Tutorial: How to Unwind a Skein

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About a week ago I got a great question from Mary, one of my students and customers.  She wrote, “How do you unravel a twist of yarn? Made a mess and I am sure there is a correct way but I’m not privy it and I have three more to go….Mary.”  When Mary was talking about a twist of yarn, she was talking about a skein.  And this can be quite puzzling if you’ve never dealt with yarn stored this way.

I thought it was a great question, so I’ve put together a tutorial about it.  Since it’s a fairly picture-heavy post, I’ve put the rest of the post behind a cut so the photographs won’t slow down the loading time on the website.

But first, why is yarn stored in skeins, and not pre-wound for customers?  There are a couple of different reasons.  First, it’s generally agreed that keeping your yarn wound into balls for long periods of time can stretch out the yarn, especially if the yarn is wound up tightly. Keeping it in a skein allows the yarn to breathe a bit more.  Second, it’s easier for yarn companies to ship their yarn in skeins: they take up less space, squish better, and lie flatter in boxes.  Yarn that is in balls tends to be hard for LYS’s to store – I used to call a couple of different balled yarns “tribbles,” as they seemed to jump off the shelves whenever my back was turned.  Finally, for hand-dyed yarns, gradients and a few other yarns, skeins allow customers to see all the colors in the skein better, so they’re not surprised by a “mystery color.”

So that’s why you often may get your yarn in skeins from a Local Yarn Store.  Most stores offer balling services if you buy the yarn in the store or if you pay a small fee.  But do expect to wait – often sales clerks have to fit in the winding of yarn around their other duties!

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Today I’m going to be demonstrating using a skein of sock weight yarn.

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See how one end is going into the other end?

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We’re going to take the two ends and separate them.

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Fun fact: friction and stored energy (in the form of twist) is what keeps the two sides of the skein together.  Slippery yarns tend to not stay skeined together as well.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewound silky or drapey yarns when working for The Yarn Spot or Woolwinders, or even helping students out at Fibre Space.

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Begin to push the twist down the skein.

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Now, stop holding the other end of the skein, and use your two hands to pull the skein apart!

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Halfway there!

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Some yarns use a contrasting color yarn or mill ends to tie together the skeins.  Others use the original yarn. There’s been more than a few times that I’ve missed a tie point only to have my winding come to a screaming stop.

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For the love of all that’s holy, MAKE SURE YOU DON’T CUT THE YARN.  If you do, bad words happen.  And then there’s knots and extra woven in ends, and all matter of frustrating occurrences.

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I actually prefer to use a chair back that stretches the yarn out, but Mr. Turtle was helping me with pictures, and that was the only chair in the room.  My rocking chair is actually an excellent chair for winding skeins in a pinch.

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I got this umbrella swift about 6 years ago, online.  It was less than $20, and cheap as heck.  I expected to have to replace it by now, and instead it’s been sturdy and easy to use.  I can travel with it and it fits in my medium suitcase and folds up fairly well.  Such a good purchase.  A lot of people go for the large wooden ones like this or this, but I’ve actually heard several people say they have to replace the strings that hold the pivot points together.  Still, the wooden ones are much sturdier, and my cheap one tends to like working on chair backs horizontally instead up vertically like the ones pictured in the links.

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I normally open my swift halfway, put on the yarn, and then finish opening it, as it’s hard to extend with the weight of the yarn on it.

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Having the skein tight around the swift makes everything smoother.

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Sometimes soon I’ll have to do my tutorial on hand-winding a center pull ball, but that’s another week!

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This ball winder is from Knitpicks.  I only use it when traveling.  About a year ago I got a simply incredible ball winder – sturdy has heck, winds yarn like nobody’s business, and all the gears are metal.  I wrote a review because I liked it that much.

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Got questions? I’ve love to answer them!  Drop me a comment or an email!