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How to Wind a Ball of Yarn

August 10th, 2011

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It’s a question that has occurred to most yarn crafters at one time or another: “How do I turn this cone/skein/hank of yarn into something can work with?” Winding your yarn into a ball can be tricky at first, but with a little practice the process gets much easier.

With cones and skeins, you don’t necessarily have to make a ball before using your yarn. Cones like LB 1878 can easily unwrap along the outside, and if you prefer to pull it from the center, simply pop the cone out of the middle and pull the inside end up out of the top. Skeins like Vanna’s Choice and Homespun have one end wrapped around the outside, and the other tucked into the middle (click here to see our FAQ Article on pulling yarn from a skein). The outside end will unroll the skein as you work and the inside end will pull from the center in the process. Finding and pulling out the inside end can be tricky, and a little extra yarn tends to come out in the process. Whether you choose to pull from the outside or the center, both methods are perfectly fine and require no ball winding at all!

If you are working with yarn in a hank like LB Collection Organic Wool, winding the yarn into a ball is the best way to prevent tangling as you work. After unfolding the hank, loop it around a swift (or chair back, or the hands of a willing friend) to keep it stable as you follow the steps below to wind it into a ball.

Starting the Ball

Hold the end of your yarn around your index finger. Gently wrap the yarn around your index and middle finger. You can loop the yarn around both fingers in a tiny O shape, or wrap it in a figure eight between your fingers.

Taking the Ball Off Your Fingers

Once you’ve got several yards of yarn wrapped in a thick loop, gently wiggle it off your fingers. Hold the wrapped yarn in one hand, and wind the next few yards of yarn around the middle or ‘waist’ of the loop.

Winding the Yarn

When the center wrapping gets thick and bulky, begin rotating the ball slightly as you continue to wind yarn onto it. The fist time you do this, it should look like the yarn is forming a letter ‘X’ on top of the new ball.

Making the Ball

Now the ball will begin to get larger and more spherical. If your ball starts to make an elliptical or almond shape, don’t worry, just rotate the center a quarter of a turn and continue wrapping.

Winding a ball isn’t an exact science, and while it can be tricky at first, practice makes the process much easier.

Do you prefer to ball your yarn before working with it? Do you have any tips on winding a ball of yarn? Leave a comment to share.

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  • MaryGknits

    The biggest problem I see is when folks wind the ball too tight.  If possible, a ball winder (that makes a center-pull skein) works the best as it winds it loosely and your yarn is never stressed.  I’ve seen people wind balls from center pull skeins which seems silly. 

    Making a butterfly with the loose end sticking out, allowing that end to stay sticking out, and continuing to wind loosely will give you a “homemade” center-pull ball.Some yarns that are already center-pull and good to go should be used from the outside in — especially if they’re a one-ply that seems to twist on itself as you pull from the center. 

    • Cbroman

      My mother taught me to wind the yarn over my fingers as I make the ball so that it will not get too tight.

      • Martyk4vm

        Maybe we had the same mother. You want to be sure an animal fiber, like wool or alpaca, is not wound too tightly or it will lose its stretch. Winding the ball over a finger or two, than rotating the ball and placing the finger in a new position as you go, insures there is softness and stretchyness in the ball. The ball won’t be as tight and tidy as a ball of string, but the yarn will be useable.

  • Hev

    I always put a core in my balls.  I get those bouncy balls for kids & use them as cores.  That way the ball isn’t very tight & I have a loose wind.

    • Margaret

      What a fun idea, I’ll have to try it out! It sounds like a great way to teach kids to make their first balls of yarn too.

  • Tephra

    Sometimes I wind a center pull ball instead. I just did that with the Tweed Stripes I’m using for a top down shrug where I’m knitting both sleeves at once using both ends of the same skein. I’ve reached the point where the skein was starting to collapse and tangle so I held the two ends together at my knitting and measured out about half a yard before starting to wind them around a Sharpie (a fat knitting needle works too). Once I have a nice band around the pen that has notable “shoulders” I tilt the pen about 45 degrees and wrap at an angle, turning the ball a bit every few wraps. When I get to the end of the yarn I just tuck it under one of the wraps and pull out the pen. Now I have a center pull ball with both ends coming from the center that won’t tumble around in my knitting bag as I finish up my shrug.

    • Margaret

      Nice tip on using a Sharpie to wind the ball. That’s the sort of tool many people already have in the house!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.masse Susan Masse

    I had a friend make me a nostepinne (http://www.hatchtown.com/tools/misc-tools/nosting) from a piece of hardwood. It looks complicated, but one practice is all it takes to make a perfect center pull skein. I rarely find a skein of yarn “off the shelf” that will actually unwind from the center first try. The skeins the nostepinne makes are perfect, and feed uniformly for the entire skein.

    • http://twitter.com/ochnas2 ochnas

      I saw a video online demonstrating that method about a year ago, but I didn’t have a nostepinne. BUT I did have a pair of super big 15mm needles I’d bought for one lacy scarf project and never used again, so I use one of those needles for winding center-pull balls. Those big needles are probably much easier to find in most yarn or craft stores than a real nostepinne too. These are probably even easier for this purpose than what I use: http://www.lionbrand.com/6030/PictPage/1922238557.html

      The only difference between what I do and what Susan’s link above shows is that I wind the ball on the needle only until the ball is about 2.5″ wide, then I slide it off the needle and put my thumb in the hole where the needle was (so that the beginning of the yarn that I will pull falls down my thumb toward my wrist) and continue winding until the ball is done as big as I need.MaryGknits says above it seems silly to wind balls from center-pull skeins. However I do this all the time. It is especially useful when working on multicolored projects (tightening a backwards loop from the center yarn around the ball keeps it from unraveling when not in use), or when working on smaller projects like socks or mittens, seems easier to stick in my bag and take the work with me with these balls than with even a smallish center-pull skein. Also, working with center-pull skeins can be more frustrating at the very beginning and very end of the skein when it seems more likely to tangle, with my own center-pull balls somehow that hasn’t been a problem.

  • http://twitter.com/hedgielib Abigail Goben

    Why would you teach people this method? I always teach center-pull method–saves people from having to chase yarn around the house and, once they’ve started knitting it, takes the stress off the yarn.  

    • Sylrayj

      I often buy inexpensive yarns, for things like mittens that may very well be permanently soiled or lost.  I often find that the yarn has been knotted together, sometimes more than once, and I’d prefer to make the decision about when I join a new yarn.  So I rewind my inexpensive yarns and find out before I’ve begun using that ball whether it’s actually one length, or more than one.

  • Debbie

    I like to hand wind my skeins into center pull balls. Besides being a kind of relaxing way to play with my yarn it gives me a chance to see if the skein contains any knots or defects before I start a project.

    I use the ball band (or a piece of thick paper) folded up to make a tube to wrap the yarn around. You want the paper tube to be longer that the ball will be so it sticks out both ends of the ball while you are winding. I start with one end of yarn looped inside the folded paper and start (somewhat loosely) rolling my ball. Once you get going start wrapping diagonally. If I used a ball band I leave it in the newly wound ball until I use it. I like that the ball sits in one place while I work without rolling around. I think I found the instructions on one of those online video sites.

    I’ve attached a photo of a ball I rolled of Homespun. It was my first center pull ball. I was so happy with how it looked I took a picture of it, lol.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great image! I love how pretty Homespun’s colors are when it’s wound up in a ball almost as much as I love it in a project.

  • Gamma22

    I was watching a knitting show one afternoon and the host (who, I found out later, was Vickie Howell) suggested using an empty pill bottle to wind yarn.  You put the end of the yarn inside the bottle and put the cap on to anchor the end, then start winding the yarn around the bottle.  When you’re done just slide the bottle out and remove the cap – now your yarn is in a manageable ball and you can pull it from the inside of the ball.

    • Irishmolly

      Super idea. I usually always keep a finger on the ball as I roll and the turn after several wraps.
      Molly O

    • Mamamiau

      That’s a great idea.  I use my thumb as a nostepinne, but am going to try to remember your technique next time.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve always done this–it helps take some of the tension off the yarn to make sure you haven’t wound it too tight. Always wind loosely or you may find your knitted fabric changes stitch count a lot when it first gets near water.

  • MimzyB

    Depending on the project and yarn, I will use the center pull from the skein,  For a project that will require most of the skein, by the time you get close to the end, you get a tangled mess.  Most of the time I end up winding the skein in order to avoid that annoying tangle.

    • Anonymous

      This is where a commercial “yarn bra” or a clean used leg of panty hose can come in handy. I can cut at least 2 from a leg with runs in it, and it keeps a centre-pull skein like Homespun in nice shape all the way to the end. I learned on ravelry.com to find the outside tail, and note if it was tucked into one end of the pull-skein; then take off the label, push your palms against the ends of the skein to shorten and flatten it, then stick your fingers into the opposite end of the skein you removed the yarn tail from. In the very centre you should find the end of the yarn. I do like to get a centre-pull skein or ball, and I find this helps. Good luck.

  • Leandra

    Thank you all for wonderful comments. I have learned some new tricks! I don’t usually wind balls but I really do get angry when I come across those knots in the middle of my project and the tangled mess at the end of the skein. I bought a ball winder but now I need a swift or a homemade similar item. My winder doesn’t make very big balls, either, so I have a couple per skein. I like to have one big one. I’ve been crocheting for many years but never bothered to join online groups or get newsletters. Now that I have, I am learning tricks of the trade from so many crocheters. I had no idea how much I didn’t know that would make my crocheting easier. 

  • Ekozlow257

    When I start a yarn ball I start winding the yarn on my fingers as shown, but then I stick my thumb into the yarn and wind around my thumb. Gives me control while I am rolling the yarn, and the result is a nice even ball of yarnI Very easy to do!

  • Gmapeady

    I agree with Ekozlow257. I’ve been knitting for decades and have always wound the skein as Ekozlow257 says — one long tail hanging out when you start, following the photos up to the point of “Making the Ball.”  Then I put one thumb in the middle and wind it as the last photo shows, turning the ball around as I go.  That lets me gauge how tightly I’m winding, too, since yarn needs that little bit of ease.  It can get awkward near the end, but you can always re-wind the last few yards — and you don’t need any extra tools.

  • Margaret

    What great tips and step by step instructions; I’ll have to try out some of these great winding techniques myself!

  • Ilovtocrochet

    saw a lady on youtube who starts off with the yarn on her thumb with a tail out. That way once you are done winding your ball, you have a center pull which prevents all that flopping around from working the outside of the ball.

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