How I Wind Yarn
For years, I wound yarn by hand, placing a skein over my knees and making a ball. Then, last year at Sock Summit, I had some money budgeted for yarn and no yarn that was calling my name – so I decided to buy a swift and ball winder. I find that in the last year or so, I have started accumulating more tools instead of stashing yarn (don’t get me wrong, I have still bought plenty of yarn, just not as much “whim” yarn without a project lined up). I picked up a beautiful wooden swift from The Oregon Woodworker as part of a package which included a Royal ball winder. We broke in the swift and ballwinder right there at Sock Summit, both in the convention center and later at our hotel, and I have been really happy with the purchase ever since.
I still do wind by hand sometimes when I am too impatient to take out my swift and ball winder, but when I have several skeins to wind or want to knit from a center-pull ball, I go to the effort it takes to wind balls properly. During my winding adventures on the Saturday before Camp Loopy started, I took a few photos of the process. I can’t recommend this swift highly enough!
First, I set the swift up on our dining room table (which my husband made when he was much younger – isn’t it nice?). This is the only surface we have that is big enough for it, although it’s quite a small table so it makes the swift seem super big by comparison. The swift comes apart and packs quite compactly, making it super easy to store under a bed or in a closet. One reason I resisted getting a swift for so long was because it would be difficult to find storage for it when not in use, and this is the best I have found for that! I love how adjustable the size of the swift is, I just pick whatever peg slots seem right for a snug but not too tight fit.
Once I set it up, I opened the skein up and gave it a quick snap by holding it over both hands and quickly pulling my hands apart. This loosens and neatly realigns the strands of yarn, preventing tangles during the winding process. Then I untied the ties holding the skein together and pulled the end that seemed to be closest to the outside of the skein toward the ball winder, which I set up about 5 feet away on the edge of our kitchen counter. I usually put a slip knot in the end of the yarn before tucking it into the slits on the top of the ball winder as I find this prevents the inside end getting lost or other ball winding mishaps.
The one thing I notice with this style of swift is that, because I wind with the ballwinder a couple of feet higher than the swift, I need to keep an eye on the skein to make sure it isn’t pulling up too high on the pegs. This size swift has nice, tall pegs so I haven’t had any major catastrophes but the potential is definitely there. I think this would not be such a problem if the ball winder were at the same level or only slightly higher than the swift. You can sort of tell in this photo how the skein is not snugged down close to the cross bars of the swift – I stopped winding to push the yarn back down on the pegs.
Near the end of the skein I need to be a little bit careful to make sure that the other loose end doesn’t dangle too much, or it can get caught and wrap itself around the metal pin that holds the arms onto the base of the swift. Usually I will just wrap it a couple of times around the nearest peg (underneath the main skein yarn) but I sometimes live vicariously and just take my chances :) My cats also really love the swift and ball winder and often hang out and watch the process! I should add that the swift came with this nice nonstick mat that goes underneath the base so it doesn’t slide around, even on slippery surfaces like this table.
When I finish, if I don’t think I will be using the yarn right away, I will often tuck the yarn label inside the center-pull ball thusly. I first wrap the label pretty tightly around the inside tail of the yarn, as soon as I pull it out of the grooves on the ball winder. Holding it vertically with one hand, I pull the ball off of the ballwinder fairly slowly but steadily. This traps the ball band inside the center pull ball where it can’t get lost or misplaced, ensuring that I remember what the yarn is when I go to use it in the future. I generally have a good memory for this sort of thing but sometimes even I forget a yarn base or colorway, and this little strategy has saved my bacon more times than I’d like to admit. I also think it looks prettier than just tucking the label through a few of the outside strands, which I used to do, and it is more foolproof. No more loose labels lying around or impossible-to-remember-the-colorway moments for me!
The Royal ballwinder is not a super fancy, durable one but it is certainly enough for my needs (which, at this time, do not typically include double skeins or really tricksy yarn). The one thing I have learned about this style of ballwinder is that you need to wind smoothly and evenly, and if you hear a clicking sound, slow down – it means the gears are stripping.
There are lots of different versions of swifts and ball winders; I hear good things about the inexpensive ball winder offered by Knitpicks for only US$20, and in fact recently gave one as a gift. Swifts are more expensive, but I often used a chair turned upside down (use just three legs instead of all four for smaller skeins) to wind yarn balls before I picked up my swift and it was an acceptable substitute. The larger umbrella swifts can be fancier and don’t require such a large flat surface to set up, but they do take up more storage space if you don’t have somewhere to leave it set up.
While I don’t always take the time to set up the swift and ball winder, I have really appreciated having them and I definitely encourage you to consider investing in tools from time to time – it makes it easier to use up all of that yarn you have stored!