Winding Yarn the Modern Way

One of my favorite yarny gadgets is my Knit Picks Ball Winder. There are few things in life as miraculous and elegant as the center pull skein, a cylinder of yarn you just pull and pull from. Its one flaw, though, is that it gets misshapen and battered as it shrinks, so rewinding the leftover yarn becomes necessary when the project is finished or when yarn havoc is reeking as the work is still on the needles. “Grab a piece of paper, and wind around that,” you say. I can, but the paper slips out or loops of yarn drop off the ends, and I’ve got a tangled mess to take care of. This problem gets even bigger when I need to wind the yarn that comes in hanks, the braid-like twists expensive and handmade yarn is often sold in. For these jobs, nothing beats a ball winder or the cute cake-like center pull skeins it makes, and my favorite part of the ball winder made and sold by Knit Picks is that it gives users the option of a handle or a clamp, so they can pick where and how to use their winder.

This post is mostly about how to use a ball winder. The one I have is the Knit Picks Ball Winder, which sells for about 20 dollars, a good price, but the instructions should work for any ball winder since they all have a standard shape and work more or less the same. Mine is made out of durable plastic and is light-weight, so it’s easy to carry around the house. It’s relatively small, accommodating about 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of yarn, though thinner yarn works a little better than the thicker stuff.

The ball winder itself is a square platform with a tall wide-brimmed hat on top. One side of the platform has a crank, like the handle used to roll the windows in a car up and down, and on the other side of the platform is a sturdy L-shaped guiding wire that starts underneath and points straight up to the ceiling, like an arm bent at the elbow. These are the four important parts. The platform or base is the part that is clamped to a table. The “hat,” which is called a spindle assembly, is what the yarn wraps around. The crank is what turns the “hat” and causes the yarn to wrap evenly. The guiding wire is what keeps the yarn from tangling around the bottom of the spindle assembly and also lets the operator (you or I) put more or less tension on the yarn. The fifth part of the ball winder is the clamp or the fixed handle, depending on which either one of us is in the mood to use.

Clamping the Ball Winder to a Flat Surface

The clamp is a big L-shaped screw. The long leg of the screw has a wing nut and a large plastic wedge. The short leg of the screw has a small screw with a large head. To clamp the ball winder to the edge of a table, follow a few simple steps:

1. Remove the short screw from the short leg of the large screw.
2. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
3. Locate a hole on the side of the platform. It is near the crank.
4. Insert the short leg of the clamp into this hole.
5. Locate a rectangular hole on the part of the base that is facing the ceiling now. It is inside a large recessed circle. You should have no trouble feeling the short leg of the screw in that rectangular hole.
6. Wind the short screw back into the short leg of the clamp. Make sure the long leg is pointing toward the ceiling.
7. Turn the ball winder right side up so that the bottom of the platform is facing the floor.
8. Set the ball winder on the edge of a table, slide the plastic wedge up to the underside of the table, and tighten the wing nut until the ball winder is firmly in place. For best results, place the ball winder near the corner of the table.

I position the ball winder so that the turn handle is to my left and the vertical guiding wire is to my right. Well, I guess I should say that I clamp the winder close to the corner of a table or counter and position myself in front of it so I can turn the crank with my left hand.

Winding the Yarn

Winding the yarn is essentially a three-step process, which involves running the yarn through the guiding wire, securing it on the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly, and turning the crank. Here’s how that’s done:

1. Running the yarn through the guiding wire — Notice that the top of the guiding wire has a coil, really just a loop with a hanging tail. Lay the yarn between the two loops at the top of the guiding wire. The Yarn tail should be in front, and the ball end should be in back. Next, pull the yarn tail down, behind, and to the left of the wire tail. Then pull the ball end down, in front of, and to the right of the guiding wire. The yarn is now through both loops, with the tail end closest to the rest of the ball winder.
2. Securing the yarn — Notice that the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly has two grooves, where the bullet grazed the wearer as she ducked down. Turn the “hat” so that one of the grooves is close to the guiding wire. Then lay the yarn across the “crown of the hat,” positioned in both grooves. I like to leave a longish tail, at least 6 inches (15 cm). Some people like to put a stitch marker or safety pin around the yarn at the “crown” so they can find it easily.
3. Turning the crank – Pull the guiding wire toward you as far as it goes. Place your right hand on the guiding wire, loosely holding the yarn against the wire itself or against the table near the wire. Then turn the crank clockwise with your left hand at a slow steady rate, and use your right hand to put a small amount of tension on the yarn that is being fed to the ball winder.

When I was new to winding yarn, my preferred method was to cup my right hand around the guiding wire. I could use my palm to keep track of the yarn being fed to the winder, and I still had my fingers free to check that the yarn was wrapping correctly around the spindle assembly. Now I don’t bother checking the spindle assembly because I can tell I’ve got problems when I feel heaviness or lightness as I turn the crank.

Winding While Walking

If, like me, you don’t have very many good flat surfaces to clamp your ball winder to, you can remove the clamp from the Knit Picks model and attach the fixed handle. The handle is about as long as the guiding wire, and its general shape is like the handles at both ends of a big rolling pin.

Attaching the handle is simple.

1. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
2. Run a finger around the flat end of the fixed handle, noticing two small tabs around the edge.
3. Locate a large circular recess in the center of the base.
4. Run a finger around the circular recess in the base, noticing two small notches around the edge.
5. Position the fixed handle in the circular recess so that the tabs fit into the notches. (This is where technical manuals get all male-and-female).
6. Twist the fixed handle clockwise until you feel it click into place.

The winding process is the same. The yarn is run through the guiding wire, secured on the spindle assembly, and wrapped around the device with the crank. In fact, the first few times I wound yarn, I balanced the winder on my stomach or thigh while I did exactly what I described in the previous section.

Once I felt comfortable with the process, though, I grabbed the winder by the fixed handle, catching the yarn between the handle and my palm, and cranked away. I paused to check frequently the first few times, but eventually learned to trust the yarn and the crank to let me know what was going on.

I decided to get a ball winder because I had a few hanks of yarn to work with, but I bought the cheapest one I could find because I thought I wouldn’t use it very often. It’s turned out to be one of the handiest gadgets I have, and I really do use it fairly often. I’m glad I got the Knit Picks Ball Winder because, aside from selling at a great price, it gave me a chance to experiment with the clamp and the fixed handle. I discovered I’m a fixed handle kind of gal, so much so that I didn’t try the clamp until today as I was preparing this post.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. crystal
    May 16, 2011 @ 15:29:03

    I love my knitpicks ball winder, too. One trick I use is to make a tiny slip knot in the end of the yarn before I place it in the notch of the spindle. This keeps it from sliding out when I start winding and also makes it easier to find later. Two birds with one stone and all.

    Reply

    • Ana
      May 16, 2011 @ 16:15:58

      Very nifty. I’ll have to try that. Please, please, post a tutorial on using a swift. Ana hasn’t waded into those waters yet.

      Reply

  2. Pat Hathaway
    May 20, 2011 @ 12:52:02

    I have another brand of winder and love it too. I like to put an old toilet paper roll on the part where the yarn winds up. It make it easier to pull the wound cake off without distorting the shape, and I can get just a little more yarn on it. I made some slits on the end where the core flared a little at the base and reinforced them with some masking tape. I always put a tiny knot in the end of the yarn too, especially if it is thin yarn.
    And a child’s hairclip works great for holding the loose end in place when finished. I like the kind that bends to open and snaps flat to close.

    Reply

  3. Gail P.
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 20:21:20

    Thank you, thank you!! I’ve had my Knit Picks Ball Winder for almost a year and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to secure it to the table! It was that pesky screw. I didn’t know that one needed to remove it, insert the metal rod and then reattach the screw. THANK YOU! I feel rather foolish I couldn’t figure it out but so grateful to your post. Now, I can really enjoy my Ball Winder.

    Reply

  4. Betsy
    Jan 02, 2012 @ 13:57:00

    Thank you so much for detailing how to attach the clamp to the KP winder. I’ve spent 30 minutes with my 4yo climbing on me wanting to wind yarn, but not being able to figure out how to get the *&%$^ clamp on the winder! You’d think they would include instructions with it…

    Reply

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