How to wind a ball from a skein

 how to wind      

(without any special equipment!)

So your beautiful yarn has arrived but, eeek, its not in a handy to use off the shelf ball. Do not knit directly from the skein whatever you do! I have heard tales that some people do knit from the skein but I cannot see any way that it isn’t going to end in the most horrible tangled mess.

If you have a swift and ball winder to hand then great but what if you aren’t set up for winding skeins? Until last year I didn’t own any winding equipment so this tutorial shows you how I did it.

But lets back up a little, what is the difference between a hank, a skein and a ball?

ball pic

This is a commercial ball of yarn. Its what most UK knitters are familiar with as it is the most commonly stocked.


This is a hank or skein of yarn.

It tends to be higher end, artisanal yarns that are stocked like this. Why? When independent dyers dye the yarn it comes to them in skeins and is dyed and dried in the skein. Most dyers kept it in the skein because winding it into a ball would raise the cost of producing the yarn. Now some big yarn companies sell yarn in the skein too as it gives it an artisan image and a feeling of prestige to the yarn.

In the UK skein and hank are used fairly interchangeably but in the US a skein can also mean an elongated ball of yarn that has a centre pull.

Now we know what we are dealing with, lets get that baby wound and ready to knit or crochet from!

The first thing you need  to do is prepare the skein for winding.

Gently open out the skein by untwisting it. It should now be in a large loop and will probably be tied in at least two places. Place the skein onto whatever will be holding it while you wind it. This is where a swift or a helper (husband/neighbour/patient child) can be useful as it/they hold it for you. Without these luxuries you have two main options:

wind on knees

Your knees…

wind on chairs

or use two chairs back to back.

Either works just fine. If you have a bad back or aches and pains it may be best to go with the chairs as sitting with your knees up for extended might hurt you.

Carefully untie the knots holding the skein together. You will sometimes need to cut these away but avoid it if possible as it wastes precious yarn.

Do not untie the skein before it is held in position as it has a tendency to get out of order, any loops that fall out of place are wont to cause a tangle.

Once you have untied the skein you should be able to find an end. Gently pull the end and see if it comes away from the skein freely. If it does you are ready to wind. If it doesn’t then you will need to either find the other end and try that or gently manipulate the skein around to free the end a little.

Lets get winding!

winding Collage

Step 1: Wrap the yarn several times around two fingers.

Step 2: Remove from your fingers and wrap the yarn at 90 degrees so it looks like a bow.

Step 3: Turn the bundle 45 degrees and wind again.

Step 4: Turn the bundle 90 degrees and wind some more.

It should now be looking like a small ball. Continue winding moving the ball around so you are wrapping over a different area and keeping the shape nice and round.

As you wind the ball stay fairly close to the skein and move the ball around with the yarn as you wrap this stops more loops pulling off the skein as you lift the yarn. If extra loops come up then lay them back down before you continue working, this will help keep tangles to a minimum.

Don’t wind the ball too tightly, try not to stretch the yarn as you wrap it. This can stretch the yarn which can cause problems with your tension when you work with it they subsequently wash it.

finished ball

You should know that these balls really like to go for a walk while you are knitting or crocheting with them. If you are having trouble pop the ball into a soup bowl (clean and empty of soup ideally!)

I hope you found this post useful. The yarn, in case you were wondering, is Manos Fino in Jewel – its beautiful!

 This blog entry is my submission to the Deramores Blog Awards 2014. Deramores is the UK’s number one online retailer of knitting and crochet supplies.
(if you are joining me via the blog awards page then HELLO! I hope you’ll enjoy a little look around my blog.)


  1. Louise Tilbrook says

    I’m a firm believer in the chair back approach. Although DH is usually happy to help if he is around.

  2. says

    You have missed out option 3, which is around both wrists like a giant bracelet. Its a bit tricky to master to begin with, but once you have you’ll never go back.
    You have far more control over the skein, any tangles are easily solved and its portable.
    It means you can wind balls anywhere, anytime, saving precious knitting or crochet time :-)

    • Gem Wakefield says

      It must be an age thing – just had to ‘laughed out loud’ at the thought that we have to teach the young people of today how to turn a hank of wool into a ball! I have been lucky to have someone else holding the hank of wool between their outstretched hands in front of me whilst I wound the ball. As children it was quite a normal thing to be the yarn holder, while your mother wound the wool. I’ve never tried to do it all myself, you sound impressive. I did inherit my mother’s wool winder which I still have, that is impressive too.

      • notsogranny says

        Even my grandmother always knitted from balls. I’d never seen a skein except in movies until a few years ago.

        • Gwenda Wakefield says

          I recall my mother ripping down jumpers etc and winding the wool round the chair back, which created what we always called a hank of wool. These hanks were washed and hung to dry on a washing line – looked like the pictures I’ve seen on Amanda Perkins website but not quite so long. My sister and I were then expected to hold the wool hank between our outstretched hands whilst mum would wind the wool into a ball. I said it was probably age related but maybe it was geographical too. I was born in 1945 in Fife, Scotland where my mothers family came from. I can only recall from my early childhood days that the balls of wool my mother and Gran knitted with were the hand wound balls. I think a great deal of recycling took place then – possibly due to the war and rationing – all guesswork on my part as the older generation in my case have gone! My husband said he could remember having to sit holding the hank/skein while his mother wound it into balls. As a youngster he made her a skein holder. It was extremely tiring holding the hanks in your hands with outstretched arms. You had to hold your thumbs up so the wool didn’t come off but then had to dip your hand down so it could be wound off and hope the wool didn’t stick too much otherwise the hank came off your hand. I expect you’re having trouble following all this, sorry. Hope that you can put up a video of Amanda Perkins actually holding the hank and winding at the same time, I think my grandmother could do that but she never taught me! Looking forward to seeing a video!

  3. says

    If you want the ball not to wander off, you really need to wind it into a centre pull ball. It’s almost as simple to do and stops that whole rolling around while you knit thing. I’m sure there’s a You Tube video showing how it is done (don’t know how we learned anything before the advent of You Tube!)

    • notsogranny says

      I have a ball winder that winds centre pull balls. I’ll admit to having mixed success using them. I find a lot of yarns tangle horribly. I use a bowl or bag to stop the yarn rolling around when I hand wind a ball.