How to wind a skein of yarn into a ball (with no equipment)

woman holds a hand wound ball of grey yarn

So your yarn arrived and it looked like this:

woman holding scissors yarn in a skein/hank

This is sometimes called a skein of yarn and sometimes called a hank of yarn but the most important thing to know is that you should not attempt to knit or crochet the yarn straight away. Unless you first wind it into a ball you will end up in a terrible mess.

Why does some yarn arrive like this? Traditionally yarn was spun in small amounts and wrapped around something called a niddy noddy (I kind you not) which measured the length and then it was wrapped up and stored until needed in these skeins. Nowadays most yarn is mill produced but if it is being produced undyed ready for indy dyers to work their magic on it, they need it in the skein because balls can't be dyed easily. And because skeins have become to denote handmade luxury a lot of mill produced yarns which could be spun off into balls are put into skeins. Perhaps that isn't pure snobbery though, skeins are easier to store and there is less chance of the yarn being stretched in a skein. Anyway, its here, its in a skein, lets learn how to deal with it.

I work with skeined yarn a lot so for speed I will often use a swift and ball winder but not everybody has these key pieces of equipment and sometimes you just don't want to wait to get home to start the skein. This method canbe done anywhere and needs no equipment (well a pair of scissors is handy if you don't like breaking yarn with your bare hands or gnawing through it.)  

The big advantage of this method is that you create a ball that you can work from the centre of. This stops the ball rolling around as you knit or crochet from it. I enjoy working from the centre of balls much more than the outside in.


1/First you are going to want to untwist the skein. Carefully untwist and open it out, you need to keep all the strands where they are supposed to be at this point or you'll get in a tangle, use your hands to support it.

untwisting a skein

2/Place the opened skein over your knees (you can also put it over your forearms or a chair or a friend's forearms but I wanted to show you how to do it alone)

yarn placed over knees

3/Carefully snip away all the ties that are holding the skein together. There might be lots of these, you'll know it's all done nicely when you can pull a strand the whole length of the skein. You can rearrange the the skein by twisting it slightly in place to make the yarn come away more freely at this point. You are now at peak tangle risk so if you have to move make sure you move the skein exactly as is and lay it out carefully.

snipping the yarn ties


4/Take the end and wrap it around your extended palm several times.

yarn wrapped around palm

5/Take this wrap off your palm and fold it in two to make "bunny ears"

folded into bunny ears

6/ Holding on to the top of the bunny ears begin wrapping the yarn around and around the bottom of the ears.

wrap the bottom of the bunny ears

7/ Change the direction slightly every few wraps to make it into a ball shape, always holding on to those bunny ears so they don't get consumed by the ball. Don't wrap so loosely that it collapses but don't pull tight either or you might create tension issues when you come to crochet/knit with it.

wrap in different directions

8/ Keep wrapping.....until you reach the end of the skein. Those last few metres are always dangerous for tangles so don't stop concentrating on lifting it off the skein cleanly.

finished ball

9/Ta da! You made that ball! You can pull the bunny ears out and start working from them for a lovely centre pull ball.

pull out the bunny ears to begin working

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