Winding yarn can be tricky if you've never purchased yarn in a hank form. And, it can also be a time-consuming endeavor, even if you are using a swift and ball winder. So, for those of you who have never used either tool or you consistently run into problems (i.e., tangles) when trying to wind your yarn, then this blog post is for you.
A swift is a tool designed to hold open a hank of yarn while providing a bit of tension to it to keep it open and prevent tangling. The type of swifts that most people are familiar with are the umbrella swifts where they attach to the edge of a table or chair and open up around the center of the hank like an umbrella. When you are finished, you release the tension knob, and the swift folds back up into its closed form for easy storage. There are other types of swifts like the upright, floor one I use in the store, or the Amish-style table top swifts that look like merry-go-rounds and use pegs on their four posts to keep the hank open. Before placing the open hank onto the swift or whatever you are using to keep it open for winding, snap it roughly between your hands. The logic behind snapping is that it will force the strands to line up a bit.
You don't have to use a swift to wind a hank of yarn into a ball, but they do help. (And we have some lovely Amish table top swifts for sale at the shop if you are interested.) In the instance that you do not own a swift, you have a handful of options: You could have another person hold the open hank between their hands to keep it taut. Or, you could drape it around the back of a chair to keep it open or even around the backs of two chairs that are back-to-back. Some people even use a large lamp shade. The key, though, is that you want something in the middle of the hank to keep it as open as possible, and never, never, never lay an open hank on the table or floor without something to keep it open, or you will end up with giant knots as you try to wind the yarn.
Whichever method you choose, DO NOT CUT THE TIES that are around the hank until you have it positioned on the swift or held open by whichever method you have chosen. The ties around different points of the hank are there to keep it from tangling as it is dyed, transported, and awaiting use. Also, be very careful as you cut the ties. Too often people will snip what they think is a tie but is really a strand of the yarn itself or they cut more than the tie and end up cutting the yarn.
After cutting the ties, double check to make sure that the hank is lying somewhat flat against whatever is keeping it open. You may need to gently flip and turn sections of it so that they are right-side up and the strands are as aligned as possible.
Then, take one of the ends and either place it through the loop and onto the groove in the middle of the yarn winder (the Knitters Pride ones we carry are temporarily out of stock, but I plan a reorder soon), use a nostepinne (which are in stock) to create a center-pull ball, or hand wind your yarn into a ball. If using a ball winder, keep in mind that you should turn the handle consistently and try not to turn it too fast or too jerkily. Turning the handle too fast or in a stop/start kind of way can cause the ball you are winding to fly off of the spindle in the middle, which you don't want.
If you run into a problem where the yarn is tangled, don't panic, and DO NOT REMOVE THE YARN FROM THE SWIFT! If you remove the yarn entirely from the swift, you'll run the risk of creating even larger tangles. Rather, try to gently wiggle the stuck strand from out beneath or between the strands around it. If that doesn't work, then, remove the core spindle from the ball winder and pass the spindle with the started ball under the offending strands, winding as you go. You may need to do this for several passes of the swift before you can replace the core onto the winder and continue winding your yarn.
Sometimes, if yarn is irrevocably tangled, you may need to cut it to untangle it, but ONLY do this if you absolutely cannot untangle the yarn after trying the steps above.