Introduction: Yarn Ball Winder

Picture of Yarn Ball Winder

Make a center-pull ball using a knitting needle, drill and masking tape. This photo shows the winder being used with my duct tape yarn swift.

Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies

knitting needle #9
masking tape

Note: In place of a knitting needle, you could use a...

wooden dowel
plastic or metal rod or tube
bamboo skewer

...anything long enough to wind on that's rigid and will fit in the drill chuck. Here I used a size 9 needle. You could go larger or smaller as long as it seats properly in the chuck and spins without wobbling.

Step 2: Setup

Picture of Setup

Put your needle in the chuck and snug it down. Tape the end of the yarn to the needle as shown, about 8-10 inches (20-25cm) away from the chuck.

Tape the yarn again, right at the base of the needle, close to the chuck.

The tape doesn't have to be any particular distance apart; just far enough for your yarn ball to form in between them.

Step 3: Begin Winding

Picture of Begin Winding

Grasp the yarn lightly in one hand, and start the drill SLOWLY with the other. As the needle spins, guide the yarn up and down the needle to form the beginning of your yarn ball. Then go as fast as you are comfortable with.

As it builds, start moving your guide hand back and forth a bit faster so the yarn winds on a diagonal. This is loosely similar to what a commercial winder does, and helps it hold together when it's finished. The diagonal winding will be evident in the next step.

Step 4: Finish

Picture of Finish

The finished ball of yarn.

Take the needle out of the drill, remove the tape and slide the ball off of the needle.

It is messier than a ball from a commercial winder, but just as functional. If the looks bother you, you can wrap the last few layers by hand to neaten up the outside.


drgrandma (author)2015-09-28

Love this!

DarkAshes27 (author)2015-05-03

im a newbie at yarn stuff still. i was wondering does this work if you want to make center pull balls of yarn?

Tezcumpapa (author)2010-10-20

This is a definitely must make. Thank you!

I used to use the bowl method for placing my balls of yarn as I worked on a piece and then (silly me), I got a Cat. Mocha now owns several balls of yarn. However, I found another article in Instructables where one reader suggested using a coffee can with a grommet in the lid (you thread the yarn through the grommet).

I love this site!

barb.worner.9 (author)Tezcumpapa2014-10-12

Just a suggestion, but I "sacrificed" a few of my scrap balls of yarn from project left overs and gave them to my cat. She happily decorates the house with them every night and we gather them up and put them in a basket for her to play with again. She knows they are hers, and is interested in my projects but doesn't try to take my yarn when I am working anymore. Cats are pretty smart. Please tell me if you try it and have good results like we did. I am curious, too.

Tezcumpapa (author)barb.worner.92014-10-12

Yes! Sounds like a great idea....I will let you know how it works out in a couple of months....or less.

Ruthless Whims (author)2013-11-17

Here's a slight modification that makes nice ends:

It's also just a fun VIDEO EXPLANATION

ginger20037 (author)2011-12-30

Thanks for the idea! Might I suggest putting the drill on the fastest speed? That's what I did and I got a much neater 'ball'. Gotta love power tools! :D

inuyasha123 (author)2011-03-03

power tools and knitting

handprints (author)2010-10-16

Thanks for the idea!!! I'm trying it today. I think that if you use a nostepinne (or something like a nostepinne), you can avoid the potential problem of winding too tightly and stretching your yarn. The hole in the middle of the ball is larger at first, but then any "boing" in your yarn will slowly close up the hole and and your ball of yarn will be a little mushier, just like granny told me it should be.

My nostepinne wannabee is three chopsticks (they are tapered and pointy at one end) taped together with electrical tape. Works well by hand but I am hoping it works better with a cordless drill! Or maybe my old hand mixer...

karmae (author)2010-10-10

There is nothing the matter with a hand wound ball yarn when hand knitting. I often put mine in a teapot with the yarn coming out of the spout to keep it from running away and picking up dusties and dog hairs under the sofa. I do the centre pull balls for machine knitting - a hand wound ball just doesn't work as well.

darus67 (author)2008-02-29

Please educate me on this aspect of knitting. Why do you need to re-wind the yarn? My wife does it by hand. I've asked her why and she has no rational explanation, just, "because thats the way you do it"

rootchick (author)darus672008-03-01

Because if you have a big hank of yarn (in other words, a giant loose loop of yarn) and you just start knitting from it, you'll end up with a tangled mess in no time. You have to wind it into a ball so that when you're knitting with it it comes out of the ball gradually & tangle-free.

darus67 (author)rootchick2008-03-01

I see. My wife starts with the store-bought skeins of yarn that are already nicely wound and feed from the center. She re-winds them into a ball that unwinds from the outside. Seems to me she's doing it backwards.

desiktteh (author)darus672010-08-24

skeins tangle if you knit from them. period.

lunatone (author)darus672009-06-18

Sometimes, even with the nice store-bought skeins, the center is such a tangled mess that you have to pull out half the skein just to find the end.

masterochicken (author)lunatone2010-02-11

The loose yarn of a skein just tangles easier. Balls store better for that reason and they are smaller and more compact.

rootchick (author)masterochicken2010-02-12

Good point.  You must have a serious stash.  :D

IWTFM (author)darus672009-04-15

Um, yeah, that's definitely backwards. A good example of "But this is the way I've always done it" without understanding WHY. How does she keep the ball from flopping around the floor while she's knitting with it?

jenhintz (author)IWTFM2009-06-29

One reason to re-wind yarn is to discover any flaws in it, such as knots, joins, splits, slubs, dye errors, etc. that might not be visible from the outside of the skein. Such flaws can usually be dealt with as one works, but many people prefer to know about them beforehand. I have had one or two unfortunate instances in which the skein looked fine from the outside but inside it was so full of flaws that it was unusable and had to be returned to the store. I was displeased, but would have been far more unhappy if I'd wasted time working. When working from an "old-fashioned rolled" ball, I simply set it in a bowl. It feeds easily as I work, and doesn't run away.

PineSlayer (author)2010-03-21

I'm going to try this (ok, I'll ask HUBBY to try this for me, lol) and add two cardboard circles about 6" apart, so I get a "cake" of yarn that's flat on each end.

Thanks for the great tutorial!

pingeee (author)2008-02-29

Cool. Similar thinking, maybe can make use of the sewing machine auto threading function too, but I haven't thought of how does it going to work... I read somewhere about this re-wind the yarn part. But I don't remember the reason. Anyway, I don't do that and it seems fine for me until now (I don't knit that often though).

sideways (author)pingeee2008-03-01

Great minds think alike! I was looking at my sewing machines too, wondering if I could hack the bobbin winders into some way of winding yarn balls.

Kamomil (author)sideways2008-03-13

Ha! I had the same idea. What I need is to wind crochet cotton onto cardboard tubes so the center-pull technology is not for me. Great idea though.

IWTFM (author)Kamomil2009-04-15

You could use this idea for your cardboard tubes, too. Just tape the tube to the dowel so it spins with the dowel. Or, better yet, slip something over the dowel that fills the space inside the tube so the tube stays centered. Maybe a chunk of foam rubber. Glue it onto the dowel so it doesn't slip. Or just wrap the dowel with a bunch of duct tape.

inkstainedheart (author)2009-01-02

How clever! Nice idea.

bobise (author)2008-02-29

I was thinking about modding an old fishing rod to wind balls, but this seems much easier! Hand winding yarn I unravel from old sweaters is rough on my fingers so a ball winder would be nice. I usually skip the skein step and hand wind balls right from the sweater. Is that a weight you had to put on your swift?

knitster (author)bobise2008-03-11

Bobise: I find this Instructable while searching for recycling yarn. How do you know if a sweater is appropriate for unraveling and reusing? I looked at sweaters at Goodwill and couldn't tell where to start the unravel and whether it would just give me little lengths or would actually unravel. Any thoughts? Thanks.

bobise (author)knitster2008-03-11

You want a sweater that is knit into the shapes, not cut. You can tell by looking at the seams. Cut edges make little lengths of yarn, they look cut at the seams and are serged. Stitch rip the 4 main pieces apart. You may have to cut a collar off. Sweaters are knit from the bottom up. So start unraveling from the top of the sleeves and body. There is an art to finding the start to the yarn and the seams, it may take some practice and effort to find them. Once you start, it goes fast. Unravel a bit, then wind that, then unravel some more. This avoids tangles. Or find someone to unravel as you wind. Sweater yarn from commercial sweaters is usually not worsted and is mostly fine strands bundled. Avoid sweaters that are felted, fuzzing together, multicolored yarn knit into patterns. For your first sweater choose a handknit one(best choice) or a bulky cotton one using only one colour of yarn. Some angora and fine wools can be hard to unravel.

Some site that document this:

knitster (author)bobise2008-03-16

Thanks for the response. The 3rd website you listed was very nice. Great pictures, which for me, is perfect since I'm a visual learner. Thanks again. Knitster.

sideways (author)bobise2008-03-01

Yes. The plastic carousel is pretty light, so a couple cans of soup or whatever adds some stability and helps control the spin.

sideways (author)2008-03-10

I get a skein like that once in a while. I just reach into the center and try to pull out the smallest hunk I can. If I still can't find the end, I try to pull a smaller hunk out of that hunk....after a couple tries I can usually find the end. And what gets pulled out gets used up fairly quickly as I start working.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-02-29

Freaking smart idea! Great job, would have NEVER thought of this. Would definitely help out my aunt, thanks so much for posting. +1 rating.

joejoerowley (author)2008-02-29

Nice Instructable! This is genius!!

sideways (author)joejoerowley2008-02-29

Thank you Joe! I learned to knit a few months ago, and after spending time at various knitting sites it seemed knitters everywhere lusted after (very expensive) ball winders and swifts. I figured that if so many knitters wanted these items, they must be uber useful for a reason. So I put on my thinking/hacking cap to come up with a cheap homemade version of these tools I could make myself as a newbie knitter, without spending a big chunk of money.

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