How to Hank Yarn From a Ball

Hanks of rainbow yarn

AmyKerk / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Knitters don't commonly need to wind a ball of yarn into a hank (sometimes also called a skein). Typically, they're more interested in turning a hank into a ball so that they can knit with it.

If you spin your own yarn, you might need to make a ball of yarn into a hank for dyeing or other purposes, and if you recycle yarn from an old project or a thrift store sweater you'll likely want to turn your balls of salvaged yarn into hanks so that you can wash them to relax the fibers.

There are two ways to wind yarn from a ball into a hank: use a chair or, if you have one, use a yarn swift. Directions for each are below.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Chair
  • Yarn swift (if available)


  • Ball or yarn


How to Use a Chair to Wind Yarn

Winding yarn into hanks or skeins isn't a daily task, even for avid knitters. Because of this, you probably don't have a yarn swift lying around. Chances are, though, that you do have a dining-room chair that can be temporarily repurposed for this simple task.

  1. Tie the End of Yarn to the Chair

    Take the end of the yarn and loosely tie it to the chair. If your chair doesn't have slats, you could tape it instead.

    Ball of white yarn tied to a chair.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  2. Wind the Yarn Around the Chair

    Start winding the yarn around the chair back.

    You want to wind the yarn tightly enough that it stays up on the back of the chair, but not so tightly that you're over tensioning the yarn. It should still look a little wavy as it sits on the chair.

    You can hold onto the ball of yarn as you work if you like or just let it roll around in the chair. It will likely fall to the floor at some point, but that's no problem unless you have cats around.

    White yarn wrapped around the slats on the chair.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  3. Tie off the Hank

    Continue winding the yarn from the ball onto the chair back until you come to the end of the ball.

    Untie the end of the yarn that is attached to the chair.

    Using another length of yarn—which can be the same yarn or a contrasting yarn, as shown here—tie the hank strands together in at least a couple of places to secure the ends. Make sure the yarn doesn't tangle when you take it off the back of the chair.

    These strands should be tied tightly enough that they hold the hank together but not so tight that they won't allow the fibers to move around, which is essential if you're planning to wash the yarn after skeining.

    White yarn wrapped around the chair back.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  4. Finish the Skein

    Take the hank off the back of the chair. If you like, you can add a couple more ties at this point.


    Another way to handle the ties, rather than just circling the whole skein, is to divide the yarn on each side of the hank and tie it into a figure eight, with the thread that you're tying with going through the center of the yarn before being tied. You'll often see professionally done hanks tied in this way, but it isn't critical.

    White yarn wrapped in circle and secured with gray pieces of yarn.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White

How to Wind a Hank on a Yarn Swift

If you have a yarn swift and are just looking for an excuse to use it, you can also wind a ball of yarn into a hank with the help of this device. It is a little bit faster to wind a skein this way because the swift has a bigger circumference than the back of a chair, meaning your hank will be longer as well.

  1. Set up the Yarn Swift

    Take the end of the yarn and drape it once around the swift, catching it in the middle indented part of the swift. You can also drape the tail end of the yarn inside the swift mechanism as shown if desired.

    Yarn swift set up o table with one length of blue yarn wrapped around it.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  2. Wind the Skein

    Use one hand to slowly spin the swift so that the yarn from the ball feeds onto the swift. If it's not going into the right place on its own, use your other hand to guide the yarn so that it goes onto the swift properly.


    Wind relatively loosely​ so that the yarn stays where you want it but isn't too tight on the swift.

    Person winding blue yarn over the yarn swifter.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  3. Finish the Skein

    Once you have the rhythm down of how to wind the ball onto the yarn swift, it should get a lot faster and easier. Just keep going until the yarn ball runs out.

    As before, you'll want to tie the hank of yarn together with a few pieces of yarn to help hold it together. Remember to tie the yarn together before you attempt to take the hank off the swift.

    A finished and tied hank of blue yarn on the yarn swift.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White
  4. Remove the Skein From the Swift

    Loosen the bolt that regulates the umbrella action of your swift to make it easier to slide the hank off the swift.

    If desired, you can add more ties at this time. Otherwise, you've got a perfect hank of yarn that's ready to be washed or otherwise processed for your project.

    Finished skein of white yarn.
    The Spruce / Sarah E. White