Random Bits of Projects

November 3, 2008

Yarn-Ball Winder: Make Your Own!

Last update: November 6. Link and info on winding just by hand at the end of this post.

If you have been knitting for awhile you might have found the irritation of having to wind a ball of yarn by hand, especially if you wish to have a center-pull ball. Some yarn stores are kind enough to wind the yarn for you but they may forget or cannot if is during a busy time. Other places do not have this service.

So you may be itching to buy your own winder.  If you are a chronic winder, the the investment would probably be worth it because they do work better and are easier. But if you are like me who only needs it once in awhile, I would rather put that money into some  nice yarn rather into something I will use only on occasion. Granted this method takes getting used to. 😉

There many ways to make home-made winders I am finding. From using an electric mixer to building one with Legos (brilliant but lousy instructions as far as I can find so far…sigh). I thought I would look around my place and see what I can do either with what I have or for very cheap and little skill. I will also talk about building a swift (the thing that holds and releases the yarn to be wound-often a husband) in another posting. (Link soon to existing swifts)

What I came up with involved using an electric drill as the source of spin. I will probably come back and modify this after I use this a few times but here it is in the rough. So far I think it works very well since you not only can control the speed, but the increase and decrease in rotation is gradual rather than in jumps like when having to use a mixer dial. The other advantage is that it can go in either direction if you accidentally load the yarn in the wrong direction.

The downside is that the yarn ball may be sloppy looking. Or it will until I finally figure out the method to tidy up the ends as I thread the yarn onto the spool. Apparently it is possible. I can do it in slow motion but not yet fast. But you get what you pay for. As long as you do not wind the yarn too tight (a no-no), and it does not come off of the roll tangled or in some other undesirable form, what can you ask for from a budget device? Besides, who cares what it looks like as long as it functions. Hopefully you will quickly turn that ball into a nice piece of yarn art anyway. Lets hope I do not sing a different tune later with this. I will let you know how it goes and change it as I tweak the thing over time.

So here is Idea #1. ( I have a few and I will try to just add on as time permits.)


  • 1 electric drill. The nose needs to open enough to allow a dowel rod to fit into it. You then must be able to tighten the nose down onto the rod.
  • 1 dowel rod or strong chop-stick (or pencil?). I used a chop-stick here.
  • 1 thicker dowel rod (thick enough to hold a cardboard toilet paper roll perhaps). I happened to have a square (1″x1″) one handy.
  • glue
  • toilet paper/paper towel roll or paper
  • Tape
  • small saw
  • drill bit the width of the small dowel or chop-stick
  • Plastic container lid
  • rubber band

Remember, most of these measurements do not have to be exact for this to work.

Cut the thicker dowel rod a bit longer than you would plan to roll your yarn

Drill a hole in one end. Get it in the center to avoid wobble. Drill the hole for as far down as the drill bit will go into the rod. To get it in the center, use a ruler and mark off the diameter in an “X”. If your drill bit will not go down all the way, reverse it out, get rid of the sawdust packed on it, and try again. My hole was slightly off center when done but it turned out fine.

Determine the depth of how far your dowel will fit into the drill. Measure on the small dowel where this will be and mark a line. Cut the dowel a little bit after this line so it is slightly longer than what will fit in the drill. Too long is better so you can easily trim it later if you need to do so. The goal here is to have a little space between the drill and the large dowel so you can fit the lid in between.

Squirt a little glue into the hole you drilled in the big dowel. You do not need a lot.

Shove the small dowel into this hole. It should be snug. Wipe off excess glue that squirts out. The end of the dowel that will go into the drill should not be the end that gets shoved into the big dowel. Once again, this should stick out with the pencil mark not quite flush.

If the two pieces are snug together, go ahead and insert the small dowel end into the drill and tighten the drill onto it.

I added a lid between the big dowel and the drill to keep the yarn from falling down onto the drill. I do not know how much it is needed though. Cut a hole into the center of your plastic lid. Leave a little flap so you can tape the flap to the stick (see picture with the cat. She had to inspect. My helper.) I had the flap hanging towards the end that will go into the drill and t

he other side flush with the large dowel. If you forget the flap, it will be fine.

I then put tape at the end of the big dowel and onto the lid. Try to keep it flush. This mostly prevents yarn from slipping in between the dowel and lid.

Fit the toilet paper tube (or cut paper towel tube for bigger yarn balls) over the large end. Be sure it is fairly snug. You may need to put a little bit of tape at an end to keep it from slipping too much. Just be sure you can remove the tape after the yarn is wound by not covering that end with yarn.

Or you can wrap paper tightly around the dowel with a twisting motion. Once again secure with tape but in a spot where you can remove the tape after winding the yarn.

Adding yarn

***Warning: This thing has not been extensively tested. Practice on “cheap” yarn until you feel comfortable with it. Then you can move on to that wonderful alpaca. The pictures shows cheap, acrylic yarn. This stuff tangles terribly so if it works on this, nice stuff should work better. (I hope)

Before winding the yarn, you need to have it set where it can be pulled off of a skein or hank without tangling or catching as it winds. Your hands will be tied up with winding so you will need another helper or a yarn swift.

If you have a helper, have that person hold out their arms parallel to the ground with the yarn wrapped in a doughnut around the arms. The yarn will be pulled off and it will unravel from the person’s arms. The person may need to shift a bit to prevent the yarn from catching.

A swift is a device that will hold the yarn, often in a doughnut loop and allow the yarn to be pulled off of it. Yarn being pulled will cause the device to spin, so that it does not have to be aimed at you. See picture to get an idea of what I am trying to say. Whew….hard to describe. These are not hard to make and I hope to post a few ideas soon. I will at least add a link showing what I mean but a Google search for a yarn swift should show it.

Use a rubber band to hold one end of the yarn at the tip of the big dowel. String the yarn down to where you will wind it and wrap it around a few times to hold that yarn in place.

Now you are ready to wind the yarn.

Hold the drill in your dominant hand. Slowly squeeze the power button to get the drill to rotate slowly. Be sure the direction of spin is correct for you. As the yarn rotates, use your other hand to guide where the yarn goes onto the roll, usually an up and down motion in relation to the roll. Create just enough tension to keep the yarn on the roll but not so much that it is extremely tight. Very tight is bad for your yarn. You may want to wear a light glove on the guiding hand to prevent friction burns. But if your tension is not too tight, you might not have any problems, except at very high speeds. I did not need one here.

Slowly increase the speed of the drill as you feel comfortable. Be sure you watch what you are doing. If you get a bit that suddenly gets too tight or tangles, you can let go of the power button to stop the drill. Also be sure any helpful cats are not around. I am sure mine was just checking the tension.

Likely it will take a few tries to get the ball in the ball-park of what you hope.

Here is The finished yarn. I did not leave the ends of the paper roll exposed so I had some trouble getting it out. You do not need to remove it if you do not want a center-pull ball.

Below you see that it does work as a center pull roll, once I removed the roll. Yay!

Suggestions: Larger diameters make better center-pull yarn balls. With this type of yarn, I would go a bit larger. For good worsted-weight, this will probably be fine. Chunky will definitely need to be larger though.

Idea #2: Use beater attachments from a mixer on the drill. Not yet tested. But saves having to build a pole.

Idea #3: Still using a drill, use a paint roller modified to fit the drill as the winding pole.

Hand winding

If you just want to wind a center-pull ball by hand, here is a link to a video showing how to do it. You have to scroll down 3/4 of the way to find it. http://www.knittinghelp.com/videos/knitting-tips

This is not entirely the way I do it but this is the best link I have found yet on how to do it.

I hold out my pointer finger and thumb in the shape of an “L”. Wrap a figure 8 around those two fingers. The middle of the 8 being between them. Do this for about 20 wraps. Fold the 8 in half like it was taking a bow. This way the holes line up. Thread a very thick, chunky knitting needle or something similar through the hole. Hold the end of the thread out, away from the roll so you do not wind it inside. You need to find it when you are finished. Now wrap at a diagonal around the yarn wrapped on the stick. Rotate as you go (much like the video now). Secure the ends where the holes will be as you wrap. Change direction as you see fit. Do not wrap super tight so you not stretch the yarn. I will do a separate post on this at a later date with pictures. But I wanted to put it up for now so it will maybe be of some use.

Also the figure 8 can be slipped onto the yarn winder if you make the holes of the 8 big enough.

It takes awhile to do it all by hand but it will be a tidy ball (hopefully).

My cat enjoyed marking the winder. I think she approved. 🙂



  1. […] https://virtuallyamy.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/yarn-ball-winder-make-your-own/So you may be itching to buy your own winder. If you are a chronic winder, the the investment would probably be worth it. But if you are like me who only needs it once in awhile, I would rather put that money into some nice yarn rather … […]

    Pingback by Blog about Yarn Winders » Archivo de Blogs » Quick scan of the net - yarn winder — November 4, 2008 @ 4:35 am | Reply

  2. Love the winder, love the cat!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 9, 2010 @ 4:14 am | Reply

    • Thanks! 🙂

      Comment by virtuallyamy — May 9, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome!

    I’m definitely going to try this out.

    Also, your little kitsy-cat has the best expression in the pic where you put the lid on the dowel rod.

    Comment by Karla — September 25, 2010 @ 1:25 am | Reply

    • Thanks! She (the kitty) was a big help! ha!
      The winder is clunky but it gets the job done.

      Comment by virtuallyamy — September 25, 2010 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

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