I recently acquired several hanks of yarn. They're very pretty and I can't wait to knit them up! Unfortunately I do not own a swift or a ball winder. I've only done this once before and it was a painful process - it took hours and tangled up several times.

What I tried was basically just arrange the loop on a flat surface and keep going around, but the hank kept twisting and strands would get tangled. I also tried using my feet to hold the hank, but that was really awkward and still slow.

How can I (quickly) wind a ball or skein from a hank, without special equipment?

  • I know nothing about yarn but it seems like a bent piece of cardboard could serve as the swift. Maybe duct tape both sides of an arch of cardboard onto a tabletop so it doesn't move, then wind the yarn around it. Then when you are finished winding, you can bend the cardboard further (or tear it) making it easy to get it out of the middle of your loop. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 21:33
  • @HenryTaylor, perhaps you should turn your comment into an answer?
    – walrus
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 9:13
  • @walrus, I was sort of hoping that someone who has some actual idea of what a swift does would get involved. Like I said, I know nothing about yarn and couldn't field even the simplest followup question should the OP's need exceed my initial description. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 14:14
  • @HenryTaylor my understanding was that it was still good practice to answer, and hope that someone else provided another (better informed) answer later.
    – walrus
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 14:29
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    @walrus, I just watched a youtube demo of a yarn swift and ball winder and I now see that the complicated part is not the stick lattice (swift) which holds the unballed yarn, it is the spinning spooler (winder) which must rotate on an angle lateral to the direction from which the yarn is being fed. I'll add an answer once think up a better solution than my cardboard swift... maybe using a hand-drill or mixer to spin the winder. Thanks for getting me to look closer at this OP's need Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:02

4 Answers 4


The method I have used all my life involves two people.
One holds the yarn on the wrists, moving the hands such that they assist in unwinding and keep the yarn organized, the other does the winding of the ball and pulls the yarn from the partners hands, gently as not to disturb the lot.

I have used a one person version of this myself, it takes some practice and I think it requires the training of having been person one as well as the other in the two people method.

Hold the yarn on your arms about elbow level, making sure that the winding off side is on the outside and the top, bring your hands together while keeping enough tension on the yarn to keep it in place.
Now start winding, undoing one loop of the yarn at the time at most, to avoid tangles.

The method my grandmother would use: two chairbacks.
Put the yarn around two chair backs where the chairs are back to back, move the chairs away from each other till there is just enough tension to keep the yarn in place. If the chairs glide easily over the floor you may need to put something between them on floor level and if they tip backwards put something heavy on the seats.
Or if your chairs and skein sizes allow, turn one or both chairs so the seats face each other.
It will work easiest if you have an eye above the chairs to pull the yarn up from the chairs, but if needed you can work your winding above the backs.

Some extra twisting or a little untwisting of the yarn is to be expected, (which depends on the lay of the twist in the yarn and the way you unwind) but in twisted yarn it will not be much and might be taken up by how you wind your ball.

In the comments @Not The Face mentioned a niddy noddy. I have never owned or even used one, so I am not sure how easy it is to get a skein onto one, specially if the skein has not been made on it. But I see that there are niddy noddies which can be adjusted in size and those might be useful for bought skeins.
And I am also not sure how easy it is to use one to unwind when alone. But it would keep the skein in place when you unwind.

Checking out videos about making your own niddy noddy, I also found videos about making or using your own skein winder and swift. I have not tried any of them, I mostly included them as proof that the information is there on internet.

  • 1
    Unfortunately I don't have anyone else to rope into helping (... no pun intended), but the kitchen chair method just might work! I'll have to try this weekend and report back :)
    – user812786
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 0:21
  • 1
    If you don’t have a nitty noddy, or can’t make one; the chair method works well. Good luck! Then fun knitting time. Niddy noddy Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 2:42
  • 1
    I never had a niddy noddy and never thought about it.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 19:28
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    I ended up using the chair method and it worked out pretty well! There were some awkward spots due to twisting / the shape of the chair backs, but still much easier than what I'd tried before.
    – user812786
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 12:43
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    Chair backs, absolutely!
    – jcarlson
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 2:31

You can also use your feet instead of the two-chairs solution (my chair backs have an unsuitable shape, the unfolded hank tends to slip).

Just sit on the couch, with your feet up (no shoes, obviously, and naked feet work best in my opinion), and put the unwrapped hank around both feet. Lean feet apart to tension slightly (prevent tangling); lean body forward and extend the yarn-guiding arm forward to unwrap the yarn.

Here's a visualization:

Using the feet as a yarn swift

As for the winding of the ball, either use your thumb as a base or, more comfortably, any kitchen implement with a round handle.


Another option, depending on if you buy your yarn locally, or order online, is having them wind it beforehand. We have a swift and winder and mostly wind our own, but occasionally when order from sites like Miss Babs, will have them wind it before shipping. They usually charge around $5 skein to wind it for you.


You can visit your local yarn shop and use their swift and ball winder. It's likely to cost a little bit, but there are people who will gladly pay for the comfort of not having to do this on their own!

  • 1
    That depends on having a local yarn shop, and them having a swift and ball winder. I would not know how to find one in a shop around here and I am blessed with 6 or more yarn shops within easy reach.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 6:52
  • @Willeke I’ve never seen a yarn shop that didn’t have a swift and ball winder available for customer use. If you ask the clerk, I’m sure they’ll point it out to you. Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 15:28

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