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. 

* * *

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.

* * *
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