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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The Most Incredible Amazing Ballwinder Ever

Back about a month or so ago I was teaching at SVFF, and I realized I’d left my ball winder at home.  I went to the organizers, and one of them arranged to have her balwinder at the festival the next day for me to use for my class.  (As an aside, the staff at SVFF were amazing.  If I lived closer, I’m want to become friends with all of them.  You know when you just meet someone and you immediately sense that they’d be a really great friend?  That was nearly the entire staff of SVFF.)

The next day when the ball winder came, I was in awe.  Serious, envious awe.  I’d never seen a ball winder like it, and I’ve seen more than a few.  It wasn’t a Royal or a Knitpicks  or a Boye Electric Winder – those are all plastic, and wear out fairly quickly.   It wasn’t one of the wooden ones: neither a Strauch nor one of Nancy’s Knit Knacks commercial heavy duty ball winder.  Both of the wooden ones I’ve used at several different stores: both the motorized ones and the hand turning ones.

No, this thing was hefty, made out of cast iron or aluminum, and geared in a way I’d never seen before. This thing looked like it could be thrown against a wall and still be OK.  I fell instantly in love – and as soon as I got home I ordered myself one.

The ball winder, made by Stanwood Needlecraft (who I’ve never heard about), is absolutely lovely.  Priced lower than the wooden ones, I’d say it’s comparable in durability, and can wind up to 10 oz of yarn with no problem – more than double what most of the plastic models can handle.  I’ve barely gotten to use the ball winder since I’ve gotten it, since each time I go to wind a ball of yarn, Mr. Turtle pulls it out of my hands and winds it for me – apparently the smooth running of the gears makes him happy.

It works differently than other ball winders – the little arm you see rising out from under the ball winder goes in one direction while the white center part runs in the other direction – creating a ball that winds very quickly and smoothly.  Balls are much more regular, and perhaps even more densely wound – meaning they hold their shape better even when you’ve pulled the center out.

The gearing is wonderful: very precise and I don’t see it wearing out anytime soon, since all the parts are metal.  The only detractor is the running can be rather loud if you go all out and are really cranking away – but slow it down and it gets quiet again.

So where can you get this ball winder?  It’s cheapest on the website, but also can be found on Amazon.  Seriously.  I’m in love with it.

PS: I was not compensated in any way shape or form for reviewing this ball winder.  I just love it.