How to Hand Wind Yarn: Winding a Skein into a Ball

Working with nice yarn is glorious, but a lot of times this higher-quality yarn comes in a skein, not an easy-to-use ball. So how do you hand wind that yarn skein into a ball?

You can hand wind yarn into a ball by winding it in a certain way around your thumb, by using a tool called a nostepinne, or by using a yarn ball winder. Lastly, some yarn stores have ball winders for their customers to use, check your local yarn shop to see if they have one you can use.

As you can see, there are several methods to wind a skein of yarn into a ball. I’ll walk you through each one step by step so you can decide which method is best for you. Let’s get winding!

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How to Hand Wind Yarn into a Ball

When winding yarn into a ball, by hand, there are three main ways you can do this: by only using your hands, by using a nostepinne, and by using a ball winder.

Before starting to wind, you need to open up your skein of yarn, and stretch it out. You can do this by stretching the skein between the back of a chair, having a friend hold it open for you, or holding it with your knees.

There’s also something called a yarn swift that looks like the frame of an umbrella and is used to hold the hank of yarn open while you wind it into a ball.

I know from personal experience that if you don’t have some way to hold the skein open while you wind it, you are guaranteed to have a giant tangly mess of yarn that will take you hours to fix. I’m still traumatized.

If you’re interested in getting a swift, here’s a link to the Woolery for the kind of swift I use. They are a little pricey, but if you’re going to be winding a lot of yarn balls or skeins, they make your life a lot easier.

Once you have your way of holding your skein open, find one end of the yarn to start with and make sure all the ties used to hold the skein together are removed.

Now, let’s talk about how to actually go about winding a skein into a ball of yarn.

With Only Your Hands

There are two ways balls of yarn get rolled by hand. First, a traditional ball is wound around itself and is the type of ball that people think of cats playing with, you use the yarn from the outside of the ball in and it rolls around to unwind itself.

The second type is a center pull ball which is still wound around itself but it keeps the tail used at the beginning accessible so you can work from the inside out. I prefer this type of ball because the yarn won’t roll around while you’re working with it.

You can still work from the outside in with a center pull ball, but these balls aren’t completely round, so they won’t roll and unwind how you need them to if working from the outside in.

I’ll show you how to make both of these types of balls and you can choose which one you like best.

Regular Yarn Ball

To make a regular yarn ball, first start by making a block for the center. Hold the end of the yarn between two fingers, and wrap several lengths or yarn around your hand.

how to wind a yarn ball by hand

Make sure not to make it to tight so you can easily slid it off your hand.

Once you have your lengths of yarn, slide them off and fold them over one another. You should now have a square shaped ball to start with.

how to hand wind yarn

Now, begin winding your yarn around this center. It will be a little difficult at first but once you have a ball formed it should be smooth sailing.

After every few passes of yarn, turn the ball to put yarn on a different part. You want to try and wind the yarn on evenly to make a nice round ball.

How to wind a yarn ball

Continue winding and turning until you’ve used your whole skein. And you’re done! Easier than you thought right?

Now, let’s say you don’t have a yarn bowl so you don’t like this type of ball because it rolls around and your cat just will NOT leave you alone while knitting. Well, using a center-pull ball of yarn might be a good solution for you.

Let’s tackle that next!

Center Pull Ball

A centre pull ball, or a yarn cake as it’s sometimes called, is slightly more labor-intensive than a regular yarn ball, but trust me it’s worth it.

To start a center-pull yarn ball, wrap the end of the yarn around your thumb a few times, making sure to leave the tail end hanging out the bottom. This will make sure you can get to the end once you’re done.

how to wind a center pull yarn ball by hand

Make sure that you wrap the yarn loosely around your thumb at the beginning and as you go. You have to fit a lot of yarn on that thumb and you don’t want to start cutting off the circulation to it.

Then, you’re going to start winding the ball by winding diagonally around your thumb. What I mean by this is, that you’re going to go from the bottom on one side of your thumb, to the top of the other side of your thumb and then back down on the back.

how to hand wind a center pull ball

After five passes in the same area, rotate the small ball of yarn on your thumb about a quarter turn. This will even out the yarn ball.

Continue this wrap and turn until your cake of yarn is growing in size. You may need to push the ball of yarn up your thumb to give yourself more space to work as needed.

how to wind a center pull yarn ball by hand

Keep going until you reach the end of your skein. Now, slide the ball of yarn off your thumb an you’re done!

Take the tail that you saved out at the beginning and start your next project. This cake of yarn won’t roll away and will easily pull out of the middle of the ball.

Using a Nostepinne

You’re probably reading this section just because you’re curious about what the heck a nostepinne is.

Well, you’re in the right place. A nostepinne is a Scandinavian word that means next stick and is basically just a rod that is used to wind yarn around to create a center-pull yarn ball.

If you read my tutorial above on how to wind a center pull ball around your thumb, a nostepinne was created to replace your thumb.

Here is a link to a Nostepinne on the Woolery.

Wrapping a yarn ball around a nostepinne is done in the same way as wrapping a center pull ball around your thumb.

I, unfortunately, do not own one of these fun things, but here is a video that shows exactly how to wind a ball using a nostepinne.

Using a Ball Winder

Last but not least, we have the humble ball winder. A ball winder is a device that winds a center pull ball for you, it’s much faster than doing it completely by hand.

If you spend a ton of time winding skeins of yarn into balls for each project, or you just don’t find winding balls of yarn by hand enjoyable, then a yarn winder might be a good investment for you.

This is the style of ball winder that I have (link to the Woolery) and it has saved me so much time in winding balls of yarn.

A ball winder is also a great way to wind freshly made yarn into a ball for use, you can wind directly off a bobbin or spindle.

Now, because ball winders are faster than by hand, I recommend using it with a yarn swift to ensure your skein of yarn stays open and tangle-free. A yarn swift can also be used to wind the yarn back into a skein for storage.

To use a yarn ball winder, secure your yarn winder to the edge of a table or counter. Then, thread the end of your yarn through the arm.

How to use a Ball winder

Secure the end of the yarn in the little slot on the top of the winder. This will make sure you can easily access the tail of the yarn once you’re done.

how to wind a center pull yarn ball with a ball winder

Now just start winding! I find it best to hold the yarn slightly while winding it on. This helps even out the tension in the yarn while it’s being wrapped.

winding a center pull ball

Once you get to the end of your skein, grab the end your secured to the middle of the ball winder and pull it up so the tail is sticking out. If you don’t do this, it might be hard to find the end of the yarn once you take it off the winder.

And voila! Your very own center pull ball. If you don’t have a ball winder and it’s not something you want to get right now, many local yarn shops have ball winders that they will let their customers use.

I have done this on occasion while traveling and I buy a skein of yarn I want to start working with. Next time you visit your little yarn shop, ask them if they have one available that you can use before leaving the store.

How Long Does It Take to Hand Wind Yarn?

Depending on how large of a skein of yarn you have, it could take you an hour or two to wind a skein of yarn by hand. If you use a ball winder, it will probably only take you a few minutes to wind a skein of yarn into a ball.

Can You Hand Wind Yarn Without a Swift?

Yes, you can hand wind yarn without a swift. You can put your open skein of yarn around the back of a chair, have a friend hold it open, or hold it open with your knees. You just need to find to points that you can put your skein of yarn around to hold it open for you.

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