Introduction: Never Sit on Your Balls Again!!
I crochet a lot. I'm currently working on a single crochet graph pattern. Graph patterns, for those who don't know, allow you to make pictures, but require many different colors of yarn to be attached at the same time. The project I'm working on is done in 12 panels, thank goodness, but at least 2 of them require 8 colors, temporarily anyway. Most require 5 at the same time.
Had I been smart, I'd have done it in an afghan stitch so I didn't have to turn my work, but I started in single crochet and that's how it's going to stay. I thought I'd be able to deal with multiple skeins/balls/bobbins at a time, but after the third one ... when I'd had to get up a dozen times ... after untangling all of my yarn no matter how careful in turning I was ... and the yarn got stuck in the couch ... and I sat on a ball that had moved while I was up ... and a ball rolled off across the living room ... (anyone who knits or crochets using more than one skein at a time knows this is how it goes)
... I decided I needed to be smarter than the balls.
This is what I came up with. I know, there are yarn totes out there that can sort of function in the same way, but I'm cheap. This cost me less than $10 and an hour's worth of effort. It didn't need to be fancy. It just needed to be functional.
Step 1: Supplies
Now, you can make one out of just about anything as long as it has a snap lid so the top doesn't come up when you tug the yarn. You can make it out of a cardboard box as long as you also make a lid that fits snugly enough. Heck, you can even get super fancy and make one out of wood or quilt one. I didn't want to take that much time and I wanted something that would last longer than a cardboard box, so I chose a plastic bin. Use whatever you like. The principle will be the same.
The real magic is in how it's used, but that's a secret until the end.
- Plastic tub with lid large enough to hold as many skeins/balls/bobbins as you like, but small enough to be able to turn 180 degrees. I sit on my couch, so I chose one small enough to sit on it with me.
- Box knife or something to cut your divider material (if you're getting all fancy)
- Drill or Dremel. I used my drill, but should have used my Dremel because it would have been easier, but a Dremel isn't necessary if you don't have one. All you need to do is cut some circles out of the lid without breaking it. I wouldn't suggest using the knife. It will work, but I managed to crack a few holes, though not so badly I couldn't set my grommets ... which will keep it from cracking further. Live and learn.
- Grommets with setting tool
- I didn't use the duct tape, though I may eventually just to keep the divider from turning. If you're using a cardboard box, I'd suggest the tape to go over the edges of the cardboard where they're exposed so you don't end up accidentally felting your yarn if it runs across it.
Step 2: Measure Your Bin
If you're using a plastic tub, the measurement you'll want to take is the INSIDE dimension. As you can see from the second picture, there's a lip of about a quarter of an inch to which the lid snaps. Roughly measure the inside dimension. Plastic bins are rarely square and most get narrow towards the bottom, so you'll have to trim the cardboard anyway to get it to fit correctly.
If you're using something for which you need to make a lid, then you'll also want to measure the outside dimension for your lid (I'm not giving lid instructions here because I didn't make one).
Take measurements for the length, the width and the depth (measure depth from the INSIDE).
Step 3: Cut Your Cardboard
The cardboard will be used to make dividers for the bin. You can make as many as you like, but all I needed was 6 for most things I do. If I need to use more colors, I'll tell you how at the end.
REMEMBER: when you're planning on how many compartments to make, keep in mind that your balls/bobbins will need to be able to move freely or your skeins will have to fit. If you want to do one for 12 skeins, that's great ... but will you be able to easily rotate it 180 degrees while sitting on your couch if it's that big? If you want to do 12 bobbins, that will allow the overall size of the box to be smaller ... but how many times will you have to wind your bobbins? Will they still turn freely? This is one of the reasons I still wind balls.
So, a 14 x 10 x 10 (inside dimension) box would easily give me 6 compartments that could hold anything from a small ball to a full-size skein. No, it won't hold the one-pound skeins ... but you can always reconfigure the compartments from 6 to 4 using this method. Just take one of the dividers out.
No matter how many compartments you want to make, the process is the same. Just cut more dividers.
Using cardboard that is as flat as you can manage, cut out one piece that will go lengthwise in the box and two pieces that will sit width-wise. Or:
1 that is Length x height
2 that are width x height
This will give you 6 compartments.
Now you'll have to start trimming so that each piece fits all the way down into the box. I didn't do anything fancy here. I just trimmed from both sides equally until it fit, and then had to trim the top as well so it would clear the lid. This doesn't have to be perfect, but if you're inclined to make it so, then go for it.
All you're looking for is something to divide the skeins/balls/bobbins so that they don't get tangled. Leave as little space between the cardboard and the side of the bin as you can so nothing escapes. Anyone who has worked with yarn knows that it seems to escape when you're not looking.
TIP! For the first short piece (the one that will be width-wise), get it all nice and fitting well. Then, all you have to do is to trace that one onto the other piece of cardboard and you'll have done both of the w x h pieces with half of the work!
Step 4: This Is the Fancy Bit: Dividers
You know those dividers that come in boxes of glasses, or mugs, or Christmas ornaments? That's what I wanted to make. If you want, you can fashion whatever type of divider you like, but I wanted to do this kind so that it can be pulled apart and stored flat if needed. It will also allow me to reconfigure to larger or smaller compartments as needed.
- On the wide piece of cardboard, measure the NARROW end of the piece (remember, for most plastic bins the bottom is more narrow than the top) and divide by three. Use that number to mark the cardboard into thirds. For example, mine was 13.5 inches. 13.5 divided by 3 is 4.5, so I marked the larger piece, on the narrow side, at 4.5 inch intervals. Again, this doesn't have to be exact, but get as close as you can. See image 1
- On the two short pieces, measure along the narrow end and divide by 2 and marked the center. See image 2
- Measure half way up on all three pieces and draw a line. (on the short pieces, I marked the center and then only drew a line to there so I didn't have to worry about cutting the wrong side).
- Note how thick your cardboard is because the cuts you make next will have to fit this.
The images will make it all clear, but for a description:
Now comes the fiddly bit. You'll have to decide which pieces fit over which ones. If you've ever taken those dividers out of a cardboard box, you'll remember one piece slides over the one that fits cross ways. To make one of these yourself. you have to choose which part you want on the bottom and which on top. I chose the lengthwise piece to be the "bottom" and the width pieces to be the cross pieces that will go on top.
I eyeballed the thickness of my cardboard and made slits ... from the top down to the center line on the wide piece at the 1/3 markings ... and on the narrow pieces from the bottom up to the center line.
REMEMBER: It's very important that you pay attention to the wide and narrow ends of the pieces of cardboard.
TOP means the wider edge.
BOTTOM means the narrow edge.
So, for my cuts, I cut 2 slits half way down from the TOP on the wide piece, and one slit half way up from the BOTTOM edge of my shorter 2 pieces.
Once you make your first cut on any piece, check to be sure it fits over one of the other pieces and then cut all of the other slits approx the same. Keep them as narrow as you can and still have the cut slip over the other piece of cardboard so that you have a little stability to the dividers. If you mess up a little, you can always add tape to the joins later if you want ... but once you throw a skein or two in, it shouldn't be an issue. If you tape the pieces together, it will be hard to move or remove one.
The images make much more sense.
Now that you know the principle, if you can use a ruler and do basic math, you can customize the dividers to suit your needs.
Step 5: Put the Dividers Into the Tub
Double check to be sure that the dividers fit into the bin well (enough) and that the lid will close without a problem. The lid closing is more important than a snug fit for the dividers.
Step 6: Now, for the Important Bit ... the Lid
Grommets are those little rings in fabric ... totes, purses, shower curtains, duvet covers, etc... that keep the hole in the fabric from tearing. They're metal. While they're generally used for fabric, I've used them in balsa wood boxes, duct tape purses, and now plastic lids. The larger they are, the tougher they are. Once they're in, you won't get them out easily. You may be able to find them at stores that carry sewing notions, but your options may be limited. They come in different sizes and in silver and gold. If you can't find them at a general store or Walmart, then go to a fabric store. They will have them.
For those who have never set grommets before, they come in two different packages at the store. One will have just the grommets and one will have the grommets AND the setting tool. Hint: the one with the tool will likely be twice as expensive as the one without it. If you don't already have the tool, you'll want to get the one WITH the tool. BE SURE YOU HAVE A TOOL. Otherwise, you'll never get the grommets set.
Before you buy your grommets, you'll have to know how may compartments you have. I had six, so 10 pair was fine. If you're doing more than 10 compartments, you'll need one set with a tool and one without ... just be sure you get the same size grommet.
Grommets come in different sizes. I chose the largest because that way I can use a chunky yarn, or two strands together if necessary, without having to use a second compartment for the second strand.
I chose grommets because they give a smooth edge that won't catch or felt your yarn.
If you've never set a grommet, never fear. The package comes with very detailed instructions.
For those who scrapbook (I don't) grommets are large versions of eyelets. And just like eyelets, you'll need to pound them in with a hammer.
Setting your grommets will require the hammer. The instructions on the package state that you should pound them in with the anvil (the setter that comes in the package) on concrete. They mean it. Cardboard on carpet won't work. If you do it on your kitchen table, it will ruin the table. You can try a tile floor, but I'd pad it with cardboard first. You'll really have to whack to get these set as the teeth on one part (grommets are 2 parts) have to set in plastic. I've set some in balsa wood previously and that was easier. More on this later.
Step 7: Making the Grommet Holes
If you want to be fussy, you can measure everything out and make it all precise. I didn't need to do that, so I just eyeballed the (mostly) center of each compartment for placement.
- Mark the center of each compartment while the lid is on so that you can see through it into the compartment to be sure you're mostly centered.
- Use the half of the grommet with the post (it will be obvious when you open the package) and trace around the OUTSIDE of the post as carefully as possible. You don't want the hole you will make too big. It just needs to be big enough so that the post goes through it.
- Use your drill to make the hole. I tried several different techniques for making the hole before I decided that I should have pulled out the Dremel tool. It would have been easier. But I was too lazy to set it up, so I just worked with the drill.
- Once you've made the hole, check to be sure the grommet post will fit.
- When you have all 6 drilled, take the whole thing to where you can pound the grommets together per the package instructions.
- When you're done, they should look like the last picture
Not all plastic is the same. Cheaper bins will have easier plastic to work with. This is one that was very cheap, but sturdier than I anticipated and it was very hard to set the grommet properly. So, I pounded it most of the way in, and then tapped the remaining bits with the hammer to set it flush with the plastic. I was afraid that if I tried to drive the points in any further I'd break the plastic. It took a lot of pounding! You have to pound harder than you'd imagine.
All you need is for the grommet to be firmly in place and not have any bits that will catch the yarn. If I make another, I'll be more careful. But this will serve me well as it is for years.
Step 8: Now for the MAGIC!!!
The magic is the reason for all that work you just did.
As you can tell from the first image, I used 2 new skeins, one that was about 2/3 used and totally falling apart, and 3 balls. (actually, I also used 2 other balls temporarily, but it gets really fussy to explain how to use the system. Once you've used the system, how to manage extra skeins/balls/bobbins will be self-explanatory and I'll give a tip at the end)
- Load up your colors in the order you will use them. You can do this how you like, but the method I find works best is color 1 on the front right, color two the back right, color 3 front middle, color 4 back middle and so on.
- Pull the tails through and close the lid making sure that there's no yarn hung up in the lid.
- Place the whole thing next to you on the couch.
Step 9: Using the Magic
- Do what you do and add all the colors, right to left (or left to right I suppose if you're left-handed) (pic 1)
- At the end of the row, DON'T TURN! Lay your work face-up on top of the box, which means placing the last worked row furthest away from you. (pic 2) (I took the hook out for reference, but you don't have to)
- Turn the whole dang thing 180 degrees so that the front of the box is now the back of the box (pic 3 you can see that the work is now upside down).
- Now, pick up your work from the side pointing towards you (the next row), and suddenly your work will be turned with all of the yarn neatly in rows!!!
- To go back the other way at the end of the row, just repeat, but always lay face up on the box.
What this means is that when you're working the right side, just lay the work down with the ending row furthest from you as if you're admiring all of the work you've done.
When you're working the wrong side, lay the work with the right side facing up, as if you're admiring the work you've done upside down ... or the ending row nearest you.
The only rule is that every time you put the work on the box, the right side is facing up before you turn it.
When you pick it up to work the wrong side, the yarn will come up from under the work. This can be annoying if you're used to loose tension, but all you have to do is either pull enough yarn or move the work to accommodate what you need ... just as long as when you place your work on top of the box to turn it, it's lying over the yarn strands.
And you'll never have tangled yarn again ... no balls to chase or sit on ... no direction to try to remember when turning ... easy-peasy!!!
Step 10: Bonus Step ... Using Extra Skeins/balls/bobbins
There was a point on this particular panel that required 8 colors. As you will note, I only have 6 compartments in my magic box. For ease of demonstration, I worked the panel until the extra balls came off and I only had 6 left to work with.
All I did was add the extra balls in order, and when I went to turn, I laid them on top of the box, laid my work down on top of it all, and turned just like in the previous step. What I will tell you is that leaving the balls on the top of the box subjects them to rolling off just like they roll off of everything else. I chose to pull them down by me, use them, and then untangle them before laying them on the box to turn. It was still a fiddly process, but not nearly as fiddly as without the box.
If using more skeins/balls/bobbins than you have compartments, you'll have to work out the best system for you. However, my suggestion is to use the color that will be in-line the shortest amount of time so that you can cut it and get it out of the way as soon as you're done with it. Leave colors that you will use more for the box.