How to Wind Yarn into Balls and Center-Pulling Balls.

June 12, 2007 at 7:19 am 4 comments

Dear SweaterBabe, 

I keep reading about making a ball of yarn before knitting a project. Apparently, you need to “re-wrap” the yarn into what I have heard described as “a ball that unwinds from the inside”. I cannot find any info that tells me HOW or WHY to do this.

Could you please explain.

Thank You from a new knitter (addicted to sock knitting, but have as yet to finish one)

Dear Tracy,

That’s a great question that I get asked a LOT. 

There are some situations where I would recommend you “re-wind” the yarn… but other times, I think it’s more a matter of personal preference and time.  Some people really prefer balls to unwind from the center so the balls will not be rolling around.  Others are perfectly happy with balls unwinding from the outside, as this is often what you get when you purchase the yarn as balls and don’t want to take the extra time to re-wind each one.

Here are some different scenarios and my advice/thoughts:

— If you buy the yarn as a skein, you can usually find where the yarn can pull from center of the skein, so just use that end and you won’t need to re-wind it into a ball.  Otherwise, you can also use the end that is unwinding from the outside, in which case the skein will just roll around on your floor or table.  HINT: You can “contain” the rolling by putting your yarn in a bag.  I like to use the handled paper bags that can stand-up on their own, e.g. the ones you often get at boutiques or as gift bags.  OR here’s an example of a product called a “yarntainer,” that was specially made for this purpose.

— If you buy the yarn as a ball, you can also often find the end that is coming from the center, in which case you won’t need to re-wind it.  If you can’t find the center (you can’t locate the end without making a mess of the ball, etc.), then you can either knit or crochet from the ball using the end that will unwind from the outside OR you can “re-wind” the ball and create a “center-pulling” ball (explained below).

— If you buy the yarn as a hank, then you MUST first wind the yarn into a ball (center-pulling or just a regular ball) before you can use it.  If you don’t, then you are VERY likely to tangle up the hank and end up with a big mess and lots of wasted yarn.  Since more expensive yarns are often sold as hanks (because they are hand-dyed that way, hand-spun, or just look better displayed that way), you really want to make sure you take the time to wind them into the balls first.  You may try asking the Yarn Shop staff if they can wind it for you, as they will often have a yarn swift and ball winder that can make it a cinch to turn the hanks into balls.  OR perhaps they will let you use the swift and ball winder to do it yourself.  If you will be doing it at home, see the technique tips below.  Here’s what a swift and ball winder look like.

— If you are doing any kind of colorwork where you are using separate balls of yarn at the same time, balls that pull from the center are great to prevent the colors from tangling.  BUT also, you can use the handled paper bags (one per color) or the special containers that I’ve seen at shops that have separate compartments for each color.  If you use the bags or containers, balls that unwind from the outside are just fine.   Here’s an example of a great bag for colorwork.

OK – so how do you wind a ball of yarn??

1) To wind a ball that pulls from the outside, you just take the yarn and start winding it around the palm of your hand a bunch of times.  When it gets a bit bulky in your hand, take it off of your hand and turn it 90 degrees so you can wind around the middle of what you had wound around your hand.  Keep going, winding around the mass of yarn and keep turning.  As you turn and continue to wind, it will end up looking more ball like.

2) If you want it to pull from the center, the trick is to keep track of the center end and to NOT wind too tightly (or it will be too hard to pull the yarn from the center as you use up the ball).  Start by keeping about 6″ of yarn out as a tail.  Start winding the yarn while making sure this tail is ALWAYS sticking out. 

Here’s the technique I learned… I line up the tail against my thumb (of my non-dominant hand, i.e. my left thumb since I am right-handed) and start winding the yarn around my thumb and the tail, keeping it loose so that my thumb is creating a little tunnel within the ball.  It’s as if you were to wind a skinny band aid around your thumb, completely covering the tip of your thumb evenly.  After winding around your thumb for a little while, you take out your thumb and you will have a thumb-sized tunnel/hole where the tail of yarn is sticking out.  This is where the yarn will unwind from.  Continue to wind the ball as for a normal ball, turning it to make it more ball-like, BUT always making sure you never accidentally wind over the thumbhole and lose track of the tail.

Do you have more suggestions on winding balls of knitting yarn?  Feel free to submit your comments! 


Entry filed under: Ask SweaterBabe, Crochet Questions and How to, Knitting Questions and How to.

What’s Hot at Mrs. I’s Yarn Parlor Shop. The Knitted Kimono Sleeve Cables and Lace Wrap will be up this week!

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MonkeyGurrl  |  June 12, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I have found that it is helpful to re-wind yarn, regardless of it’s initial state, when there is any indication that there might be a problem with it. For example, I’ve bought bags of yarn (i.e., all the same lot) where one skein was riddled with knots and snags and ends. Quite frustrating. But if you re-wind the yarn first, you know what awaits.

    Besides, it’s just one more excuse to fondle the yarn. 🙂

  • 2. B Q  |  June 12, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I find if you don’t have a huge amount of yarn to wind into a center pull ball, you can wind the yarn around an empty toilet paper roll. Cut a small slit in the side of one end and slip the end of the yarn into it to hold it, then start winding the yarn a little loosely around the roll. Then slip it off the roll and it’s ready to use.

  • 3. Connie  |  June 13, 2007 at 6:00 am

    I owned a smocking/heirloom sewing shop for years, and learned to wind fine lace edgings and silk ribbions without tangling, or wrinkling. It works perfectly for re-winding hanks of yarn.

    Begin with the tail of the yarn wrapped counter-clockwise around the thumb of your non-dominant hand. Then, with your fingers spread wide, continue to wrap the yarn in a “figure 8” from the thumb, across the palm and clockwise around your little finger, back across the palm and counter-clockwise around the thumb, etc. The process is much easier and smoother if, rather than dragging the yarn with your right hand, you merely “feed” the yarn through the right hand, while “toggling” the left hand around the strand. My right hand stays virtually motionless, while my left hand “rocks” in the figure 8. Since I have no one to assist with this, I usually prop my feet up on my coffee table, drape the hank over them (don’t laugh – it works!) and begin to wind. The end result is an oval ball of yarn which pulls from the center (the original thread wrapped around the thumb). You can also loosely tie another piece of yarn around the middle of the ball, just to help keep it in place, particularly as you near the end of the ball.

    I wish I were more technologically advanced – I’d video this technique and post it!

    Good luck!

  • 4. Kathy  |  June 27, 2007 at 10:06 am

    For winding a ball that will pull out from the center–instead of using your thumb, use an empty toilet paper roll.
    1.and anchor the yarn by cutting a slash in one end of the roll and pull the end of the yarn through it.
    2. wind the yarn around the tp roll
    3. when you are finished, slip out the end of the yarn from the slash, bend the tp roll in and slide it out
    (much easier for me than trying to use my thumb)

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