Hanks, balls, and skeins – oh my!

Yarn comes in many formats, with different names. Sometimes it’s wound by a machine, sometimes it’s wound by hand, and sometimes it’s just twisted together. There are cakes, skeins, hanks, balls, cones, and even spools – do you know the difference? Here are some examples:

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a yarn skeinThis is a skein. This is how most yarn we run into in the big chain stores tends to be packaged. The shape is even, manageable, and able to be packed tightly together to make efficient use of space for display or shipping. The yarn is wound in a figure 8 type of pattern, by machines, creating the tube shape. They are designed so that you can pull the yarn from the center, but you can also work from the outside if you prefer.

a hank of yarnThis is a hank. Hand dyed and handspun yarns are often sold this way, because it’s easier and keeps the fibers more relaxed. The yarn is wrapped around in a giant circle, then twisted together to keep it neat. Hanks need to be untwisted and wound into balls or cakes before using.

hand wound ballThis is a ball, and is the easiest way to deal with floppy leftover bits. I wound this one by hand, and you can only work from the outside. Unfortunately, that means the ball will spin around (and jump, and fly, and bounce, and roll under the table) when you work with it, unless you have it contained in something (like a yarn bowl).

center pull ballThis is also a ball that I wound by hand. For this one though, I used a different technique. I wound the ball around a crochet hook to keep an open channel in the center. This means you can pull the yarn from the center of the ball OR from the outside, whichever you prefer.

machine wound ball of yarnHere is yet another type of ball.  It’s machine wound, round and flat, with a hole in the middle, and you can pull the yarn from the inside or the outside. The term ball is a bit loosely applied here, since it really looks more like a doughnut. That shape actually makes it easier to work with though, as it sits flat and doesn’t roll around.

a yarn cakeCakes can be worked with from either end too. The only real difference between a cake and a center-pull ball is the shape. Cakes are usually made using a ball winder.

A cone of yarnThis is a yarn cone – big thanks to Amy of The Stitchin’ Mommy for the photo! Yarns used for commercial purposes, knitting machine yarns, cotton yarns, and crochet thread all tend to come in this form. With a cone, the yarn or thread is wrapped around a hollow core. The cone can be placed onto a fixed spindle to hold it in place, and then it can spin freely as you work – much like a spool of thread on a sewing machine.

a spool of crochet threadI actually don’t know what this is called officially, so I call it a spool. It has a hollow core like a cone, but it’s not cone shaped. It’s not quite a cake or a ball either. Some yarns and a lot of crochet threads come this way.

yarn barfFinally, we have this. I’ve heard this mess affectionately referred to as “yarn barf.”  It happens with all yarns, no matter what form they started out in. Cheap yarn, expensive yarn, once in a lifetime I’ll never find it again yarn…actually the more precious the yarn is to you, the more likely it will end up like this. If you’ve ever spent 4 hours untangling a mess like this, then you already know. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry…you will!

 That’s all the types I can think of. Do you have a favorite? What about a least favorite (besides the obvious yarn barf, of course)?


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