Skeins of yarn

Please will some kind soul help me or even just sympathise with me.

I have only ever knitted with ‘balls’ of wool that unravel simply and easily as you knit them. I’ve just received an order of some very expensive yarn that is in a skein and I had no idea what to do with it and I think that I’ve messed it up entirely and turned it into a tangled web of rubbish. What should I have done to work with it? What is the best way, if any, of retrieving it?

I feel so upset because I looked forward so much to this yarn and I think that I may have wrecked it.

many thanks

[FONT=“Comic Sans MS”][COLOR="#300090"]Oy! :doh: if you have been unwrapping from the outside of the skein, then you are indeed very frustrated. I can’t draw any predictions with out seeing the “tangle” you have. You may need to cut the skein from your work to untangle the skein. Then get the center tail and rejoin you work.

With new skeins, there are usually two ends visible. One (the beginning) comes from the center of the end of the skein. The other (the end) will be that which was wound around to form the skein. Sometimes the ending tail is acutally tucked in the opposite end of the skein from where the beginning tail emerges. Other times the beginning tail has been left hidden somewhere inside the skein. You will need to fish it out.

Poke your finger into one end (or each end in turn) and feel for the inside wrap, by which I mean the wrapping pattern of the skein. You may feel the tail crossing the wrapping diagonals; if so pull it out. Otherwise just hook an inner loop and pull a small clump or tangle out from the inside of the skein. This should be small and easy to untangle.

Continue using the yarn from the inside of the skein and it should not tangle until you have too little yarn left to form a proper skein. I find a small container like a bowl or a small bucket holds the dwindling skein rather nicely. While the skein still has the bulk of the yarn it can simply sit beside you and will not roll or move as you pull from the center.

I hope I have described it clearly enough to be of help to you. Good luck.

– Jack[/COLOR][/FONT]

Yes, you have my sympathy:hug: . I don’t understand why the most expensive yarn isn’t sold wound into balls or cakes-- except that it shows off what the dyer did. I did it with the first hank of $$$ yarn I ever had (a gift) and ended up with about 20 balls of it, after getting through all the knots. Here’s what to do in the future. I assume perhaps it was the usual design of it coming in a twist? what you do is lay it out on a table, and untwist it. You’ll have a giant loop, tied in several places. One of the ties will be the 2 ends of the yarn, tied together. The others will be scrap bits, and you can just cut those and discard them. Un-tie the 2 ends bit, and then keeping track of one end, you can put the loop over the back of a chair (a wooden chair-- if the chair is covered in fabric, the dye in the yarn may rub off onto it as you do this) or step into it and sit down and pull it up around your knees. If you have a friend or family member you can press into service, they can have it around their hands or arms, held apart. And then start winding away. You may very will hit some rough patches, where you have to stop and work it through a tangle. But basically it should work out okay.

Jack - thankyou - I see where I went wrong now but, sadly, there wasn’t an obvious thread from the inside and I’m doing my level best to find one now but I think I’ve made it into a bit of a dog’s breakfast but I’ll keep on looking

Britty - I remember my mum and grandma doing that - I’m glad that it’s not just me who has made the mistake. I feel quite cross that there are no instructions that come with yarn like this.

[FONT=“Comic Sans MS”][COLOR="#300090"]Heidi,

I had not though of the twisted skeins (these are call hanks) that Brittyknits mentioned. They would look like so …

While the skeins of which I was speaking should be center pull and would be wound back and forth as they go around like this …

So, you will need to follow Britty’s method or mine depending on the type of skein you have.

Good luck.

– Jack.[/COLOR][/FONT]

yes, it’s the twisted skein - and now it’s a lump of twist. I’m going to leave it for tonight because I’m just getting grumpy but I shall unravel it slowly over the next few days, however I know now how to do it when I get a new skein. Many many thanks to the two of you - it’s just nice to have someone there to commiserate with.

[FONT=“Comic Sans MS”][COLOR="#300090"]Heidi,

Here is a swift that can be used to hold the twisted loop style skein while you wind into balls.

I didn’t know (or remember) the proper name of it until I did a Google image search. I remember my mom has one and was delighted to show if off to me. I had no idea of its usefulness at the time. I can now more fully appreciate it!

Yes, it’s the twisted skein - Heidi

Oh, that is so [B][U]twisted [/U][/B]of them to do that! :nails:

Good luck.

– Jack.[/COLOR][/FONT]

You don’t need to purchase a swift to wind hanks of yarn. There are existing posts here, and elsewhere on the web, with homemade ideas on things to use you probably already have. (I use a large lamp shade.) You can use another person, the inverted legs of an office chair, etc. Even you own legs/knees. If you find the hank tangling, best to stop and rectify things immediately, or set it aside, so you don’t compound the problem.

ETA: some existing threads (there’s more if you Search ‘swift’):


thanks - the thing that really gets to me is that I didn’t even know I had to wind the damned thing - I’m not sure how I would have known. I just thought it was like a great big ball of wool.

They are really helpful links and thank you very much for them but they’re only helpful when you know that you should look for them. That’s not meant to sound as whiny as it does - it’s not your fault that I didn’t know about how these things work. But I really don’t know how I could have known. Why do the producers not put a note with the yarn telling you these things?

the thing that really gets to me is that I didn’t even know I had to wind the damned thing

Okay. Altho I’ve been a knitter for 40+ yrs it’s been my experience that most beginner knitting books (I use the lending service at my lib and look at them all…never know when I’ll see something that piques my interest regardless of skill level) have info re: the difference between hanks, skeins, balls, which need winding, etc.

Oh, well. Perhaps you can spend an eve, or two, in front of the TV untangling the ‘ball.’ Takes a lot of patience (I’ve done it but not for the same reason). If you really want to salvage it hopefully you can.


Jack-- thanks so much for adding the photos to the explanation!

Heidi, I’m totally with you on this. The person who gave me the $$$ yarn wasn’t a knitter, and so didn’t know to tell me, the shop where she bought it didn’t say a thing and never offered to wind it for her (which many LYSs do), and there was as usual, nothing on the label. And I’ve been knitting for decades! Had never seen it before (also, wasn’t buying expensive yarn before). This manner of selling un-wound hanks is newer, and there are so many small companies and fibre artists now dying their own, that this stuff is all over the place, in a way it never was 10 years ago. I called the manufacturer who told me that I “should have known”. Unbelievable. It would be so easy for them to add to those labels, “must be wound” with a picture of a swift, or something. I mean, for goodness sakes, these days, a $1 cup of coffee at McDonalds has a this-is-hot warning label!

You can hang the loop over the back of a kitchen chair to wind, don’t need a swift or anything that turns. I usually open mine up and put them over the sofa arm.

thanks everyone - I am going to unpick the thing and it’s been a good lesson. It’s so wonderful having this forum in the English language because I live in Germany but am not a german native speaker and although I speak the language reasonably well it’s not good enough for these sorts of details. Thanks.


Although I speak the language reasonably well it’s not good enough for these sorts of details.

…nor for the subtle tones of frustration :wall:, perhaps? :slight_smile:


Might be good to add “hanks, skeins, spools, cakes, and balls” to the initialism thread or to a similar jargon thread. Or just a …

“How do you get your fiber?” thread. :roflhard:

Somewhere about, brittyknits posted a link to a UK & US chart of knitting & crochet terms.

“We say double crochet they say single crochet, Let’s frog the whole thing off”

– Jack

Rising like a phoenix from the tangled ashes of despair are 3 balls of silk yarn - it’s much better than I expected and I’ve lost very little. However, my fingertips are flayed through all the working with the yarn and my eyesight will never be the same again. I’m sure there’s some money to be made in turning this into a Nintendo game because the feeling of satisfaction for every tangle unworked was quite fantastic.

many many thanks for the advice and support.

feeling of satisfaction for every tangle unworked was quite fantastic.


During the Olympics I spent an entire eve removing topstitched thread (ARGH!) on a sweater I was recycling so as to salvage several inches of fabric. Thought my eyeballs would literally fall out of my head. (Didn’t help that the color was aubergine making it that much harder to see.) But, as with you, in the end, it was worth the effort.

Glad your yarn didn’t go to waste.


I’m so glad you got it to work out.

So you don’t feel bad- I didn’t know the difference between a skein and a hank (a hank is what you had- now you know!) and it was not in any of my beginning knitting books. At first I thought you had to wind a storebought skein (think Wal-mart) into a ball before you knitted it. In fact I think that was my very first question here.

Yarn Harlot (author of books & famous knitting blog) had a post where she saw a lady that just put the big loop around her knees and knitted off the hank. I even think she just piled it into a chair when she got up and picked it back up to knit. I would have a totally tangled mess if I tried it.

Just had exactly the same thing happen to me - on a plane!

I live in the UK and the only twisted hanks / skeins I’ve ever seen are tapestry wool where you cut bits off anyway.

My husband took me to New York as a surprise for my birthday so I went to Purl Soho - I bought a lot of four skeins which they wound for me but the group I was with we’re getting impatient. I then bought one of another kind and stupidly said I didn’t need it to be wound.

Took it out on the plane to start knitting and it was already falling apart - I found a knot, unfastened it and stupidly started knitting. Doh. After two rows, the entire thing was a screwed up bundle of loops and I guess I now have to unravel what I’ve done and try to untangle it - i tried feeding my wirk through the loops and unravelled about a metre in 2 hours. There are 135m left!

It’s the most pricey yarn I’ve ever bought by a big margin and I don’t understand why they’re sold like this - what’s so wrong with balls?!

I’m a bit surprised that some people are implying you’re being stupid by not knowing this - I’ve read many knitting books and have never seen anything about this, but this is probably because in Eurooe / the UK, yarn is not sold this way. Maybe if I read a US book, it would mention it.

The only reason I said ‘yes’ to having the first lot wound was because I needed to pull from the inside and outside at the same time for a project requiring doubled yarn. I had no idea it was essential to wind it or manage it in some way in order to knit with it - again, if this is the case, why do they sell it like this?! It’s beyond stupid.

Glad you sorted it - it gives me some hope!