How to Achieve the Perfect Ball of Yarn, and Why it Matters a ball of yarn

Winding a ball of yarn can be as calming and meditative as knitting itself.

There's a certain satisfaction in holding a ball of yarn in your hand, a beautifully simple object you created and that you, yourself, will gradually unwind.

Voodoo, Superstition, or Kismet?
Just as some bakers insist on kneading bread dough by hand rather than by machine, many knitters believe that rolling balls of yarn by hand imparts a certain vibrational "je ne sais quoi" onto the yarn that you simply can't achieve any other way.

When you begin to knit with the yarn, it recognizes and responds better to your touch.
Even the more cynical knitters among us may admit that, by winding the yarn manually ahead of time, your hands have a chance to become familiar with the yarn and can work it more readily.

Getting Wound Up: Three Steps to the Perfect Sphere
As simple as it may seem, there's a science to winding a ball of yarn. Once you master it, the process is a breeze - and a satisfying one at that.

Step 1: Begin by creating a yarn butterfly. Wind the yarn in a figure-8 pattern around your thumb and index finger. Continue winding until the wraps have reached approximately one inch in bulk.

Step 2: Bring your two fingertips (and the two sides of the figure 8) together to form one large loop of yarn. With fingertips still in place and using the initial yarn loop as your core, begin wrapping the ball between thumb and forefinger.

Note: Keep your tension loose. It's OK - even helpful - to let the yarn overlap your fingers slightly.

Step 3: As you wrap, slowly rotate the ball counter-clockwise to keep the distribution even. Once you've finished one full rotation, you'll notice that the sides where your fingers touch the ball are longer than the rest of the ball. This is normal.

That's your cue to lift your thumb and index finger from the ball, tilt it so that the oblong part is horizontal rather than vertical, reposition your fingers, and start winding again.

Each time you complete one rotation, pause, tilt the ball slightly to another angle, and start winding again.

Words to the Wise: Keep it Loose
At the beginning, it's fairly common to wind the ball too tightly. When this happens, all the fibers are pulled taut.

If the ball is left too long in this state, the fiber will lose its elasticity and become limp.

Rescuing Limp Yarn
If you must work with a ball of yarn that has been wound too tightly, you have two choices.

First, you can unwind the ball onto a niddy noddy, umbrella swift, or a friend's outstretched hands. Wash the skein gently in lukewarm water (or cold, depending on the yarn) and let it dry flat on a towel.

Once it has fully dried, you can rewind the yarn into a looser ball.

The simple act of washing, more often than not, restores all but the most stressed wools. Other fibers may be tricker, but it's still worth a try.

Your other choice is to knit a test swatch, wash it, and see how the gauge changes. You'll be able to determine if you need larger needles or extra stitches to reach the same gauge as your desired project.

With its first wash, the garment will then shrink to size.

Nifty NÝsties
A common complaint with hand-wound balls is that, by virtue of being balls, they won't sit flat. As you tug the yarn, the ball tends to roll away (much to the enjoyment of household pets).

Some knitters find satisfaction in simply placing the ball in a bag or basket where it will stay put. But if you'd like to go one step further, you can wind a center-pull ball that dispenses yarn like an endless Kleenex container.

The tool for creating such a ball was invented long, long ago in Scandinavia. It's a simple, stick-shaped wooden device called a nÝstepinde (or nÝstie).

There are several excellent online tutorials that demonstrate how to use a nÝstepinde. One of the clearest, easiest to follow tutorials comes from Jim Childs of Hatchtown Farm. He also offers beautiful hand-turned nÝstepindes for sale.

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