If you’re seriously getting into your knitting or crochet, then maybe you’ve though about investing in a yarn winder – but what exactly is a yarn winder? The term generally refers to machines that are used to wind yarn into a ball, but there are a few different types of yarn ball winder available and people do use the term to refer to a couple of different products, which can be used separately or combined with a yarn ball winder.
Wool Winder or Yarn winder – These are little machines that enable you to wind yarn into a handy ball. They’re normally used in conjunction with a yarn swift to turn a skein of yarn into a ball, but can also be handy for if you want to separate a ball of yarn into smaller balls or combine two yarns into one single ball.
Yarn Swift – A yarn swift is typically used for transforming a skein into a ball of yarn. There are a few different types available, but they all work on the same basic principle. You unfurl the skein so it’s one big loop, then place it onto the swift where you can wind it off without it getting tangled.
Other types of yarn winder – As well as yarn swifts and yarn ball winders, there’s also a few more fun yarn winder products that you might not have come across, such as Nostepinnes and yarn butlers!
Is a yarn winder worth it?
You may have been crocheting or knitting for a while and been getting on just fine, and yarn winders are somewhat of an investment – so is a yarn winder worth it?
Well, it all comes down to one main question – do you use yarn skeins (or hanks as our friends in the US call them)? If your answer is yes, then a yarn winder is definitely something you should invest in. Sure, technically you can unwind skeins using the back of a chair or having someone else hold the yarn while you unwind it, but it’s fiddly, time consuming and no matter how careful you are it’s still far too easy to your yarn snagged or in a big knotty mess.
And if you’re thinking about just working straight off the skein – we’ll stop you right there, that’s a recipe for disaster! The basic construction of a yarn skein is that all of the yarn is wrapped round and round in a big loop, but the strands can cross over each other or the fibres can catch themselves to each other – so all you need to do is pull on your yarn a bit too quickly and uh-oh – you’ve got it twisted in a big knot that you’ll spend the next hour trying to undo! Think of it like when you try to sort out cables or extension cords – you wound them up neatly didn’t you, but still they’ve somehow got in a big mess.
This is why most knitters and crocheters will use a yarn swift and a yarn ball winder for unraveling skeins – it make things far simpler and allows you to unravel that skein one loop at a time. While you don’t have to use both together (for example, you could put your skein on a swift and wind it off by hand, or you could just use your yarn ball winder for dividing large balls into smaller balls), it will not only make your life easier to use both in conjunction with each other, but it’s also a really satisfying (and almost hypnotising) process.
We’ve picked out some of the best yarn winders and best yarn swifts available, as well as some extra fun products that you can also use for winding yarn!
Best Yarn winders
This basic yarn ball winder is an affordable option for knitters and crocheters. As with most basic yarn winders, you use the screw clamp to attach the yarn winder to your table, insert your yarn through the metal eye and into the notch on the top of the spool, then you just turn the hand crank to wind your yarn into a handy yarn cake. From our own experience with this yarn ball winder it does require a bit of practice – the metal eye that the yarn is threaded through moves to make it easier to pack away, so you need to make sure this is locked into place before winding. The spool is also removable, which is a handy feature for if your yarn goes rogue and accidentally gets caught in the cogs – which doesn’t happen often but is easy to do if you’re not paying attention. It’s a great little machine for those on a budget looking to get their first yarn ball winder!
If you’re after a basic yarn winder but prefer to trust in one made by a well-known brand, then this KnitPro yarn ball winder is the perfect choice for you! Lightweight and compact, once you invest in this handy tool you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it!
While the basic yarn ball winders we’ve covered so far will suit the needs of most knitters and crocheters, you will be limited by the size of skein you can wind onto a ball (they can normally handle most 100g skeins). If you’re looking to wind on particularly large or chunky skeins, then this large and sturdy metal yarn winder gives you more space to work so you can make up to 10 ounce yarn cakes (approx 280g).
If you’re trying to avoid plastic products and fancy a yarn winder with a bit of a difference, then you might like these jumbo wooden yarn winders! These tabletop style yarn winders are available in 3 different wood finishes, and have a really charming traditional style that you’ll be happy to keep on display when not using it. Be aware that they do require a bit of assembly to set up, as they’re dismantled to reduce on the shipping costs from the US.
Once again we’ve found a fantastic yarn winder produced by the reputable KnitPro for those of you who are prepared to invest a little bit more for guaranteed quality! This fabulous funky yarn ball winder is from KnitPro’s Signature Symfonie range, which uses colourful laminated Birch wood. This yarn winder enables you to wind large skeins into yarn balls, up to an impressive 450g of 4ply yarn. High quality parts and nice touches like anti-skid rubber pads to make sure it doesn’t slip or scratch your table make this a yarn winder that you’ll definitely be glad you invested in!
Here’s another quality yarn winder that you’ll be happy to proudly keep out on display! Hand-crafted from sustainable Sheesham Rosewood, it really is a thing of beauty!
Ok so we know that this Electric yarn winder is maybe a bit over-the-top for your average hobbyist knitter or crocheter, but if you’re a yarn spinner or dyer then this might just be the product you’ve been dreaming of! It will wind 125g of yarn into a ball with a flick of a switch – no more sore arms from all that hand-cranking!
Tired of your balls of yarn rolling all over the floor as you knit or crochet? Then why not treat yourself to a yarn bowl! These handy bowls keep your yarn in place and are available in a huge range of designs and styles. Check out our list of the best yarn bowls for knitting and crochet to find the perfect yarn bowl for you!
Best Yarn Swifts
Now that you’ve taken a look at our pick of yarn ball winders, we’d strongly recommend that you invest in a yarn swift too! Yarn swifts are a tool that will essentially hold your skein while you unwind it, and trust us, they’re an essential for anyone wanting to use skeins.
This knitting umbrella style yarn swift is a great budget option for those in need of their first yarn swift. The Umbrella design means it’s easy to collapse and store out of the way, plus as it’s made from plastic and metal it’s super-lightweight – which means you can get it spinning super-quick while you wind your yarn!
We do love a good bargain, so if you’re in need of both a yarn winder and a yarn swift, why not save some pennies and buy both together with this fab bundle!
While the above metal and plastic yarn swifts are great options for those on a budget, if you’re after something a bit sturdier you can always go for a traditional style wooden yarn swift! This Birch wood yarn swift has been highly sanded to ensure it doesn’t snag on your yarn, and features a nice chunky block clamp for attaching to your table, so no matter how fast you spin your swift it should be nice and secure!
Also known as an Amish yarn swift, these tabletop style yarn swifts are perfect for people who don’t get on with the knitting umbrella style swifts. As they sit flat on your table, you won’t get any wobbles in your spin, and it’s handmade from sturdy pine wood and can be fully dismantled so you can easily store it away when you’re not using it. With knitting umbrella style swifts, you expand the swift to suit the size of your skein loop – but with this tabletop style, you simply move the pegs to the size you need (plus you can also use it for really long skeins with some additional pegs and clever wrapping).
Here’s another natural Birch wood umbrella yarn swift by the legendary KnitPro. It has some plastic stoppers to make adjusting the umbrella width and height a bit easier, as well as a nice turned top handle for if you want to manually control the speed of your spin.
Here’s a yarn swift with a bit of a difference! This handmade skein winder spinning wheel is the sort of tool that would traditionally be used with a spinning wheel to create a skein, but as it’s essentially just an tabletop (Amish-style) swift there’s no reason you can’t use it for winding your yarn for knitting and crochet too! They’re handmade to order and there’s extra options for adding additional clamps or extra holes to account for different skein sizes.
If you fell in love with the Lykke Rosewood yarn winder above, and want your swift to match, then you can also get this beautiful umbrella swift made in the same sustainable Sheesham Rosewood.
Other Yarn Winder Products
While yarn winders and yarn swifts are the most common way of transforming skeins into balls, there are a few other interesting products that are great for winding yarn.
While you may not have heard of a Nostepinne before, they’re actually the traditional way of winding yarn into a ball. Essentially a wooden dowel, you wrap the yarn around the Nostepinne to create centre-pull balls, and are especially good for if you are wanting to separate a larger ball of yarn into smaller balls. These lovely ones by KnitPro come in natural and coloured wood varieties with an easy-grip turned handle. Using a Nostepinne does require a specific winding technique which you can find tutorials for on Youtube, and will give your arms a good workout!
Here’s a clever little product that recently caught our attention! We love little mini-skeins as they’re a great way of sampling indie-dyers yarn or for working different coloured yarns into a project, however sometimes mini-skeins can be a little tricky to put onto a full size yarn swift. This ingenious and expandable ‘Moon on a Stick’ yarn holder enables you to simply place your skein on the holder, then work directly from it rather than winding it into a ball! And if you really fall in love with this product, there’s also an optional 100g adapter kit so that you can use it with your big skeins too!
If you’ve got left-over bits of yarn getting all tangled in a drawer, or need to use multiple sections of colour for intarsia crochet, these clever bobbin yarn winders are a brilliant solution, and come as a pack of 6! Once you’ve wound your yarn around the bobbin, there’s also handy notches to catch the end of the yarn so it won’t unravel itself – we could definitely do with some of these for our yarn stash!
If you though the yarn bobbins above were a clever idea, but you like to use loads of colours in your intarsia knitting or crochet, then why not grab this pack of 20 plastic bobbins to wind all your different coloured yarns onto!
Yes, you did read that correctly, this handy product is indeed called a yarn butler. While it technically isn’t a yarn winder in the conventional sense of the word, it will make your life easier when winding off your ball of yarn while knitting or crocheting. You essentially place the centre of your yarn ball onto the dowel, then as you work your knitting or crochet the butler spins around freely, giving you more yarn as you need it. It has a wide and heavy base to keep it from losing balance, as well as some rubber pads on the base to keep it from sliding about on your surface. It’s a clever way of keeping your yarn in one place – no more yarn balls rolling around on the floor! If only this butler would bring us tea and answer the door as well!
Here’s another product that is really designed for spinners and indie dyers, but we found it so interesting that we just had to include it! Called a Niddy Noddy, this intriguing product is used for winding yarn into a skein, making 1 metre lengths when wrapped once around the Niddy Noddy. In reality it’s not really going to be much use for most knitters and crocheters, but if you’re a hand-dyer or spinner it might be just the product you need!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and found the perfect yarn winder product for your knitting or crochet needs. If you’re looking for more inspiration, then check out our knitting kits and crochet kits for beginners, or get some expert advice with our pick of 10 of the best knitting needles or the best crochet hooks.