Ball, Skein, Hank: What’s in a Name?

As many of you know, browsing through the rooms of The Stitchin’ Den can be a lovely experience.  Each space reveals yarns in a rainbow of colors and a range of fibers and textures.  You may also notice that the yarns on display have a variety of shapes—balls, pull skeins, hanks, and cakes.  The term skein refers to a unit of yarn rather than its shape.  The shape of the unit of yarn basically falls into the following categories:

Types of yarn packaging

Pull-skeins are pre-wound and long in shape.  If you are accustomed to seeing yarn in large craft stores, you may be most familiar with yarn in skeins, which are long and tubular shaped.  The Stitchin’ Den carries many pull skeins; for example, Brown Sheep’s Lamb’s Pride and Wildfoote, Plymouth’s Encore and Coffee Beenz, and Hikoo’s Kenzie.

Balls, such as Zauberball, Wool and the Gang’s Billie Jean Aran, and Plymouth’s Cuzco Cashmere, are pre-wound by the manufacturer or wound by hand into balls.

Hanks are unwound skeins that have been formed into large circles and then folded and twisted or knotted.  If you purchase yarn in a hank, it should be wound before you knit or crochet with it.  

Cakes are a result of yarn (usually from a hank) that has been wound with a ball winder.  Some brands come pre-wound into cakes, such as Plymouth Hot Cakes, Schoppel Lace Flower, and Hikoo Concentric Cotton.

You may wonder exactly why yarn comes in such different shapes.  Reasons include ease of shipping, convenience for the knitter, whether it is hand or machine dyed, and the preference of the manufacturer.  Luxury, higher quality yarns, hand-dyed yarns, and yarns sold by smaller yarn manufacturers often come in hanks.  For example, Herd of Cats, hand-dyed in small batches, is sold in hanks.  This allows the customer to unknot the hank and spread it out to see how the color runs through the yarn.

Cascade, a large producer of yarns, creates yarn in balls (220 Superwash) and hanks (Cascade 220 worsted).  This may be due to the company’s decision that certain yarns look more appealing in a ball and/or some of their mills not having the equipment to wind yarn into balls.

Yarn Bowl

I have had customers ask whether it is best to pull yarn from the inside or outside of a pre-wound ball.  Actually, it is up to you.  The advantage to pulling yarn from the center of a ball is that the yarn stays cleaner.  The disadvantage is, that as you pull from the center, the ball becomes hollow and eventually collapses on itself and tangles.  This can also happen with a pull-skein.  I find that it is a bit of a chore to dig into the center of a pre-wound ball to find the end.  I usually end up digging around and pulling a wad of yarn out of the center, which creates its own set of problems.  Therefore, I like to knit from the outside of a ball.  Of course, this results in balls of yarn flying across the room or bouncing around my seat.  A small yarn bag for knitting-on-the-go or a yarn bowl when I am knitting at home solves the problem and lets me enjoy some fun knitting accessories!

When you purchase yarn at The Stitchin’ Den, we are happy to wind your yarn into cakes for free.  We tuck the yarn band into the center so that you will always have information about the yarn right where you need it.  Just keep in mind that winding yarn into balls can stress the fibers.  Many knitters prefer to wait to wind their yarn until they are ready to use it.  We often wind only a portion of a customer’s purchase or not at all, if the knitter decides it will be awhile before it is used. 

Whether you chose a pre-wound ball, pull-skein or hank, knit or crochet it a soon as you can.  Why put off the fun!  Think about it, there are more beautiful skeins waiting for you to take home and make into something beautiful.  So many yarns and so little time!