Monday, January 17, 2011

The ball winder--a useful tool, especially with long color repeat yarns

 Note--this is part 1 of a two part series on ball-winders.  The second part, about imparting twist to yarn by winding, can be found here. 

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For many many years, there was no ball-winder at chezTECH.  After all, most yarn comes in an orderly skein, and the occasional hanked yarn was not too hard to wind by hand. However, a few years ago, a ball-winder did sneak in here.

ball winder

At first, it was only used for hanked yarns, being taken down and put up for the occasional use.  Over time the darn thing proved more and more useful, until now it is never put away because it's practically indispensable.  Specifically, it has gradually become the practice around here to re-wind nearly all yarn before use.  The more I do it, the more it saves my hide because rewinding finds trouble before the knitting starts.
  • Knots are easier to splice out during the rewinding process, rather than having one (inevitably) pop up in the middle of a complex lace or stitch repeat.  For non-spliceable yarn, better to wind two separate balls. The coming end clearly announces itself so the join can be put at an inconspicuous place.
  • In rustic yarns, the bits of brush, dirt and other trash spun into the yarn show right away and can get picked out before the knitting starts.
  • Weak strands: even factory-standard yarns feature this problem from time to time, while some thick-and-thin yarns get SO thin in spots as to require editing.
  • Insect damage (ewwww)!  Old woolen yarn from yard-sales, de-stashing swaps, store clearances always gets re-wound before letting it fraternize with existing stash ever since nasty wormies were found actually crawling around some garage-sale yarn. 
When using long-color-repeat yarns, the ball winder is particularly useful.
  • Not all purchased skeins are wound in the same directions of repeat.  Winding the skein using a ball winder reveals this instantly.  By winding-off and then re-winding, it is possible to make all the yarn lay in the same direction.  
  • Alternatively, sometimes the yarn ought to lay in the opposite directions.  For example, the two cakes of yarn below each contain one entire repeat of all the colors in Kauni EQ (rainbow).  Each is wound opposite to one another in preparation for knitting a symmetrical rectangular scarf.  By starting at the outside of the left cake and ending at the inside of the right cake, the scarf will begin with a purple end, followed by a complete color repeat up one side, a blue middle where the last of the left ball is to be spliced to the first of the right ball, then a matching color repeat down the other side and the scarf will end as it began, in purple. (For an explanation of why the cakes will be knit in that order, click here.)
2 cakes of yarn, each containing a complete repeat of all colors 
in rainbow Kauni (EQ) each wound opposite to one another
  • In very, very long repeats, such as the Kauni yarn above, it is scarcely possible to match up color repeats--repeats which are scattered over several different skeins-- without winding and splicing and re-winding, and sometimes, splicing and re-winding again--tedious to do by hand.  To get these two complete color repeats required splicing parts of three different skeins together and three bouts of winding.  Making them lay opposite required one cake to be rewound for a fourth time. 
  • Some otherwise gorgeous long-color-repeat "art" yarns may contain colors which might be jarring, such as a stripe of black in a skein of pastel colors, or a color from a completely different colorway altogether. (Hello Noro, I'm talking to YOU!) Winding into a cake shows the whole color scheme in a glance, making it easy to "edit out" unwanted colors. 
  • Worse, sometimes long-color-repeat yarns have colors missing, such as where two disparate colors are joined by a knot.  Much better to find out before the knitting begins.
In a similar vein, when trying for identical twins from self-striping sock yarn put up in 50-gram skeins, the ball winder easily lets--
  • Yarns from the two different skeins lay in the same order.
  • Each sock start at the same color repeat. 

Bottom line: if you don't have a ball-winder, it obviously doesn't mean you can't knit. Many fine knitters don't ever use them and I got along pretty well without one for, literally, decades.  However if you DO have one, you may find it worthwhile to use it more regularly, and the more so for long-color-repeat yarns.

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This is part 1 of a two part series on ball-winders.  The second part is about how to avoid imparting twist to your yarn as you wind and rewind it. 
You have been reading TECHknitting blog on ball-winders 


Kirsten said...

Love your writing, and especially love that you linked to Crazy Aunt Purl!

Charade said...

I never thought of most of these uses, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and clarity.

quinn said...

I never thought of some of the excellent reasons you mention...thanks!

Beverly said...

I've recently come to your blog and LOVE IT! You write in such a conversational way, it makes me feel I'm sitting there talking to you. Plus, your tips and tricks are fabulous! I've had a ball winder for awhile, but you've made me think about rewinding Noro before using it. I hate it when they knot two ends together with colors that are far apart in the repeat.

mirbrewer said...

Is there a specific winder you'd recommend?

Honnay said...

Just wanted to add that knitters should be aware that winding from a ball or a swift normally adds twist to yarn. Multiple windings will continue to add twist, so you may choose to limit how many times you rewind, depending on your yarn and the amount of twist you really desire.

Techknitter, thanks for all your excellent contributions to our community. I look forward to your every new post!

Azalea said...

This is amazing! Second time reading your blog, and second time finding I'd worked out the same idea!

I just started trying Noro when there was a sale on Kureyon Sock. It's stickiness reminded me of long ago trying to knit with Harrisville yarns, at that time only for weaving. They recommended washing to allow the yarn to bloom, so I unwound my Noro yarn onto a niddy-noddy, washed the skein and then wound it with my trusty ball-winder - and discovered what you say about seeing the repeats clearly!

I had bought 5 different colorways and am finding one color in each that I can't abide, but didn't have the courage to remove it. Now you've inspired me. :)

Thanks so much for this, and all your brilliance.

TECHknitter said...

Hi All--thanks for the kind words!

Hi Mirbrewer--I don't know enough to say which ball winder is best. Mine was bought on sale, a basic plastic model by Royal, and that's the one and only I have ever used. A query on Ravelry
would probably get you a lot of reviews, though!
Best, TK

TECHknitter said...

Hi Honnay-- Your comment is MOST interesting. I haven't noticed any extra twist myself, or biasing in the finished fabric--am I just unobservant? (quite possible!!) Does it matter which way the yarn is wound? Is it possible to have, by luck, wound yarn opposite to the way it was spun? Or to have removed an imparted twist by re-winding in an opposite direction? I've never spun yarn, and perhaps if I had, I'd understand more about all this. Is there some on-line source of knowledge with more info about all this? It's really great that you chose to write, because it would be awful for folks to wind up (har!) with over-twisted yarn.

Thanks again for writing-TK

JelliDonut said...

Am I a knitting geek because I think ball winders are fun? I love winding yarn--now I have more reasons to do it. Thanks for all the great tips.

CricketB said...

Those questions you asked of Honnay, please follow up on them. I love Cascade 220, but it needs winding before use and I have to untwist yard or two when knitting. Yes, I'm using a swift.

Some day I'll experiment with changing winding direction, but not this week.

Mercuria said...

I generally wind my yarn twice--once off the swift turning the handle one day, and then from the center of the resulting cake turning the handle the other way.

Different yarns will announce the over- or under-twisting at different levels, so it's not always needed, but I'd rather just wind it twice to begin with. Trying to fix it later doesn't work as well because of the different degrees of twist on the inside and outside of the cake. The yarn is twisted once for each trip around the cake, so more twist is imparted in the center than around the outside.

jennigma said...

Yes, you could be imparting or removing twist depending on whether the yarn was last spun/plyed clockwise ("S twist") or counter-clockwise ("Z twist") and which way you turn the crank on the winder.

If you think about it, it makes a great deal of sense; the winder whizzes the skein around and around as you are caking it up, and then sits there placidly while you pull from the center. Every wrap adds one more twist to the length of the yarn.

That said, most yarn is forgiving of a little more or less twist. But if you're rewinding multiple times, you might want to reverse directions.

GJabouri said...

About twisting the yarn too much with a ball-winder ... I usually knit this yarn using a lazy susan-type device with a spindle in the center (the ball slips over the spindle ... I'm sure there is a proper word for this gadget, but it eludes me at present), so I don't pull the yarn from the center, but it always comes from the outside - and since the yarn ball turns in the opposite direction to which it was wound, the extra twist disappears.

TECHknitter said...

Hi All--thanks for the further comments--there will be a post tomorrow with the results of an experiment in winding and re-winding, using flat tape. This will answer the mysteries raised in today's comments, I believe.

Thanks SO much to all who have participated so far--this has been MOST illuminating!

Best regards, TK

Ashley said...

I would love to have a ball winder! Unfortunately right now I live with my father and there is no room for one =(

June said...

What Honnay said. You can see it play out clearly with a roll of toilet paper. The solution - when you wind the yarn, put a tp core (or equivalent) on your yarnwinder and keep the cake of yarn on the core. Put that on a tp holder and unwind from the outside, letting the yarn unroll. That will not impart extra twist, just like it doesn't with toilet paper. But if you stood a toilet roll on the flat end and then pulled the paper upward, of course you will see twist entering. Rita Buchanan covered this in a SpinOff article some time ago.

Whenever I knit from a center pull ball, I always let the knitting hang every couple of (feet, rows, whatever) to let some twist in or out. Excessive ply will make knitting bias, look at Judy Alexander's work.

lesizmo said...

I think June means Katherine Alexander's work.

betty2dogs said...

Very interesting discussion regarding the extra twist in the comments. Thank you TECHknitter, for including the photos of the color repeating yarn. It makes so much sense to rewind that yarn into cakes! I was on a Noro kick for a while, sometimes knitting with a sense of wonder [what color will come up next] sometimes with a sense of dread [what color will come up next]. I think I'm going to wind it ALL up.

NMjewel said...

I love my ball=winder. I love the convenience of it. It neatens up my yarn... however, the kink/twist I got in my last FO (blog from 1/11/11) has me thinking that my re-wound yarn was the culprit for the "racking" of the tunic.
I'm waiting impatiently for the ribbon winding test, and thinking about which way I turn the handle!
(You're the best!)

kmkat said...

Wow, so much to learn. I always thought I was twisting the yarn as I knit; perhaps the problem was my winding it twice before I started. Must try alternating the direction I turn the handle.

btw, I signed up for your morning class at Yarnover in April. Looking forward to meeting you and learning tips and tricks!