Purple yarn skeins

If you buy hand dyed yarn it will usually arrive in a skein or hank. You can’t use the yarn directly from this or it will become a big tangled mess – that’s one headache you want to avoid!

Thankfully there are some easy ways to wind a yarn ball so that you can get started on your project without too much delay. The way you choose may depend on what equipment you have available – which may be none. Don’t worry – that’s not a problem.

Yarn Ball or Cake?

You can wind the yarn into either a ball or a cake, depending on the method you use. But what’s the difference between those?

Yarn ball

A ball of yarn is basically an egg shape, as seen with many commercially-produced yarns.
It is usually intended to be used starting with the yarn end on the outside of the ball. 

The centre yarn end of a commercially wound ball of yarn will often be hidden in the middle of the ball. To get to it you may have to pull out a chunk of yarn, find the end, then wind the excess back around the outside of the ball until it’s used up.

You can wind a ball of yarn yourself in your hands, which will end up as a round ball shape. This will only have the end of the yarn on the outside of the ball available to be used.

A ball of yarn will roll around as you pull yarn from it, so it needs to be held stable as you work.  You can put it into a project bag or yarn bowl, depending on your preference. This will stop it rolling around the floor, getting dusty or wrapped around objects – or becoming a toy for your cat!

Yarn cake

A yarn cake has a flat top and bottom, meaning that it doesn’t roll around when you use it. You can still store it in a project bag or yarn bowl as you work, but you don’t have to.

A yarn cake usually has the centre and outside yarn ends visible, and either end can be used to work from. Some yarns can end up with less or more twist as you work from them. This depends on which way they were wound onto the yarn cake, and also which way you pull the yarn off the yarn cake. If you’re having difficulties with lots of extra twist in your yarn as you work, take a look at this useful video to resolve it.

However it is not so easy to wind a skein of yarn into a cake unless you own a yarn winder.

Hold that skein

No matter how you wind your yarn, the skein will need to be held securely while the yarn is wound from it. You can do this in various ways – let’s take a look at 3 of them.

The Chair Method

This is useful if you are winding a skein of yarn by yourself at home.

If you have 2 high-back chairs, such as dining chairs, these will hold the skein of yarn taut and in place while you wind from it. Place the chairs back to back and loop the skein over the chair backs. Then move the chairs apart until the skein is held taut. Now you can untie the skein and begin winding.

If you only have one chair or a stool, you may be able to turn it upside down and put the skein over the legs. However this will only work well enough if the skein fits securely around the legs. If it is too loose, the skein will pull away from the legs as you start to wind from it and risk becoming tangled.

The Helper Method

You probably helped out with this method at some point, It’s often the method that most people think of to hold a skein of yarn to wind from.

Ask a helper to hold their arms out in front of them, bent at the elbows. Place the skein of yarn over their hands. Move their arms apart until the skein is held taut. It will be helpful if they move their arms slightly in the rhythm that will become apparent once you start winding!

This method is good for heavier weight yarns with a short yardage. However if you are winding a finer yarn with longer yardage such as laceweight, the helper may  quickly become tired. They can stop for a rest while you pause winding, as long as the yarn is not tangled.

The Swift Method

Swift and yarn winder

This is the simplest and most efficient way to hold a skein of yarn that you are going to wind. A swift is usually a wooden or plastic-coated metal tool that may resemble an umbrella!

A swift holds a skein of yarn securely and can be adjusted to any length of skein. It is either placed on a table top or clamped to the edge of a table, depending on the design. The yarn skein is then placed around the swift and adjusted so it is held taut.

The swift will rotate freely as you wind the yarn from the skein, so you don’t need to move around the skein to wind from it.

If you intend to wind skeins of yarn frequently, I recommend that you invest in this useful piece of equipment. They are not the cheapest craft tool but are well worth the cost if you love to work with hand dyed yarns.

Take a look at my short video showing you how to set up your swift and yarn winder to wind a skein of yarn.

Wind that yarn

Now that your skein of yarn is held securely, you can start to wind it into a ball or cake. Make sure you remove the skein ties, then you can begin to wind the yarn. But how?

Use your hands

You can just use your hands if you have nothing to wind the yarn around. 

Hold the yarn end in your left hand and make a few twists in a figure of eight around your thumb and little finger. Then pull those off and hold them doubled in your left hand and start winding the yarn around them. Turn them around as you wind, to start to make a ball shape.

Continue with this until the yarn is wound. Be careful not to pull the yarn too tight or you may stretch it.

Use a nostepinne or similar

A nostepinne is a wooden piece of equipment that originated from Norway. The word ‘nostepinne’ is a Scandinavian word meaning ‘nest-stick’ – a stick used to make a nest shape of yarn!

Basically it is a wooden dowel that is turned in your hand as you wind, to give a yarn ball or cake. The dowel is held at an angle as you wind the yarn around, working the same way as a yarn winder.

I tried using the handle of a wooden spoon to do this and it was fairly successful although rather time-consuming! I didn’t mind though as it gave me a chance to sit in the summer sunshine for a little while. Click the image to watch me wind the yarn.

Use a Yarn Winder

If you own a yarn winder, this is the quickest and least tiring way of manually winding a skein of yarn. Click the image to see the yarn winder in action.

A yarn winder clamps to the edge of a table to hold it secure while you use it. Thread the yarn end through the yarn guide, then wedge the end into the groove on top of the winder. 

Twist the handle in one direction at a consistent speed until the skein is wound. 

It is easiest to use a yarn winder if you also have a swift to hold the skein, as this will easily rotate as you pull the yarn.

Now you know what to do with your next beautiful skein of hand dyed yarn!

Try out the different ways of holding and winding your yarn skeins and see which you prefer.

Happy knitting and crocheting!
Steph x

3 Easy Ways to Wind A Yarn Ball
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