winding skeins - tension

DG Strong’s letter reminded me that I have been wrestling with an issue for a while when winding. When I use my swift and ball winder, it feels very tight. As if I may be stretching the yarn. I can’t seem to figure out if there is a way to adjust the tension to make the yarn a little looser in the cake. Has anyone else had this issue and solved it? I’d love to know how! Thanks in advance!


I wind off a swift onto a ball winder too and yes, the lovely biscuits of yarn are often quite tight. I’ve learned that when I’m winding a lighter gauge yarn like lace weight or sock yarn, I actually appreciate the tightness because they can tangle easily. Ditto on any gauge yarn from an independent dyer who is likely to be hand skeining them. When you’re going fast and have a tight tension is tends to work itself out.

BUT–and this is a big but, I always wind it twice. Always! Even if it seems fine. I take the first biscuit off the ball winder and let it rest while I go put some Ben-Gay on my winding arm and then I put it on my desk right next to the winder with enough room between the yarn and the winder so I can tension it with my fingers while I control the biscuit with my other hand so it doesn’t go flying off the desk and I rewind it at a slower rate. It’s amazing how much bigger the biscuit gets. I also have the yarn passing through my fingers so often (not always) I can catch the knots or imperfections.

If you don’t want to wind it twice (which really only takes a few minutes), then have the swift closer to the ball winder and crank at a slower rate.

Honestly, I find that if I just wind by hand into a ball I make it too tight. And although every cat that I’ve ever had has enjoyed playing with the ball (cliched little vixens) they found it much easier to steal the biscuit.


I’ve recently heard it’s best to do exactly what Karen T just explained; wind twice! It comes out too tight and stretches the yarn during the first wind with swift & ball winder. So rewind so it won’t be so tight. Also, don’t wind until you’re ready to knit with it. Again, stretching the yarn!

I use a swift and ball winder, and then take my ball off the winder, put it in a box on the floor and rewind it with the ball winder and just hand tension. Makes a lovely soft and squishy cake


I can’t imagine winding twice (it is ben-gay hard on my hands and arms) but it seems to be a workable solution. Thank you very much. Oh, the things we go through for our craft!

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Thank you kcknits! Didn’t think about winding when I’m ready to knit with it. That is a great point.

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I will definitely try this method. Seems that others have learned from experience and I’m happy you’ve shared yours with me!

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Thank you for the information about winding with a ball winder and swift. I always use my hand to guide the yarn from swift to winder to affect the tension.

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I also wind twice and do the same thing. Linen, silk and mohair I wind by hand.

I just wind it fairly slowly one time. Found the faster I wound, the tighter the ball was. If it still seems tight (like the center of the cake is being pushed up!), I pull out a chunk from the center and have 2 balls tethered to each other for a short time.


I guess when I wind I do it at a slower rate too, because my cakes are not tight. What I love about cakes is they do not roll away. (I am catless)

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If the yarn on the swift overlaps or is tangled the yarn will wrap tighter on the winder. (And it is more effort). I have better outcomes when I take the time to arrange the skein the way it was wrapped and only open the swift about 80-90%-enough to hold relaxed not taut yarn. If I have to crank on the winder something is wrong.

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That’s what I do - the cake never seems too tight to me.

Hi, this is late to this ball/cake winding party, but I am very interested in what everyone is doing.
First, I never have a skein wound at the yarn store if possible; they have electric winders, and the yarn visibly stretches, cringe.
Second, I notice a similar thing happening at home, and when it comes my handspun yarn, I really want to protect it from that.

So, solution: I unwind small amounts from the swift, letting it pool,then wind slowly onto the ball winder. No second winding needed. Also, if it’s wound slowly, I can ensure everything is happening right & that the tension is correct. I use a cardboard toilet paper roll to allow for large cakes (this took some testing to find the size that fits the winder stem).

And I remember a tip found in Threads sewing magazine. If you wind the thread onto the bobbin at the speed at which you sew, then it spools off without tension problems. Same, roughly, with yarn. Slow and easy.


Thank you. This is a great idea. It’s hard enough to find time to wind all the yarn for a project, let alone winding it twice. I’m going to try this method next time I wind!

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I recently discovered that applying zipper lube [ a stick of waxy lubricant you rub on a jacket zipper to keep it from sticking over time and weather exposure] to the bearing wood surfaces of my swift fixed my yarn tension issues. If the swift turns freely enough, tension is reduced. I also bend the yarn through one extra 45 degree turn before it hits the ball winder, itself. I do this by sending the yarn through the loop of a cone thread stand.

Thank you so much!