One of the most common newbie knitter mistakes is trying to knit directly from a hank of yarn (you know, the yarn that's wrapped up like a twisty baguette). You've probably been there. You were probably shocked at how quickly it all went wrong. The good news is, winding your yarn into a ball first is actually kind of soothing. And you don't need fancy equipment to do it (though, owning your own swift and winder may change your life...just sayin').
One word of caution: If you're not planning to knit with your hank right away, leave it alone. Winding yarn into a ball can stretch it over time, pulling it out of shape.
How to Wind a Hank by Hand
1. Untwist the hank of yarn so that it forms a circle.
2. The hank will be tied together in a few places. Carefully undo the knot from each of those ties, keeping the yarn in the circle. If you find it impossible to undo the knot, use scissors to carefully cut the tie.
3. Ask a partner to hold the circle of yarn with two hands, pulling taut to keep the yarn in place.
If nobody's around, you could drape the circle of yarn around the back of a chair to keep it in place. I've also used things like coat hooks. In one very desperate moment, I wrapped the yarn around my ankles and propped my legs on a coffee table. (Tell no one.)
The most important part of this step is making sure the circle stays in place; otherwise, your yarn could tangle and cause you grief as you wind it.
4. Find the end of the yarn. The end is usually just wrapped around 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.
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.
Once you've run out of yarn on the hank, you're finished. Simple, huh?
There's only one task left: deciding what you're going to knit!