How to Wind Yarn from a Hank

Some yarns, particularly hand dyed or artisan yarns, come in hank format. These yarns need to be wound into a cake or ball before they can be used. Learn how to use a ball winder and a tabletop swift to wind yarn from a hank into a cake!

How to Wind Yarn from a Hank, with a ball winder and tabletop swift.

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What is a Hank?

A hank is a twisted skein of yarn. When you open it out, you get a big loop of yarn. You often see yarn from indie dyers and spinners in this format. It’s easy to wind yarn this way, and it’s great for dyeing since all the yarn is loose and exposed. Check out my article about yarn formats to learn more about some of the other formats yarn comes in.

Silver Linings Collection from Global Backyard Industries

The yarn pictured here is the Silver Lining Collection of hand dyed, extrafine merino blend yarn from Global Backyard Industries. Global Backyard sent me this yarn free for a new design that will be coming out soon!

Why Wind Yarn from a Hank?

Hanks are loose and floppy. If you try to knit or crochet directly from a hank, you’ll likely end up with a big, tangled mess! When you wind yarn from a hank into a ball or a cake, it gives it more structure so that it won’t tangle as you use it.

What is a Swift?

You’ve likely seen images and memes of hapless husbands holding their hands upright, with a loop of yarn draped around them, while their wife winds the yarn into a ball. This really does happen, and not just with husbands. I’ve actually done this for several of my friends when there’s no swift to be found.

Hands holding a hank of yarn open

A swift takes the place of those hands. You could also substitute a straight chair back, or even your knees if you’re a bit flexible. The difference is, hands, chairs, and knees don’t rotate, while a swift does. The rotation makes it easier to unwind the yarn and to maintain a more even tension.

Types of Swifts

Swifts come in two main types: umbrella and tabletop. Umbrella swifts stand upright and usually clamp to the edge of your table. They open up like an umbrella, expanding to hold various size hanks.

Tabletop swifts are horizontal and sit on the table. They usually come apart for storage and use pegs to hold various size hanks.

tabletop swift

In most cases, I prefer a tabletop swift. Umbrella swifts usually hold the yarn higher up than the winder (if attached to the same surface). While they do require more work space, tabletop swifts hold the yarn at the same level as the winder. I find this makes the resulting cakes more even.

Why use a Ball Winder?

A ball winder creates a cylindrical cake of yarn that can be pulled from the center. It’s certainly possible to wind a ball by hand instead. You can even wind a ball that pulls from the center. A ball winder is just faster and more efficient, and produces a prettier result.

Finished yarn cake

How to Wind Yarn from a Hank

The video tutorial below shows the following steps:

  • Assemble the swift
  • Place the yarn on the swift
  • Remove the ties and “fluff” the yarn
  • Attach the end of the yarn to the winder
  • Wind the cake
  • Remove the cake from the winder
  • Disassemble the swift.

Winding Yarn from a Hank Video Tutorial

Watch This Video on YouTube


How to Wind Yarn from a Hank, with a ball winder and tabletop swift.

Rate this yarn winding tutorial!


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2 Comments

  • Verna

    I haven’t bought enough yarn to warrant buying a swift, but I might rethink it. It took me 40 minutes without any knots for 400 yards of fingering weight for one hank, and that’s time wasted, right? I just lay the yarn on my table, unwind 3 or 4 rotations, and then spin it onto my winder. Repeat and cross my fingers for no snags. I haven’t always been lucky. I now see how a swift can come in handy!

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