Choosing the Best Yarn Winder and Yarn Swift

Yarn Swift and Yarn Winder Guide: Which is best and why do I need them


What does a swift and yarn winder do?


Sometimes called a yarn winder, wool winder, yarn baller, ball winder, or yarn roller, no matter what you call it it’s a must-have tool for knitters and crocheters!  When you buy yarn, it will come in a variety of forms. The most common forms that yarn comes in are a skein, ball, or cone. When your yarn comes in a ball or a cone, you can usually start knitting right away. In some cases you'll want to rewind your yarn if you don't like the way it's coming off of the ball or cone. 

yarn rolling

Another reason you might want to rewind your yarn that's already in a ball is that a ball that has a center pull on it is so much nicer to knit from.  However, when you buy yarn in a skein or hank or yarn, it will absolutely need to be wound into a yarn ball before you knit or crochet with it. You can do this by hand, but it’s not very fun. You’ll need to use your knees, a chair, or a kind friend to help you make sure that the skein of yarn doesn’t get tangled. At the same time you’ll have to roll the yarn into a ball by hand. It’s time-consuming, tedious, and if you’re anything like me, when you want to start a project, you want to start it now!

yarn skein


A yarn winder and swift will take almost all the work out of winding your yarn, so you can start your next project quickly. The yarn swift will hold the yarn to prevent it from becoming tangled as the yarn ball winder winds it into a neat little ball.  Having your yarn in yarn cakes makes it so easy to get going on your project and also makes it easier to use as you're knitting.  When you roll your yarn by hand it's in a ball shape, which can roll around annoyingly.  This is just asking for your cat or dog to turn it into a fun new toy while also destroying your pretty yarn. The swift and winder will take care of all of these hassles for you. Don't worry about needing a lot of room either. Both of these tools will typically clamp down onto a tabletop and fold away for storage.  

 How to use a wool winder and yarn swift?

 You will need to find a tabletop with an edge that the yarn swift and winder can be clamped down on.  You can place a cloth over your table  before clamping your tools down to ensure that your table doesn't become damaged. Make sure that your bolts are tightened so your yarn baller and swift don't become air born causing an even bigger mess!  You'll want to clamp your swift and winder about 12-18 inches apart for the ideal tension.

Once you have them set up, you’ll take your yarn hanks and remove any labels on it so that it’s a circular loop.  You’ll place the hank of yarn over your yarn swift and expand the swift out until the skein is taut on it.  If you have the umbrella swift this will be as easy as expanding an umbrella.  There's usually a knob that you push to expand and release the umbrella swift just like a real umbrella! If you have one of the table top swifts there will be an adjustment you'll make to the pegs that will allow the arms to extend or contract to accommodate the size of your skein.

Next, you’ll carefully cut the ties on your skein.  The number of ties the manufacturer puts on the skein varies.  Make sure you aren't cutting through your yarn! If you do it's not the end of the world, you'll just have multiple balls of yarn. In fact, you may find as you wind the yarn, that it has cuts in it that weren't caused by you. Sometimes mills tie ends together and they can come undone. This is a commonplace situation and will just mean you'll wind until you come to the end of one piece, remove that wound yarn ball from the winder, then place the next end in your yarn baller and wind the next ball of yarn.


yarn winder and yarn swift


One of the ties that you cut will reveal the two ends of the skein of yarn. From there, you’ll want to determine which one of the ends is coming from the outside of the skein.  You can do this by gently pulling on each of the ends to see which one releases more freely from the skein. This is the end that you’ll take and feed through the guide on your yarn baller. There is a little slot on the top of the winder bobbin/spindle that you use to secure your yarn end into the winder.  This will make sure that your yarn winds at an even tension.  The end of yarn you place in the spindle will be where you access your working yarn from your cake! 

If you lose your center strand of yarn please don't try to dig it out of the center of your yarn cake, this will cause a bigger problem. You can use the outside strand to knit from. This isn't exactly ideal because it won't easily pull out like it will from the center.  The other option, if you really want to knit from the center, is you can rewind you ball of yarn.

Once you have everything set up, you're ready to start winding your yarn!  You will slowly start to turn the handle on your yarn winder clockwise. You can use your other hand to gently guide the yarn to keep even more control on the tension. Notice if there are any hang-ups in your yarn as it’s coming from the yarn swift.  If it's spinning freely you can increase your speed spinning the handle. You’ll keep turning the handle until all of your yarn has been wound into the yarn ball.  When you’re done carefully lift the yarn cake from the yarn roller, keeping track of the end in the center as you remove it so you can use this as a center-pull ball.  Tuck the end of yarn that's loose on the outside of the ball in to secure it so it doesn't become tangled. A handy tip is to roll up your yarn label and stick it inside the center of your ball of yarn for easy identification.

 Ball of Yarn VS Skein

 When you purchase a ball of yarn, sometimes called yarn cakes, it’s typically been wound by a machine and is ready to knit.  You’ll find the end usually located on the outside, but sometimes it will have a center-pull.

The other form that yarn can come in is called a skein or a hank.  You’ll usually find that all of the beautiful hand-dyed yarns come in the skein form. When it’s in a skein it’s basically just a loop of loose yarn begging to get tangled up.  It must first be wound into a ball before knitting it, either by hand or by using a wool winder and swift.


yarn baller

Ball Winding Fixing a Tangled Up Swift

 Although the yarn baller and swift will definitely make winding your yarn much less of a chore, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t hazards.  One of the most important things is the placement of your yarn on your swift. If you have it twisted at all, it can lead to tangles and trouble. The other thing you want to make sure of is that you’re pulling the right end of yarn through the wool winder. Using the wrong end can also lead to a mess and frustration. 

When you have your yarn placed on the swift, give the end a gentle tug and see if it's spins freely.  If it does, then you're good to go, and you are ready to wind the yarn. If it gets hung up or seems like it's twisted, first try pulling the other end.  If that doesn't work, then try adjusting the yarn on the swift.  There are some skeins that just will not cooperate.  They're rare but can really put a wrench in getting going on your project. If it doesn't seem like it's going to wind easily from the swift, I'd recommend just winding it by hand to save yourself the frustration. 

If you wind yarn often enough you’ll probably find yourself in that situation eventually. Try to fix the problem as best as you can with the skein of yarn still attached to your yarn swift.  If all else fails, remove your yarn and untangle it, then wind by hand.

 Best Yarn Roller

 You can’t go wrong with a basic plastic yarn winder like the one.  Small, but powerful, this yarn winder will handle skeins from lace weight to worsted weight yarn.  It's made out of strong materials and it's very easy to crank. It maxes out at about 220 yards of worsted weight yarn or about 4 oz, but most people will find that that’s plenty. If you get this one and find you need to wind a bigger skein you can still do it!  You'll just need to wind the yarn into two balls. This winder is very easy to use and set up. It takes up very little space as well. At a reasonable price point, this wool winder is a great value and is the best choice for most people.

Yarn Ball Winder


A similar option and price point is the Lacis In-Line Wool Winder.  This one is plastic and winds balls up to 4 oz.  What makes this one unique is that it uses an in-line bobbin with a moving yarn guide to give you a very smooth winding motion.  This one is also small and easy to set up and use.

lacis in line yarn ball winder


Maybe you like to use larger skeins or heavier-weight yarns. If that’s the case you’ll want to check out Nancy’s Knit Knacks Heavy Duty Ball Winder. This bad boy is made from maple wood with Swiss metal gears, it can be set up to be used both manually and electrically. What the heck does that mean? Well, you can attach a power base to your yarn baller, and with the press of a button, you can walk away and your yarn be wound for you!  This yarn winder has the capacity to wind up to a pound of yarn so pretty much any size of commercially produced yarn. There are an assortment of handy accessories that you can add to the Nancy’s Knit Knacks Heavy Duty Winder. This wool winder will definitely be an investment, but if you’re someone who continuously winds larger skeins of yarn it’s a must-have.  This one can be a little tricky to use and does require some maintenance. 


nancy's knit knacks heavy duty ball winder


Another option that falls somewhere in the middle is the Stanwood Needlecraft Large Metal Yarn Winder. This wool winder is made of plastic and sturdy engineered metal, and it has about 2.5 times the capacity of the standard plastic winders. The base of the frame has rubber feet to prevent slipping. This is a great choice if you need to wind larger skeins of yarn but are on a budget.  This one has a couple of cons, it can be kind of hard to figure out and also finicky to use.


Stanwood Needlecraft Large Yarn Winder


U-nitt ML702 Metal Jumbo Large Wool Winder is a little different.  It has two metal swing arms.  One of them is to hold the yarn, while the other one keeps the tension. This has a smooth winding experience and will wind up to 10 ounces of yarn at a time.  There are some flaws to this winder. It can be noisy as it spins creating a squeaky sound.  Another thing to keep in mind, is that you can't control the tension if you go wind too fast.


u-nitt large yarn winder


The Boye Electric Yarn Winder uses 120v a/c electricity. This machine takes care of all of the work and is especially handy if you have wrist problems. There are a couple of drawbacks to this one. You’ll need to have it set up in a place where it can be plugged in. The motor is also not very powerful on this model.


Boye Electric Yarn Ball Winder


Another heavy-duty option is the Strauch Jumbo Yarn Winder. This can wind up to one pound of yarn into balls. This wooden yarn winder is made in the USA and thanks to its ball bearing drive it doesn’t require oiling or adjusting.  It has extra-long table clamps which give you more options with where to secure it to.


Strauch Jumbo Yarn Winder



Best Yarn Swifts

 There are several different styles of yarn swifts. The most popular option is the Lacis Classic Umbrella Swift. This wooden yarn swift has a base that clamps down on your table while the top opens like an umbrella.  You’ll place your skein around the yarn swift and then expand it out until your skein is taut. This umbrella swift accommodates skeins up to 60 inches.  An umbrella swift is great for people with limited space because when you’re not using it, you can collapse it down and store it.

Lacis Umbrella Yarn Swift



The Ashford Wooden Umbrella Swift is an attractive option for those needing to wind larger skeins. This umbrella swift will accommodate up to 75” skeins.  The smooth and quick rotation makes this a solid option. This swift clamps onto your table and expands out like an umbrella.

Ashford Wooden Umbrella Yarn Swift


The Lacis Fixed Peg Swift has a unique tabletop design that's different than most yarn swifts.  It’s adjustable up to a 72” skein and can collapse into a compact configuration for storage or travel.  You clamp it to the table for security.


Lacis Fixed Peg Yarn Swift


Ball Winder and Swift Combinations

 You can technically use any of these ball winders and yarn swifts in combination with each other. However, if you’re using one of the heavy-duty ball winders to wind larger skeins you’ll want to use it in combination with a larger capacity swift like the Ashford Umbrella Swift.  For most at home users, the smaller wool winders and swifts will be sufficient and make a huge difference in the speed in which you can start your new project. 



What's the point of a ball winder? 

A ball winder will wind your yarn into a neat center-pull ball simply by turning the handle. This makes it so you don't have to roll your yarn by hand and is much faster and easier.  These yarn cakes are a much more convenient shape since they are flat on the bottom they can't roll around.

Can you use a yarn ball winder without a swift?

Yes you can! However, it will be much more difficult. You'll need to position your yarn skein over something to prevent it from becoming tangled as you use your ball winder. You can use a chair back or have a friend hold it. Keep in mind this will be much more time consuming and using a yarn swift makes it a super smooth process.

What is a yarn winder called?

It has several commonly used names- yarn winder, ball winder, yarn roller, yarn baller, and wool winder.  Any of these will be referring to the same tool. 

How do you wind yarn without a ball winder?

You will need to loop your skein of yarn over something to prevent tangling. Then you will slowly start rolling the yarn into a ball, taking care not to drop it.

Why is my yarn winder not working?

This could be caused by a few things happening.  Check the following:

  • You have secured the end of your yarn in the slot of your winder
  • It's securely clamped to your table
  • Your yarn swift is spinning freely to allow the yarn to be pulled by the ball winder
  • You can help adjust the tension of your yarn by guiding it into the yarn guide (This may be necessary with slippery yarns)
  • Make sure your metal arm guide is adjusted to the correct place

Is a yarn winder worth it?

YES!  You won't know how you lived without it!  A ball winder will save you so much time and frustration. I love being able to start my projects so much more quickly than when I had to wind it by hand.

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