Knitting Blog

Learn the Easiest Way to Wind a Hank of Yarn Into a Ball

So you're totally intimidated by the ball winder at your local yarn store. Or maybe you just dart out of the yarn store in a rush, eager to get back to work before your lunch hour is over. No matter what your reason, we all find ourselves with hanks of yarn that need to be wound into a ball.

The good news? You don't need one of those fancy winders! You can wind a hank of yarn into a ball at home — and you can do it while you watch TV.

Here's how to wind those hanks of yarn into a ball that's ready to be knitted.

How to wind a hank of yarn into a ball

Why you should wind hanks into balls

Most yarn you buy at your local yarn store comes packaged as a hank. If you tried to knit right off that hank, your yarn would instantly become tangled and be a real pain to work with. That's why we wind those hanks into balls.

One word of caution: If you're not planning to knit with your hank right away, don't wind it into a ball. Winding yarn into a ball can stretch the yarn over time, pulling it out of shape. Before you start winding, read more about how to store yarn, including when it's best to wind yarn hanks into balls here.

How to wind a hank of yarn into a ball

Malabrigo Merino Worsted waiting to be transformed from hank to ball

Winding hanks into balls

Ready to wind? Here's how:

1. Untwist the hank of yarn so that it forms a circle.

2. Notice that the hank is tied together in multiple places. Carefully untie the knot from each of those ties, keeping the yarn in the circle. If you find it impossible to untie the knot, use scissors to carefully cut the tie.

How to wind a hank of yarn into a ball
3. Ask a friend to hold the circle of yarn with two hands, pulling taut to keep the yarn in place.

Alternately, you can also drape the circle of yarn around the back of a chair to keep it in place. I've also used things like coat hooks to keep the yarn in place as I wind. In one very desperate moment, I wrapped the yarn around my ankles and propped my legs on a coffee table to wind the ball!

The most important part of this step is making sure the circle stays in place, otherwise your yarn could tangle and cause a lot of trouble as you wind it.

How to wind a hank of yarn into a ball
4. Find the end of the yarn. The end is usually just wrapped around as one of the ties you removed, so you may have already spotted it.

5. Begin to wrap the yarn end around your index and middle fingers, creating a base for the ball of yarn.

Winding yarn into a ball
6. Once you've wrapped the yarn several times, slide your fingers out of the loop. Continue wrapping the yarn around, changing directions as you wrap.

7. Your yarn will begin to form a ball quickly. Keep wrapping the yarn around the ball, changing directions after a few wraps.

Winding a hank of yarn into a ball

Once you've run out of yarn on the hank, you're finished! Simple, huh?

Now that you've wound your hank into a ball of yarn, what are you going  to knit? Nab some inspiration from a few Craftsy classes, like Plug & Play: Custom Scarves & Shawls with Amy Singer where you'll learn to customize beautiful stitch patterns to make any accessory you can imagine. In the market for some stash-busting patterns? Go with One Skein Accessories: Chevron Collection with Aurora Sisneros can help you use those random skeins of yarn to make beautiful accessories.

Have you ever tried — successfully or unsuccessfully — to wind a hank into a ball? Share your tips & tricks with us!

54 Comments

Christine Pointer

So glad we don’t have to do that much in the UK most yarn comes ready wound.

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Kristina

Most yarn here in the US is wound into skeins but you’ll often see hand-dyed or other specialty yarns in hanks. I’m usually looking for something a bit less expensive, myself, so don’t usually wind yarn balls until the skein is almost gone.

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Ro

Yes, they usually are wound. If you’re like me, you’re struck with the bad luck bug when it comes to yarn and every skein you get seems to get into a tangled mess. This helped me so much and the last skein I wound into a ball after I came across the tangles and went through it in a breeze after it was put in ball form!

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ducttapediva

You are starting with the string in the center of the skein and working from the inside out, right ?? A skein is designed to be used starting from the center, so if you start your work with the piece of string on the outside you constantly will have to roll it and it will get tangled over and over again…. Just saying this in case you don’t know that already but I’m sure you do, lol…. 😀😃

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Amyra

I’ve been bitten by that method enough times that now I only pull from the outside. I just keep the skein in a bag so it rolls itself as I pull. Pulling from the center seems to result in knots almost every time.

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Gwyn

Amyra,

I have had the same issue when trying to use the normal skeins (pulling from the center). Now I usually just wind my skeins into balls or I go from outside in (making sure to have the skein in a slippery plastic bag).

Alicia James

can we find a way to wrap for a person who nly has 1 hand forwhen my hubby can’t do it for me.
and

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Suzette Franck

I’m going to try hold the hank with my ankles, because my first hank was a total fail. Thank you for the tips about not turning your yarn and keeping the circle intact. Also, I got a yarn winder from Amazon to make the balls and I LOVE it, but I need to keep my hank in the circle!

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Carole Schmidt

Tips I’ve learned.
Always wrap the yarn around a finger or two that are holding the ball, then regularly remove and replace the finger. This helps to keep the yarn, wool in particular, from stretching.

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Kristina

Carole, I was going to comment and say that very thing. I was given a bunch of yarn for a charity project a while back, mostly leftover yarns from finished projects. Some had been wound so tightly into balls that the yarn was completely stretched out and unusable. It’s always good to use a couple of fingers as spacers while winding so the yarn doesn’t get stretched. Doing so might even let you wind the yarn into balls even if you’re not quite ready to use it.

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Lynn

So happy to find this message as I was going to say the same thing. I never worry about stretching the yarn when rolling into a ball because winding over my thumb (on bottom of ball) and my index and middle fingers (on top of ball) keeps from stretching the yarn. Have been winding yarn this way since I was 14 when my grandma taught me and now I am a grandma hoping to teach my grands soon.

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tootsie

Just crumple a piece of paper into a ball, and wrap your yarn all over it. That’s what I always do.

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Lisa

My cousin always does this, but it kind of backfired on her recently, the apartment next to hers became infested with roaches and of course, they moved to her place and went into her yarn for the paper-at least that what the exterminator said.

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Cyndie

Reminds me of when I was a kid – my mom had a lamp with a shade the same circumference as a hank of yarn. She would put her hank around the shade and unscrew the cap on the lamp enough that the shade would spin and she would wind her balls from that. I loved to watch that lamp shade spin as she rolled her yarn. I don’t know if my dad put some extra nuts on the lamp post to help keep the nut from spinning all the way off as she went but it worked like a charm. I often wonder what happened to that lamp!

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Patricia

This is a marvelous idea! As soon as I read it, I put the opened skein over a lamp shade beside my sofa, loosed the nut at the top of the shade so the shade would spin freely, and I was in business. Works perfectly. Thanks for the suggestion!!!

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Lisa

When were kids in Scotland, our grandmother used to get whoever was home to help her wind the yarn, if no one was home, she wound it herself on the back of a tall dining room chair, that’s the way I do it now.

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VeeJaye

I could just imagine that. What a cool idea. Was it the leg lamp?!

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ducttapediva

You’re grandma was a freaking genius !!! Thanx for sharing this idea… 😀😃

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Irene Foss

Wow as dcttapediva said, “you’re grandma was a GENIUS” or word to that effect. LOL I have a couple of lamps I could use for rolling a ball of yarn. Thanks for sharing.

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Lisa

I wrap the yarn around my thumb, leaving a long “tail” that goes up my wrist. I take care NOT to wrap over the tail as I wind, and when I’m done I have a center pull ball of yarn without using a nostepinne or fancy ball winder. I do love the lamp shade idea for holding the opened hank of yarn!

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Jennifer

This is what I do too. I wrapped a very large ball and the ladies in my knitting group were very impressed that it had a center pull.

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Lynn

Hmmm…then how do you keep the outer tail from flopping around and creating a tangle?

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Dina Scheel

My grandmother taught me to wind yarn many moons ago! Although I was taught to start by wrapping around a penny, I hand-wind at least one ball of every yarn I work with. It will teach you a lot about the yarn – how easily it breaks, how much it likes to stick to itself, does it kink, etc. And you can use almost anything to hold your yarn: chairs, pillows, knobs on a dresser drawer – even around my carry-on at an airport!

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Lianne Browne

I have also used an over-the-door hanger with hooks. Loop the yarn over the outer hooks and hang the rack on the back of a chair. Works beautifully.

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Florence Willis

Nothing new about that, we was doing it like that years and years ago, but here in UK it comes already in balls

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Crycket

My husband bought me a swift and ball winder so we could stop doing it the long way…

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Eugenia Read

No hubby required here anymore. I use the arms of an office chair to wind my hanks into balls. Works great and no need to disturb him while he’s watching his favorite movie after a hard day’s work.!

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Christine

I used to wind hanks of yarn by putting it over my head and winding it. From there clockwise is the easiest way. Most yarn I buy now are all in balls from Stylecraft

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sex

He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

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Harriet

I do both types of ball winding depending on the yarn. I’ve tried the back of the chair and even the legs of a chair laid on it’s back to wind a hank onto my ball winder. I end up with a mess and not just because of the cat in the middle of it. I got a swift because of this. Other types of yarn in a skein I leave and just pull from the center.
I am impressed with the different ways there are to hold the hank, none of them worked for me, I got them tangled every time. I never thought about a lesson in handwinding a ball, I just figured it myself out as a kid after I learned to knit.

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Sue

I use the wrapper from my yarn and wind around that. In case I need more yarn, I have the lot and color .

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Paul,y

I have used the back of a chair or turn chair upside down and use the legs if you have no one to help you

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Lindsay

I use a mini m&ms container, put the end inside, close the lid and wrap around that,

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carol

When I started knitting all yarn came in hanks and we used chairs upside down as well as a spare pair of hands. I hate yarn in modern skeins and wind it into balls this also allows me to check for knots etc

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Carolyn

Easiest thing in the world, once you get the hang of it. I sometimes drape the skein over my knees while sitting and unwind/wind like that if I have no one to hold it for me. Love that you did this lesson. Perfect!

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Akoolmom

Another easy way to wind this yarn is to wind so that it pulls out from the center. Start with a short piece hanging out and wind around and around it. Then the ball will pull out from the center.

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Bonnie

I think the easiest way to wind yarn, whether it be in a hank or skein, into a ball is to use a nostepinne. AND, it has the added benefit of being a center-pull ball! So, when you knit or crochet with it, you don’t have a ball rolling all over the place as you work. I love, love, LOVE my nostepinne!!!

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Lisa

You seem to have missed the entire point of this tutorial, your nostepinne wouldn’t work for yarn wound in a hank.

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Tomi Davis

I flipped a wooden bar stool upside down and put the seat on a lazy susan. Wrapped the yarn around the legs sticking up and wound my yarn as the stool turned on the lazy susan. Kind of a homemade swiffer.

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Lynn

I use two chairs back to back to hold the hank, and then I sit on one of the chairs too.

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Stacy

I broke my own rule and ordered yarn online from Craftsy. I prefer to see and touch yarn before buying but I was lured in by the price. This project requires 20+ hanks of yarn, and I hate all of the winding! I’ve gotten pretty adept at it, but it still takes me 20 minutes each (I timed it) and my hand cramps, etc. I wish there had been an option to have it wound for a small fee at purchase, or at least an indication on the listing. Very disappointed!

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Nancy L. Spoolman

Have you ever tried putting the hank on a chair or another person holding it as suggested. Then get a drill and 1/2 inch drill bit; a 10 inch piece of 1/2 inch PVC pipe, pushing the pipe onto the 1/2 inch drill bit. Have two disks that fit on each end of the PVC pipe. Tape your your yarn to the pipe, turn the drill to slow and push the button to begin winding your yarn. I have to admit I have not tried this with a hank, but I use it for winding other yarn. Then that little pipe of yarn sits on a knitting needle, stuck into a weaved basket and freely allows the yarn to roll off the pipe. No hassle. Takes about 3 minutes to spin it into the pipe using the drill.

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lindielee

What do you mean, “that’s it”? At this point my yarn in balls starts to unravel when I’m searching though my stash and then get’s tangled up again. Is there any way to prevent this? Does anyone take the end?

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Sandy

I have on cheaper, acrylic, yarns. With my nicer or smooth/ fluffy yarns I either use a rubber band for active projects, tie the end around a small clump, or bag in zip bags with lavender sachets. The lavender deters pests.

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Trisha

Well I do it very easily by this method we are taught by our elders while teaching us how to knit. Its very easy and requires only one person.
1. Sit in sukhasana ( that is an yoga pose as well, but we generally sit in that way comfortably, even while not doing any meditation or yoga exercise)
2. Open the hank and spread it in a circle.
3. Put it around both your knees, while sitting in sukhasna, only keeping your knees a little above of ground. (Now that is known as butterfly exercise.)
4. Stretch the hank circle by pulling your knees towards the ground. That is same as wrapping it around a chair or other person’s arms.
5. Now open the knot by which hank is tied to keep the circle clean.
6. Hold the string, making sure that the one you are holding is not tangled because there is the beginning and ending sides of yarn in hank.
7. While you have decided the right one, wrap it on your index and middle fingers, making a ‘V’ with them. Wrap it around like 10-15 times.
8. Now remove it and start wrapping, in the middle. Do it for 5-7 times. It will look like a bow tie.
9. Now hold the two sides together, and start wrapping around it. You need no props to make the base for ball because the small ‘bow’ will make it for you.
10. Now keep on removing one string from the hank, from your knees and wrap it around that ball.
It sound a little hard, but if I could show you pictures you would know how easy it is.

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Marge

I tried winding a hank into a ball with the help of my husband a couple of times. Each time the wool was in curls and very hard to knit with. I wonder what we are doing wrong as I know others have done this very successfully. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Amy Tiffany

Within the first 5 minutes of getting online to have a question answered, I read this response to someone else’s question. Makes a newbie not want to ask any questions and defeats the purpose. Happy now?

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Kathy Luksich

The lampshade trick saved me! God bless the women who thought that one up, and the daughter who shared it!

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Faith

When you untie the ends, does it matter which end you use to start the ball? I have had horrible results with two hanks. First one turned into a tangled mess. The second one I managed to get into a proper looking circle, but the ball had to be constantly moved in and around and through the yarns as the lead yarn was tangling, so it took three hours to get a 100g hank into a ball. I have 6 more hanks to go 😞

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Barbara Smith

I have a beautiful mostest pine carved wood. I was told centuries ago that suitors used to present them to their loved. Anyway not expensive and works well. But for the longest time I had a big swift and ball winder find that best and now have a more compact swift. All is so much fun however you do it. Ps. All my grandchildren live far away. That’s the best way by far

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Kat

Worked GREAT! Thanks.

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Betty Moore

Just finished balling a pound of tangled yarn. Why can we develop the technology to send a man safely to the moon and back, and not be able to produce skien of untangled yarn? I’ll bet that could have been done if we could make war with yarn.
Never-the-less I got the job done in one morning. I pressed my thumb down on a small wad of yarn never moving it, then wound the yarn around the wad always laying the yarn against my thumb, turning the forming ball antilock wise. The result was a ball with a hole in both ends. The pound of yarn yielded five nice sized balls.

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