by hand, not using a ball winder....

This allows yarn to be pulled from the middle of its skein rather than the outside. The single most compelling reason to make and use pull balls or skeins* is that they do not need to be able to roll around freely when you pull on them. This means they don’t wander around on the floor or get tangled up with your other yarn. They are less tempting to one's feline friends, and they tend to stay cleaner. Also, if you are indulging in ambulatory knitting or crocheting, you can stuff the yarn in your pocket or any other tight space and it will still feed perfectly. This how-to works for all yarns, although some yarns are more suited to pull skeins than others. Yarns that tangle easily and cling stubbornly to themselves often do best as a regular ball.

From a ball, skein, spool or cone

  1. Place the ball, skein or spool in something which will allow it to rotate freely, but not roll away. A very large mixing bowl, a cardboard box , or a paper or plastic bag all work well. A cone need not be placed in anything, simply stand it up on the floor near your feet.
  2. Make a slip knot in the end of the yarn and secure it around the wrist or a finger of the hand onto which you will be winding the new ball. I will continue the instructions assuming that this will be the left hand since they are identical when using one’s right hand.
  3. Place your left fingertips relaxed but together so they hold the secured strand. It will run from your wrist or finger, through the inside of your hand, to the not-yet-wound yarn. Proceed to wrap the yarn around the knuckles of your left hand, centering the little bundle of yarn around the middle knuckle of your middle finger.
  4. Do not wrap tightly. Avoid stretching the yarn; that is bad for its overall well-being. After 10 or so turns, move your fingers (still held together) to the outside of the small bundle of yarn. Continue wrapping, and moving your fingers every few wraps. The extra space left by your fingers will help keep the yarn loose. Keep your thumb in the middle of the ball to prevent crossing over the opening.
  5. Change the angle at which you wrap to create a flattened ball shape. This will help keep the ball together once it is done. Depending on how much yarn you are working with, all your fingers may well become swallowed up in the ball. Make sure that you always leave a little slack in the yarn by moving your fingers every so many wraps. The ball will unwind from the center more smoothly if each successive layer is at the same tension or looser than the previous. Continue to wrap until all the yarn has been transferred into the ball. If you are using a cone, you may need to make several balls, as cones can hold a great deal of yarn.
  6. At this point, some people put their pull skeins in yarn bras to keep them from unraveling, tangling or otherwise messed up.

There is also a tool called a nostepinne; essentially a stick long enough for part to serve as a handle and part to hold the developing ball. You can use just about anything for a nostepinne (some folks use the cardboard tubes from paper towels), but there are also lovely ones made out of all sorts of materials, including gorgeous polished wood. The pin can be long or short and is as much as 1.5'' or more in diameter, and can taper or not.

To use one, the center end of the yarn is held against the handle and while the other hand wraps on an angle to the pin. The pin gets turned slightly with every wrap, which allows the yarn to create an overlapping pattern. The finished ball is slipped off the pin, ready to use. The large center hole allows the yarn to relax and helps prevent over-stretching.

From a hank

Using a swift: A swift is an umbrella like frame which expands to hold hanks, and then spins freely as you pull on the yarn. This is the easiest way to keep a hank from tangling as you unwind it. You would simply untwist the hank, open it, place it on the swift and adjust the swift until it is held firmly, untie it, and start winding from step 2 above.

If you don’t have a swift, you may need some help. You will need either someone with enough patience to sit with their hands holding the hank open, or a chair or two. Do not try winding a hank without one of these precautions, unless you enjoy untangling yarn. I mean it; I once spent 6 hours untangling a 100g hank of double knitting weight silk.

Just about everyone is familiar with the idea of a poor fellow stuck holding the hank while someone else winds a ball. It is tedious and, depending on the size of the hank, can take quite a long time. Leave hand-holding to very small hanks and romantic moonlit walks. Use one of the following crutches for the big stuff.

Using a lamp as a swift: If you have a large lamp with a shade that attaches at the top with a single nut or finial, you may be able to loosen the finial and have the shade turn freely. IF the lamp is heavy enough, and the shade is large enough, you can drape your hank over the shade and use it as a swift. PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Make sure the lamp is in a secure spot or on the floor, brace it if necessary, and don't pull too hard on the yarn. Note, you cannot double a hank when unwinding it, so if it is too big for your lamp shade, you will have to do something else or figure out a way to block the bottom of the shade so the hank doesn't fall off.

Using chair backs: Place two chairs back to back, open the hank and place it over the chair backs. Pull the chairs apart until the hank can be held taut near the top of the chair backs. Untie the hank, and start winding from step 2. Note that this will not go as fast as using a swift since the yarn will not feed as smoothly. If your chair backs aren’t shaped right for this, or are too big, try the next method.

Using chair or stool legs: If the hank is small enough, you can to turn a chair, stool or bench over and hook the hank over 2, 3, or 4 legs depending on its length. For a better fit or for larger hanks, use 2 chairs placed next to each other and pull them apart until the hank is held taut. This can be considerably lower than an upright chair, and if it is angled towards you, it can be much easier to unwind the hank. Again, this is more time consuming as the yarn will not feed as smoothly. Of the two chair methods, I prefer this one, but it isn’t really suited for doing anywhere but in your own home. People tend to look askance at one when one starts flipping the furniture.

Winding a ball when you’ve already knit some –

Simply proceed in the way appropriate to your yarn source, skip step 2 and proceed with step 3, leaving your knitting to the side. This is particularly useful if your center pull skeins tangle towards the end as the layers of yarn start falling in and the ball collapses.


Please note that I use the terms skein and ball interchangeably, even though skeins and balls are somewhat different. Well, a skein looks more like a cylinder, and a ball looks more like a ball, other than that they work pretty much the same way. I just prefer using 'skein' as the default term.

standard disclaimer:

This is all just what I have done in the past. If it isn't clear or you have a better way, let me know and I'll fix or add it.

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