Discover the Fastest Way to Wind Yarn

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Love it or hate it, winding yarn is a fact of life if you're a knitter or crocheter. If you fall in the "hate it" camp, fear not. Winding yarn with a swift and winder gets the task is done in minutes, so you can get right to the good stuff.

What you need

  • An umbrella swift — This is an umbrella-like contraption that holds your yarn in place and rotates as you wind the yarn.
  • A ball winder — Operated with a hand-crank, this tool collects your yarn and winds it into a nice, neat ball.
  • A hank of yarn — You're looking for yarn that's sold in the twist-like shape above. (Other yarns don't need to be wound like this.)

Step 1: Set up your swift and winder

You'll need a large, flat surface, like a kitchen counter or table. You can use a tablecloth to protect any sensitive materials like wood or soft stone counters. Make sure that you're working on a flat plane — no curved edges, or your equipment will slip off.

Both the swift and winder will have a clamp at the bottom to help attach them to your surface. Slide the clamp for each over the edge of the surface, and tighten the screw to hold the equipment in place. The winder and swift should be at least a foot or more apart.

Step 2: Set up the yarn on the swift

First, you'll need to untwist the skein, so it's in one large loop. Make sure to remove any labels before this step — but keep them somewhere handy. You never know when you'll need that information again (pro tip: tuck the label into the center of your ball when you're done winding!).

Now, put your yarn on the swift (fair warning, this is sometimes easier said than done). Adjust the arms so that they're narrow enough to slip your yarn over. You may need to loosen the small screw that keeps the arms in place.

When the yarn is in place, move the swift so that the arms are in a wider position, holding the yarn taut (but not too tight — just tight enough that it doesn't fall off). Tighten down the screw to keep the arms in that position.

You're almost free and clear to start winding, but first check for any strings holding your skein together (great for keeping things tangle-free in the skein, not great for winding). If you find any, snip them off. You'll also need to find where the two ends of yarn are tied together. Untie the yarn or cut off the knot, and keep hold of one end.

Step 3: Connect the yarn to the winder

Things are getting exciting! Yarn, meet winder!

First,  slip the yarn through the metal guide (this metal guide does all sorts of important work with tension). Make sure you thread the yarn through both rings of the guide.

Then, secure the yarn to the base of the winder. There are typically two small notches in the base for this very purpose. Push your yarn into those grooves, leaving a short tail. If your yarn keeps slipping out, try tying a small knot in the end of the yarn: that will secure it in those notches.

Step 4: Start winding!

Start slowly turning the crank of the winder. The yarn might look a little messy at first, but don't worry, that's normal.

You may want to keep an hand on the stretch of yarn between the swift and winder, just in case any of the yarn gets caught or twisted as you crank away. Having an extra hand in there also is helpful for controlling the tension. Just don't spin so fast that you get "yarn burn" on your finger!

Continue turning the crank until there is no longer any yarn on your swift.

Step 5: Remove the ball

Free your tail from the notches on the winder and slip the ball off. The yarn end that just came off the swift is going to unwind if you don't secure it, so wind that end around the ball a few times, and tuck it into the side.

When you're ready to knit, reach into the center of the ball to find the other yarn tail (if you tied a knot in this end, it should be easy to find)— now you've got a ready-to-use center-pull ball, and you got it FAST.

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