sep 22, 2010 12:48 PM

I agree - I want the pattern for Vest Quest #2!  

SKEEPY wrote
on Sep 23, 2010 11:32 AM

Hi Sarah,

I was looking at the three experimental patterns on the web and the second on I really do like it.

Can you please send me the sketch of the top and the size of each square, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks a lot and have a nice day.


on Aug 23, 2011 4:58 PM

There is a great conversation going on in the comments on my e-newsletter this week ! Here are some more