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12 ways to name your yarn

Have you seen my previous post about the different type of yarn and their characteristics? It’s that way!

For a long time, fiber was either 2 things: balls or skeins.

Even if the looks were different, I used those 2 terms ↖.

Let’s say my vocabulary was not very extensive. As a scientist 👩‍🔬 I like to be precise and it was time to get some education!

So welcome to the world of cones, balls, and others knots. Each type of conditioning has a reason to be either for presentation, for easy transporting or just drive you crazy, most of them to be prepped in order for you to knit or crochet your yarn.

You might already saw this article by Lisa Shroyer from Interwave. I find it really well made and I love the illustration because it shows all the ways fibers can be presented.

I have seen the 12 types of balls shown; however, they are either a skein or a ball. There was no in between. Welcome in this new journey of learning !

Wool conditioning has two purposes: to enhance the color or the fibers used and to transport it without becoming entangled or damaged.

#1 & #2, Hank

I went to Wikipedia because I had no idea what a "hank" is.

At first a hank is a measuring unit where the length depends on the fibers used.

Great, that’s not really useful isn’t it?

The article goes on explaining: a SKEIN is a 1/6th of a hank, which gives you 7.5m of cotton.

Yep... Still not helping... So here goes my thought 💭💭

I think that at one point the terms "hanks" and "skeins" were mainly used for mercerized cotton used in embroidery (and then in Brazilian bracelets).

We agree that it is impossible to knit anything with 7.5m. But in embroidery, it is possible and besides here is a detail of a tablecloth with embroidery typically Malagasy, ordered by my grandmother more than 20 years ago and transmitted by my mother some time ago 💖.

Embreoidery, woman carried by 4 men. Madagascar circa 1990
Typical Malagasy Embroidery circa 1990

I’m still a big fan of friendship bracelet, I have been making them since I was 8 and I still have some cotton at home. See the picture bellow ? Those are 2 "pullskein" of 10m. Being 1/6th of a hank, the hank will be 60m! I also think that I some point the industry decided it was easier to make 10m skeins than 7,5m...

2 pullskein of mercerized cottton
2 pullskein of mercerized cottton

Back to wikipedia - In the knitting/crocheting world a “hank” is a weight unit corresponding to 50gr and in which the length change.

It’s true that a really thin thread (such as lace) will have a lot more yardage in 50gr compared to a sport or bulky thread (400yds versus 275yds or even 80yds for the thicker products).

The #1 format is privileged by indie dyers.

Most of them are going to receive the naturel fiber in cone or in unfolded hank (#1).

If they use the cone, they will create the hank with the weight of their choice, put some security thread to keep everything in place.

The fiber is then dyed, all the threads are accessible by the water, the dyes and the air for the fiber to dry.

#2, folded hank

This format is not very common, it is mainly used when the thread is thick (bulky type) and when a characteristic of the yarn want to be shown.

I have often seen conditioning # 2 when the wool is very thick or when the fiber is left in a more natural state at the end of carding – single strand.

It is more common for mercerized cotton used in embroidery or Brazilian bracelet.

The pullskein picture could come here too.

In all cases, the yardage of these skeins is small.

#3 & #4, the twisted skeins

Once the wool is dyed and dried, the dyers twist #1 hanks into #3 or #4. This format prevents the wool from getting tangled or damaged, it is also more convenient to store and present.

Are you still confused by the fact that different terms identify similar products?

I think it's linked to weight again. As we have seen a hank has a weight of 50g, the skein #3 or #4 have more often a weight of 100g.

In all cases, the yardage changes according to the composition and thickness of the thread.

Artfil Solo Skein - 100% merino, colorway Fjord
Artfil Solo Skein - 100% merino

Whatever the weight of the skein, DO. NOT. KNIT. THE. YARN. THAT. WAY. The result will be the interstellar knot of despair ... It is essential to roll it into a ball by hand or cake with a swift and a winder (my point of view about this in the next post 😉).

Depending on the composition of the wool (silk, angora and other precious materials ...) it is possible that they weigh less, a question of psychological price.

#5, Pull Skein and #6, Bullet Skein

Drawing numbers #5 and #6 are also skein.

These formats are more used for wool made industrially. Doing this kind of ball requires industrial equipment that independents cannot buy or store.

This packaging also highlights the wool and allows a more compact packaging.

Storage and handling are also easier, there is less risk that the balls are breaking or loosing shape, like the hanks of twisted hanks.

In this format, it is possible to knit directly from the ball. Just find the beginning of the thread inside the ball or use the one on the outside.

The inconvenient?

The thread inside is sometimes difficult to find, it is necessary to remove a pile of wool which is sometimes tangled because one did not catch the good end. Also, the more we knit, the more the interior will sag, you will end up rolling the yarn into a ball anyway.

If we use the outer thread on a ball (# 6) it is possible that it rolls everywhere when pulling on the thread or that it falls from the knitting bag in the middle of the airport (true story 😉🐁).

#9, the Donut

The "donut" # 9 ball is not quite a ball, it is not very round...

This format is used when the wools have noble materials, the yarn is smoother or it is wished to give a precious character to the wool.

This packaging make a beautiful presentation and showcases the wool. But it is not ideal when knitting...

If the thread is taken from the center of the donut, the ball will quickly collapse.

If the thread is taken outside, the donut will roll badly since it is not round ...

It is not a very "solid" conditioning either, the donut is easily undone if it's too manipulated.

Drops Andes and Katia Fair Cotton
Drops Andes and Katia Fair Cotton

You already see it on the picture, the thread slides on the Andes ball of Drops, which is not seen on the Katia's Fair Cotton.

On average these balls weigh 50g, the footage is less so take the time to roll it gently into a ball or cake for a better knitting experience.

#7, The Ball

The ball is obtained when the wool is rolled, from the hank or skein, by hand.

The ball is hard, round (rolls everywhere too) but will not collapse since you have to take the outer thread.

There are techniques to roll the wool by hand while keeping the center thread available but if there is a lot of yardage it is not ideal because it time-consuming ...

Also, unless you are an expert in rolling wool, the balls are not always very round and very regular ...

The disadvantage of this technique is that the fiber is stretched. Although one pays attention to maintain the elasticity of the thread, it will lose some.

This format is really handy for storing all remaining wool.

To give a little more elasticity to your project, wash it by hand DELICATELY , press the water out, and roll it into a towel to remove as much water as possible and let it dry flat.

#8, the Cake

My favorite packaging 💖💖!!

The cake is obtained when a twisted skein # 4 has been un-twisted # 1 and then wound using a swift and a ball winder.

This format is also preferred by the dyers when the self-striping or gradient yarn.

The knitter can immediately see the colors and gradient.

The advantage of the cake is the yarn can be used from the inside or the outside. The collapse of the cake will not happen until very late when only a few meters of thread remain.

To wind my yarn, I don’t use the swift. This equipment means the yarn is stretch and the wool is losing pat of its elasticity and I don’t like it.

Here is the kind of cake all fluffy ready to be knitted!

With this format we see all the beauty of wool! Who wants Guacamole 🥑 🍅??

#11, the Cone

For me the cones are mostly used in 3 conditions

  1. in B2B (sale business to business) especially when the yarn is sold to the dyers to make themselves the skeins.

  2. For cotton. I have this imperishable memory of natural cotton cone (not so imperishable, I found some at home 😅!!!) for crocheted blankets of my mother and grandmother used to make...Mom, what were you doing? The stitch is really beautiful.

  3. Cone can also be used when the yarn is sold by weight. In the case of a colorful fair-isle or shawl with again a lot of color but each color uses less than 100gr, this option can be considered.

Also, the amount of fiber is important, so depending on the fiber the cone can be expensive...

Cotton cone with a crochet lacy top - only the beginning
Cotton cone with a crochet lacy top - only the beginning.

#12, The interstellar knot of despair

Yeah, Hankenskein is a really good one too but I can’t copy 😅😅.

Poor him, nobody likes him ...

He’s devious, fast and needs a little nothing to become a big mess that spoil our best yarns...

He does not have many friends, but I am his.

I love unraveling knots!

P.S .: we will not offer the service "we unravel your mess". Not. Happening. 😜😜

It is easy to get: children, animals, a vacuum cleaner, falling from the couch, tangled on the swift... Some crazy night in the yarn bowl or bag... and it's the end ...

Once the knot there, you have some options:

  • Burn it, throw it away, hide it, ignore it ... But it's a shame to spoil wool and throw money out the window.


  • Put Zen music, burn incense, pray the gods of knots and threads for their pity, close your eyes, and wait... wait a little bit more…


  • Put on Zen music, burn incense, pray the gods of knots and threads for their pity, and quietly find an end. Once done, half of the work is done. Now slowly roll your thread by hand and undo the knots as you go.

My advice: never force on your thread! Never pull on the thread! Try to give it as much slack as possible, it will prevent the knots to be impossible to undo.

And you, how many terms did you knew ? and what is your favorite packaging ?

Now it's an everyday job to get used to our brains and use the right words!

See you soon 😘,


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