If you've been to a yarn shop lately, you've might have seen an odd little plastic device clamped to a table. The crank-handle turns a conical center in wobbly circular rotations much like the Tilt-a-Whirl amusement park rides. What is this odd thing, why do so many yarn shops have them, and should you start saving for one yourself?
What they Are:
These are ball winders, and they're used to transform hanks of yarn (the kind you can create on a niddy-noddy or umbrella swift) into ready-to-use balls.
By securing the tail end of your skein at the top of the cone before winding, you create a ball that can be used from the outside or from the center. The thing is, they're not balls in the literal sense. They tend to be round on the sides, with a flat top and bottom.
When you remove the ball from the winder, you'll notice that there's large open core in the center. This is designed to make sure that your ball isn't wound too tightly. If yarn is wound tightly and left that way for any extended period of time, it will lose its elasticity.
Once you remove the ball from the winder and start using it, you'll notice that this open core begins to soften and close in on itself. The only time the core remains mostly intact is when you're using a firm cotton, alpaca, or other yarn with less elasticity.
Why So Popular?
Yarn winders are intended to save you the time of winding balls of yarn yourself. Depending on the yarn's bulk, you can typically wind a 50-yard ball in a minute or less. It'd take easily 10 times longer to do this by hand. Multiply that by 20 skeins for a sweater and you can understand the benefits!
Most yarn shops will let you wind your just-purchased hanks with their ball winders, which can be a great convenience if you're using, say, 1400 yards of yarn. If you buy most of your yarns online, however, you may want to consider buying your own winder.
The Royal Brand:
This is the knitting standard, and one of the most popular models is made in Japan and is made with a durable white plastic, with light blue trim.
A screw-on clamp secures the winder to a table. You can wind up to approximately 4 to 5 ounces of yarn (again, depending on bulk) before needing to remove the ball and start a new one.
The winder comes with a spindle or bobbin that will hold your yarn and create your wound balls. Your finished ball can be withdrawn from the winder by simply pulling off from underside of ball.
The Royal Brand is made of a durable, hard plastic with a metal yarn guide, metal geared base, clamp and more. A must in every knitting supply cabinet! Royal Yarn Ball Winder is a single piece, Blue and Off White in color, with a base of approximately 4"x 4" and is 8" tall when the bobbin spindle is attached.
Do You Need One?
If you buy a lot of yarns in hanks, and especially if you do so online or at shops that don't offer ball winding service, you may be a candidate for a ball winder.
Should you invest in one, and invest in a big time savings, you will normally need an umbrella swift to hold the hank while you wind it into the ball, which you will also find here online. With just the ball winder, you'll need a second pair of hands to hold the yarn while you turn the crank and feed it into the winder.
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