Ball Winder, Swift, or Maybe a Nostepinne

I find my ball winder indispensable. I’ve had a Brother winder since the beginning of my knitting journey, and didn’t own a swift until many years later. Even with only a winder, you can wind balls of yarn from a hank placed on the back of a chair. Because much of the yarn sold today is in the hank format, a ball winder and swift are a must for the knitter.

Ball Winder

Ball winders are efficient tools at forming center pull yarn “cakes” or balls that sit flat and won’t roll around while working. Yarn cakes are great for storage and keeping yarn remnants tidy. Ball winders also allow you to inspect the yarn for knots, and prevent tangles.

There are manual and electric styles, but the manual types give you more control and are portable. Many of the newer models have only one threader for the yarn, but I like my old Brother model because the yarn feeds through two of them. The sizes range between small (holding 4oz of yarn), regular (10oz) and the heavy duty (16oz).

I like to have control over the yarn tension as I wind, by unfurling the yarn from the swift by hand, and then wind the yarn. Otherwise, I find the yarn balls too tight when wound directly from the turning swift. It’s possible to alter the nature of the yarn if it’s wound too tight. It’s a good idea not to wind all the yarn for a project, just wind one or two hanks at a time.


A swift is desirable for untwisting hanks of yarn. Hanks are a commonly sold format, because of the prevalence of hand dying and their ease in packaging. A swift spins round and round while the yarn streams off in a strand. Some styles work in reverse, by unwinding cakes back into hanks.

The styles available include umbrella, tabletop, and combination of metal wheel with a wood base. The umbrella style either works horizontally, parallel to the floor or vertically. The ribs push-up to open, and pull-down to collapse. They clamp onto the table, but they take up a lot of space. Umbrella swifts are usually made of hard woods such as birch or maple.

The tabletop style is my favourite. These are usually made of wood, with pegged arms that rotate on a base. The pegs are moved according to the diameter of the hank. They are easily taken apart for storage. When purchasing a swift, choose the one that gives you the most choices in hank diameters.


This is a hand held tool of Norwegian history. A nostepinne winds a center pull ball without changing the twist of the yarn. It’s approximately 11in(28cm) long and usually made of wood. This tool is not my favourite, but is useful for winding small balls when colour knitting.

I find a ball winder indispensable. A swift is not absolutely essential, but as with many tools, once tried, you can’t imagine how you managed without them. If you’ve been relying on your local yarn store to wind hanks of yarn, you must treat yourself to a ball winder and maybe a swift or even a nostepinne.