How to Wind Yarn From Hank to Ball or Skein

yarn hank and ball

When purchasing nicer, upscale, types of yarn they will usually come in a twisted hank, or sometimes called a skein. In New Hampshire, where I learned to knit, they were called hanks.  Many people spun their own yarn and this is how they sold it.

It’s easier for the sellers to dye and dry the yarn then twist it up into a hank and add a tag. Displaying it for sale in a twist also gives the consumer a look at the coloring throughout the hank.

Before knitting, the yarn in a hank must be wound into a ball. This can be tricky for anyone who is unfamiliar with how a hank of yarn is presented. I remember buying and using my first hank. I had no idea what to do with it! I simply guessed at how to remove the ties and find the ends. It all worked out.
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Untwist the hank into a long oval and find the places where it is wrapped and tied. There could one or more places that will need to be cut. Sometimes the hank is tied with another type or color yarn to make it easy to find. Sometimes it’s the same yarn.

The Cascade 220 Heather green yarn below had only one tie area and they used the same color yarn. I had to cut the knot to get the two loose ends and begin winding.

yarn hank
This tied area will be cut to form the two loose ends of yarn

Choose the end of yarn which seems to be on the outer side and begin winding loosely. Begin with two fingers together and wrap a little, then turn that bit of yarn and wrap over fingers and/or thumb again. You don’t want to stretch the yarn so never pull it tight.

Winding Yarn Yourself Without a Store Bought Winder

First of all, winding a ball of yarn from a hank, or skein, takes a while. You need to find a comfortable place to do so. I do not have a yarn winder and I’ve found that the easiest way to wind my yarn is to drape it over my knees while sitting. If I open my legs a bit the yarn will fall on my feet and I’ll have a good view of the loop to make sure the yarn doesn’t get caught up. Go slowly and don’t let knots, or hang ups, develop or you’ll have a mess. This is fairly easy to do with a good quality yarn.

The yarn site Miss Babs offers yarn winding for a charge of $3.00 each skein.  I recently purchased a large skein of their Katahdin with 1750 yards and did pay for winding!

winding yarn in lap
Winding yarn using your lap

I used to use an over-the-door multi-hanger and stand while winding. But if I sit, and use my knees, I can watch TV while creating my ball of yarn!

Other ways to wind yarn yourself would be to place the hank of yarn over a chair or bed post. You really need something that holds the yarn for you. Maybe someone you know would hold it?

Store Bought Yarn Winding Options

If you wind a lot of yarn, a store-bought winder (or yarn swift) makes sense. They cost quite a bit, so be sure to consider whether or not it will be worth the expense.
A wooden umbrella swift, like this Stanwood Needlecraft model is used to hold the large round section of yarn you get once the hank is undone.

Add the loop of yarn to the swift winder, which will expand to the size you need.  It works to hold the yarn while you roll it into a ball.  It’s made of Beechwood and is smooth and easy to use (according to reviewers).  This one gets lots of 5-star reviews on Amazon!  To use, just screw it onto a table.  It folds down for storage.

skein or hank of yarn
Yarn skein ready to be rolled into a ball.

The Stanwood Yarn / String winder (shown, click image to buy/view product) is even more pricey than the Umbrella Swift (link in previous paragraph), but it winds yarn into a “cake” with working yarn coming from the inside of the skein. I guess you can choose for it to come from the outside as well.

I’ve never used this type of thing, and one user said that you must begin with a ball of yarn! That means you have to wind your hank into a ball THEN use this $70 winder! Or buy the swift and this together. Wind the yarn from the swift to the winder as in the video below:

Some of the reasons knitters and crocheters like the skeins, or cakes, that come from the Stanwood winder is that the cakes are easier to store and use (they don’t roll around like a ball).

Winding Yarn is a Good Idea No Matter What Type You Buy

Winding yarn, from any skein you buy, lets you see what all the yarn looks like. Sometimes when you get down to the last bit (that pulls from inside a skein) there are splits or breaks which surprise you while knitting or crocheting.  Winding gives you a view of all the yarn. As you wind by hand, you will probably feel and see any defects.

I’m not quite ready to invest that kind of money in winders / swifts. I’d rather put my money toward new yarn. So for now, my lap will do just fine.


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