Q for You: Do you wind your own yarn?

Imperial Ranch 'Anna' hand wound yarn cake

This came up as an aside in last week’s great discussion, and I’m hoping to hear from a bunch of you. To wit: Do you wind your own yarn, and how? This here is the Imperial Yarn Anna I added to the shop last week, and I love this particular hunk of yarn so much I keep making jokes about wanting to have my yarn cake and knit it too. (It’s ok if you laugh at me instead of with me.) When I first took up knitting, I would always have the yarn store wind my purchases, but then I learned it’s not good for the yarn to be stored that way. So I stopped. But eventually I wanted to knit with something that wasn’t wound and had to figure it out. I knew how to wind a center-pull ball when I was a kid, so one look at a video* was all the refresher I needed. These days, I drape the skein over the backs of two chairs, stick out my left thumb, and I’m off.

I know I’d save a lot of time (precious knitting time) if I invested in a swift and ball winder — or at least the swift — but this has become one of my favorite things to do. I like my idiosyncratic hand-wound cakes much better than the perfect ones that came off the winder. But then I also applaud myself for how nearly perfect I can get them, like this one. For me, it’s all part of the fun.

But how ’bout you — what’s your method?


*I can’t actually find one at the moment that’s as simple and tidy as how I do it. This linked one is basically it, except I don’t do any of that first part — I just wind the whole thing right on my thumb. No muss, no fuss.

47 thoughts on “Q for You: Do you wind your own yarn?

  1. So interested in hearing what others say! I never have the yarn store wind my yarn mainly because I want to get home RIGHT AWAY and start playing around with it myself. My balls don’t look as neat as your cakes and I definitely need to practice my center-pull ball. I’ve thought about getting a winder and swift but I just don’t know where I’d keep it. I don’t feel like it’s worth pulling out whenever I want to wind something but I know my boyfriend would probably kill me if I stole a piece of our tiny apartment to keep it set up all of the time.

    But I love winding yarn myself because I feel like (this is totally weird and probably just in my head BUT) I get to know the yarn a little better while I’m running it through my hands. That is like some psycho thing but, just like swatching, I’m getting a feel for the yarn.

  2. I have a swift and a ball winder and wind all of my yarn this way. I read something once about making sure not to put too much tension on the yarn when winding it into cakes as its not good for the yarn, so I usually wind it once from hank to cake, and then wind the cake once more, winding it into a loose cake. Probably a bit of overkill, but that’s how I do it.
    I’m intrigued by your hand-wound cakes- I’ve only hand-wound into balls before, but I don’t like knitting from a ball (too rolly!).

  3. Great question! I wind my yarn into a ball with it draped over a fabric chair (doesn’t slide as easily) or stretched between my knees. When I’m winding yarn at our little gallery, knitters who come in invariably say, “Oh, you don’t want to do it that way – you need to get a ball winder.” I smile. Actually, I very much DO want to do it this way. I wind it because I love the feel of the yarn and if I don’t love the feel, it will probably head to the thrift store.And, like Sarah, I get to know the yarn – maybe change my mind about what I was going to use it for because of the feel. Get to watch the colors unfold (handpainted.) I also get to see if there are knots and I cut them right then and there and make separate balls. So I have a lot of yarn balls in bins and use yarn bags or small thrift store vintage mixing bowls to hold them when I’m knitting.
    Fun to read what others do! And I don’t know how to wind for a center pull – I’ll check that out.

    • I like the knee idea. Will try it out, but how do you actually wind your yarn if you don’t “center pull it”?

      As for Karen’s question, I wind the yarn on a chair, or on my laps. Once, it got so messy that I thought about asking a ball winder for xmas (you can read about it here: http://patamodeler.net/2013/05/06/la-pelote/). But I’ll try the knee idea first.

    • I did the knee thing the other day to see if I’d like it. Think I prefer standing while I wind, but am glad to know I could do that if I had to, in a car or wherever.

  4. I used to get my yarn wound at my LYS if I knew I was going to cast on imminently; otherwise, I would just wind it myself into a ball. After a while though (basically, once I started knitting bigger projects that required multiple skeins) I invested in a swift and ball winder. I really like hand-wound balls, but it is just so, so much faster to use a ball winder, so it’s become an efficiency thing.

    • I prefer standing but sometimes, when I’m watching a movie for the sixth time, its easier to sit and use my knees. To answer Patricia’s question: I start winding the yarn around two fingers, then pull it off and start the ball, winding round and round, evenly.

  5. I heard of people putting yarn over lamp shades and twirling the shade while winding a ball.
    I put mine over a sofa cushion back and stand while winding. I have not tried to make a center pull ball and will check out that video.

  6. Even though I have both a swift and yarn winder, I don’t have a good table to clamp them onto, so 90% of the time, I sit in my recliner, lay the skein around my knees and wind into a ball. I have a yarn bowl my Dad made for me, so “rolly” isn’t an issue. I do make sure I wind the ball loosely. My husband helped me wind some yarn one time (and one time only!) and the next morning, I found the balls in the seat of my recliner. They were wound so tight, they reminded me of the core of a baseball. No more winding duty for my husband.

  7. I use a swift and wind the yarn with my hands into a ball. I agree with you and the others that it helps you get to know the yarn better. Sometimes after winding it I’ll change my mind about what the yarn should become. It also helps to find any imperfections or knots. It’s good to know I am not the only one who thinks like that. However if it a laceweight yarn with 900+ yards I do take it to be wound at my local store.

    • It took me the entire length of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to wind a skein of Shibui Silk Cloud. That really made me question my process. But normally it takes me 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the yarn, yardage, and how neatly the skein was wrapped. I know a swift would speed things up.

  8. beautiful cake of wool!

    fun question, and it’s interesting to read everyones comments. i do both. but for the same reason sarah and mijoxrieder have said, when i use my swift and ball winder (most of the time) i always hold the wool in my left hand, as it’s coming off the swift, turning the winder with my right. this gives control over the tension and i also love to feel every bit of the skein as it’s being wound. it’s a bit like spinning, but winding, if that makes sense.

    i do love to wind by hand too, but after doing this to possibly 5 billion hanks of yarn, knitting for my 5 children, for the past 30+ years, i really appreciate that i have a choice now (when my children were small i didn’t have either winder or swift). i also have a studio dedicated to my wooly pursuits, i’m REALLY grateful for (children moved out), so they both stay out all the time.

  9. I totally agree with kimidawn24: swift and then double wind. And it has to be done the minute you get the yarn inside the house! That way yo get to “know” the yarn, -catch the yarns “mojo” if you like and can start wondering what it will turn in to… it´s also easier to storage than skeins and balls of yarn.
    Love your blog by the way!

  10. I thought I was the only one who loved winding. I do a lot of thrifting and recycling, and frogging garments has become a very meditative activity. My hand winding has gotten weirdly good. Never thought about a centre start though, will check it ou!

  11. I lay the skein over my knees or on the screen part of my laptop, I use the inside cardboard from a roll of plastic wrap (like toilet paper roll but stronger and longer). I cut a slit in the top and slide a the beginning of the yarn inside so i have the end and then I start wrapping. I also enjoy it, it seems to be theraputical. However I do also sometimes get it wound.

  12. It depends…
    If it’s a project that I’m going to start right away, I’ll have the shop wind my yarn. But if it’s yarn for stash enhancement, then I’ll store it in the hank until I’m ready to use it. Generally I will either loop it over the back of 2 kitchen chairs and wind it into a ball, or I’ll sit on the couch and sort of drape it over my knees. I like to be able to wind the yarn myself a lot of times because it gives me a chance to “preview” the yarn and note any slubs, knots or potential issues. I’m really interested in learning how to hand-wind into a cake, though so I’ll be sure to check out the link for the video — thanks!

  13. Loved reading these. I am too impatient and bought a cheap swift and winder early on, though i will wind by hand if I am frogging and can get into the zen of it sometimes.

    I absolutely nerd-out over the perfection of a yarn cake though. Can’t get enough of yarn in that shape! It is almost magical.

  14. I sometimes wind it in the store myself if I know I’m going to use it for a project right away, but other times I just take it home and use the backs of two chairs. I prefer to wind it into a ball though, as my center-pull cakes are always so messy!

    I like to do squats while I wind my yarn (and stomach crunches while I knit). :D You can get a surprising amount of exercise while you do knit-related things!

  15. I did buy a winder recently as I’ve been using more home-made yarn. However, if the yarn I use is commercially made, I just use it straight off the skein. It’s very therapeutic winding but not great for the yarn.

    • I am guessing it must depend on where you are? I am in London and most of the yarns I see are in skeins…think it is because they are predominantly hand dyed, though.

      • I expect it’s the shop and your budget too! I like to buy skeins of handdyed loveliness but I mostly buy Noro, Debbie Bliss, Rowan which are predominantly though not always in balls. And for garments for my niece Sirdar & Patons are good value, hard wearing and in balls 😄

  16. What a great discussion, I love it.
    When I learned to knit three years ago I made a list for my husband of all the ‘knitty’ tools I would need, and now each Christmas he goes to that list. My first Christmas he bought me a swift and ball winder, I love them.

  17. Yes, I am a hand winder, too! My partner (a spinner) is also, so although we have lots of yarn and yarn paraphernalia, we have neither a swift nor a ball winder! If it’s just me, I drape the skein over me like an infinity scarf, which works surprisingly well. If we are both winding up a skein, she is the holder and untangler (if necessary) and I am the winder. I like hand-winding. It’s yet another opportunity to have fiber in your hands! The only time I think about getting either tool is about 2/3 through winding up a skein of laceweight… : )

  18. I use a swift and a beautiful handmade nostepinde. Love to feel the yarn through my fingers and that way I can also feel small knots or slubs that shouldn’t be there.

  19. I’m late to this party, but I do the knee thing. I used to hold the yarn up with my hands for my grandmother back in the day.

  20. I am utterly without reason on whether a skein gets wound by hand or not. Even though my swift and ballwinder are perpetually set up, it’s sometimes just too much effort to put everything aside, dislodge the cat, and wind onto the ballwinder. A lot of the time it will vary even within a project; Ball 1 will be handwound, Ball 2 on the ballwinder, Ball 3 handwound. . .

  21. I bought a really nice swift and a ball winder years ago and used them a few times but I found that I really enjoy sitting on the couch, watching tv or listening to a book and winding a ball by hand. I find it relaxing and really enjoy that part of the project. I really should sell the swift and winder. I just don’t see myself ever using it again.

  22. I wind with a ball winder when I start a project because I like the nice compact cakes to knit from. However, often any left over yarn gets wound by hand and put in a drawer with other bits of yarn for embellishments or free form knitting or crochet.

  23. I’m a hand-winder and I make center-pull balls, using a chair back or my knees. Since all my WIPs live in drawstring bags, I prefer a ball to a cake. It just rolls out more smoothly that way. The few times I’ve had the shop wind it for me, I’ve encountered tangles well into the project and that’s maddening.

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  26. When I’m ready to use my yarn, I wind it with a winder and swift. The swift is made of wood, and makes the nicest sound as it spins, it starts out a little scratchy, and lumpy, then as the cake gets bigger and the swift turns faster, it smoothes out into a…don’t know, some sort of pleasing hum. My husband and daughter have commented on how they like the sound, too.

    I was advised by my LYS to get a plastic swift because they last longer in the dry Colorado air, but I prefer the aesthetics of wood. My swift is portably only 6-7 years old, but I’ve had to re-thread its ends with twine several times, and three of the “spokes” have broken at the origination points by the shaft, so every time I use it I just hope it hangs in there.

    Every time I use the swift I feel like a pioneer woman, or I have some connection to women of the past, I have no idea why! It seems like such a throw-back item. It’s by no means a simple, as you appreciate when it breaks.

    So, I love my swift. I appreciate the winder, which also has the same simple-complexity to it, but heart goes to the swift.

  27. It is great when you read comments and think” I have found my tribe”! Where else could I discuss the pros and cons of yarn winding?
    I love winding balls by hand. I did so for many years, beautiful oval balls , until I succumbed to a swift a few years ago. Love winding balls from a swiftand would every inch of yarn I had in my stash.. Then, recently, I purchased a ball winder. I have played with this almost daily, even winding my odds and ends into delectable little cakes. This has led me to an obsessive storage re-vamp. I am having a great time. We take our pleasures where we find ’em.

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