Amish yarn swift on a wooden table surounded by Woollen Wytch yarn supplies including hand dyed yarn and a sock ruler

Back to Basics: How to Wind a Centre Pull Ball from a Skein of Yarn

For those of you new to knitting or those of you coming back to it after a long hiatus it can be a little intimidating. Even as a centuries old craft, knitting has come so far and it’s constantly developing with new techniques, it can be a little difficult to work out where to start- this is where my new series Back to Basics comes in.  Taking it right back to the very beginning I thought I would share some simple tutorials to get you confidently knitting simple projects from start to finish. In this blog post I’ll be covering how to wind a ball of yarn from a skein.

For most, this isn’t an issue, large craft suppliers tend to sell their yarn in balls ready to knit straight away, however many small producers and almost all indie dyers sell their yarn in skeins and hanks. A skein is basically a loop of yarn twisted up neatly to stop it from tangling. If you’ve never come across these before, you might find yourself in a tangle trying to work out what to do with them. I recently discovered this is the exact predicament a friend was left in after picking up knitting and trying to knit from one of my skeins.

Hand dyed yarn by Woollen Wytch Bristol UK yarn shop.

I’ll be showing you two ways to wind a centre pull ball (or yarn cake) whether you’ve got equipment or for those of you just starting out and have literally just grab a skein of yarn from your local wool shop.

I think you can probably already tell, but winding balls of yarn can take a long time, especially if you’re a fan of using fingering weight yarn and knitting socks.  So set yourself with a good bit of telly or an audiobook and  let’s get winding.

Learn visually or just a fan of video tutorials, watch below and I can show you both methods above for winding a ball from a skein. 

Yarn Swift’s & Ball Winders

If you’re hoping to turn knitting into a regular hobby then you may want to invest  in a swift and ball winder. They can be a little bit of an outlay when you’re first starting out, but if used regularly enough they’ll turn winding a ball of yarn into a doddle and save you so much time in the long run. However if you can't afford to spend the money, you won't be missing out, you can still wind a yarn cake using only your hands and knees.

ChiaoGoo Amish yarn swift from Woollen Wytch, Bristol wool shop & hand dyed yarn UK

A swift holds an untwisted skein or hank of yarn to more easily unwind without getting tangled. Swift’s come in a variety of types and my personal favourite is the Amish style, especially ChiaoGoo’s beautiful wooden Swift. However the one I‘ll be showing you to use below is an Umbrella swift. These are more commonly available on websites like Amazon & EBay, and so the likelihood is your first swift will be an umbrella style.

Umbrella swifts clamp on a table and open out like an umbrella, whereas the Amish style sits on  the table top and uses pegs to hold the yarn out. Whilst the Umbrella swift can hold a larger range of skein sizes, I personally don’t enjoy using them as much. I find as the skein unwinds, strands of yarn can loosen and fall causing tangles at the base as the swift swivels around. But it’s all down to personal preference at the end of of the day.

The other piece of equipment you’ll be using is a ball winder, these pretty much all work the same whether they’re plastic, wood or metal. You can even get luxury electric ones or just simple hand crank ones like the one I’m using below.
If you’re just starting out and don’t have any of these, don’t worry. Instead of a swift you can loop the yarn between your knees, or even rope a friend in to hold it for you. Instead of a ball winder you’ll be using your hands to wrap and wind the yarn cakes.


How to Wind a ball of yarn using a swift.

To start with you’ll want to set up your swift, if it’s a umbrella swift make sure it’s securely clamped to the table and won’t wobble off. Then remove the label and untwist your skein into a big loop and wrap it around your swift stretching it out neatly.  Try to ensure the skein isn’t twisted on the swift and the yarn strands are running parallel to each other, this will ensure you a smooth winding.

Once the skein is nice and neatly looped around your swift, it’s time to snip those ties off. On almost all skeins of yarn you’ll find pieces of string or yarn tied together around different places on the skein, these just stop everything from falling apart and tangling during storage. On one of the ties, you might find 4 pieces tied together, this is the beginning and end of the skein. You’ll need one of these to start your winding.

After you’ve snipped all the ties off, it's time to get to winding your ball. Secure your ball winder to the table and grab the end of your skein. At the top of the ‘spindle’ you might find a little groove,  Start by tucking the yarn end into the groove, this will help keep the centre of your centre pull ball safe and secure. Then loop the yarn through metal spiral, this is your yarn guide and helps to keep the yarn cake neat.

Once you’ve set those up, you’re good to start cranking and winding that ball.

When I’m winding, I like to add a little more tension to the yarn as I wind and hold it by the yarn guide.  This can help keep the yarn cake neat and can stop any tangles forming. I also find at times the yarn guide can jump around if I don’t hold it in place, but this isn’t necessarily the case with every ball winder.

How to wind a ball of yarn by hand with a centre pull.

Assuming you’re at the very start of your crafting journey, you may have no equipment whatsoever. So instead of a swift, get yourself slouchy and comfy on the sofa and throw the loop of yarn over your knees. You might find you have to sit at an angle to unwind the yarn as you go but its an option if you’re tight on funds for new toys. Another option is to rope in a friend, significant other or tiny helper to hold the yarn out for you, this is a little reminiscent of the old vintage advertisements for knitting, but it works just as well as a swift.

Now to wind the centre pull ball, it get’s a little fiddly but if you take your time you an actually end up with a neater yarn cake than with a ball winder. To start with you’ll want to grab one of the yarn tail ends and pinch it between your thumb and finger. Make sure you leave a nice long end, as this will mark the ball’s centre.

Wrap the yarn around your thumb at an angle, around a 45 degree angle should do the job. Repeat for a few wraps. Once you have a nice little stack of loops around your thumb, pinch the wraps and twist them around your thumb, Then it's simply repeat wrapping the yarn at the same angle, crisscrossing the original wraps. Try not to go too tightly for the first few rounds, you’ll notice everything getting tighter the larger the ball grows and you may end up with a purple thumb as you strangle it. You’ll want to obviously avoid this as it gets uncomfortable quickly.

Continue to Wrap, Pinch & Cross the yarn around your thumb. You can remove your ever-growing ball of yarn from your thumb for little breaks, but I would advise against this until its a substantial size and unlikely to unravel itself. As you wind, try to make sure you don't lose the tail end, as this will be the centre pull of the centre pull ball of yarn.

It'll feel never ending, but this is a nice easy way to wind a centre pull ball without the need for equipment. I can recommend some great audiobook to keep you company if you're so inclined. 

 Once you've gone through and finished wrapping all the yarn, tuck the end of the strand in and secure it so it doesn't unravel itself. Ad there you have it, you're own centre-pull ball without using any fancy equipment. 

It might not look super pretty, especially for your first one, but you shouldn't worry yourself over it. It's definitely function over form and at the and at the ned of the day, who's going to care, you're going to knit it into a beautiful garment anyway. 

Join me next month where we'll learn how to Cast on, Knit & Purl. 

I hope this covers all you need to get winding your first ball of yarn, if you're got any questions please leave them below and I'll get back to you. 


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