How to Hand-Wind a Skein of Yarn

How to Hand-Wind a Skein of Yarn

A few years ago, I learned to hand-wind a skein (or hank) of yarn. I love the process! It gives me the opportunity to really slow down my making. In the moments I spend winding yarn, I set intentions for the project I’m about to cast on. I also take time to think about what I’ll wear with the finished piece. And I really get to know the yarn. I see how the color plays through the skein, and I know how it’s going to feel as I knit or crochet a project.

May is a month when we focus on slow fashion and being more intentional with our handwork. So, there is no better time to learn a new technique that will connect you even more with your work. With these few simple steps, you’ll be able to hand-wind your own skeins, too.

How to Hand-Wind a Skein of Yarn

I really like to work from a center-pull yarn cake. This method of hand-winding results in exactly that! You can use this for any type of fiber. Wool to silk, anything you cake with a swift and ball winder can be hand-wound. That said, I suggest starting with something is about 100 yards or so for your first try. You might lose patience if you start with a 400-yard skein of sock yarn.

Note, the yarn being wound in this how-to is DanDoh Linen in the colorway Pacific Tone.

Step 1: If your skein (or hank) has ties holding it, untie the holds. You can snip them with scissors or untie them with your fingers.

Step 2: If you have a yarn swift, you can mount the skein on the swift. Personally, I like to use my knees as a swift! Sit in a comfortable position that allows you to drape the skein around your knees. Note, you aren’t stepping into the skein like a pair of jeans. You’re just laying it in our lap in a way that it doesn’t tangle. Sitting cross legged works really well for this.

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Starting a hand-wound skein
To begin hand-winding your yarn, very loosely wrap your thumb 3-4 times. Very loosely.

Step 3: Find the end of your yarn and very loosely start to wrap it around the thumb of your non-dominant hand. I cannot stress this enough . . . LOOSELY! You’re about to wind a lot of yarn around your thumb, you do not want to cut off the blood flow. Your pinky finger should hold the starting tail of yarn out of the way as you get going.

Learn how to hand-wind a skein of yarn
As you wind the yarn from the lower right corner to the upper left corner, the yarn cake starts to take shape.

Step 4: After the first 3-4 wraps, you’ll start to build (er, bake?) the yarn cake. You’ll take the yarn from the lower right side to the upper left across the front of your thumb. Then it trails around from the back to the front to return to the lower right position.

Start hand-winding a skein on your thumb
After several wraps, rotate the cake a quarter turn. Then, continue to wrap.

Step 5: Continue this diagonal wrapping for 4-5 wraps. Then, rotate the cake on your thumb.

Continuing to grow a hand-wound skein
You’ll continue wrapping and rotating as the yarn cake builds up on your thumb.

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5. Wrap, wrap, wrap, wrap, rotate. Wrap, wrap, wrap, wrap, rotate. As your cake grows, you’ll find a flat edge develops at the base and at the top of your thumb.

A hand-wound skein of yarn
Secure the end of the yarn around the center of the cake.

Step 7: When you near the end of your skein, pop the cake off your thumb and wrap the center of the cake with the last 2-3 feet of the yarn. Loop the tail of yarn through the wraps just formed to hold it in place.

Step 8: Pull the tail end out of the center. You’re ready to knit or crochet!

Want a Yarn in a Ball, Not a Cake?

Adjusting how you wrap the yarn when hand-winding can change the shape of your cake to more of a center-pull ball.

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Watch How:

More Skein-Winding Hacks

Winding yarn on your thumb isn’t the only way to hand-wind a skein of yarn. You can use a tool called a nostepinne. It replaces your thumb when hand-winding, which makes it easier to set the winding down and come back later. They’re also quite beautiful, IMHO!

If you’d rather avoid purchasing a nostepinne, we’ve got a couple of hacks up our sleeves:

I highly recommend trying to hand-wind your next skein of yarn. Whether you use my method, or one of the hacks, it is a great way to slow down and put just that extra bit of time into your project. And if your ball winder is ever out of service, you’ll know just what to do!

—Kerry BogertContent Manager, Yarn

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