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What Are the Differences Between Hanks, Skeins, and Balls of Yarn?

It'll make a difference in your next knitting project.

yarn collage with blue ball stitch story off white skein hobbii soft orange skein purlsoho

Pictured from top left clockwise: Purl Soho Gentle Giant "Cowrie Pink 5250GG, Solid" Yarn, $22, purlsoho.com (hank). Hobbii Rainbow Cotton "Nude (003)" Yarn, $2.70, hobbii.com (skein). Stitch and Story The Lil' Merino "Baby Blue" Baby Knitting Wool, $8.25, stitchandstory.us (ball).

You've finally decided to take up knitting! Congratulations, you can now count yourself among an ever-growing creative community of novice, amateur, and professional crafters. Learning how to knit is relatively easy and does not require much in the way of tools and materials, but you do need to know a little bit about yarn or, more specifically, how yarn is packaged and presented for sale either online or in store.

 

According to Debrah Engstrom, owner of Knit Shoppe LLC, in Mamoroneck, New York, the three most common types are skeins (which is pronounced to rhyme with "rains"), balls, and hanks. In her years of experience with knitters at her shop, Engstrom has found that this important detail often goes unconsidered. "Rarely are they buying the yarn based on how it's wound or wrapped," she says. "They're usually buying the yarn based on the color and the texture." What are the differences between them, you ask? We've broken it down for you as well as given you some tips on how to determine which form of yarn is best for you. Once you get these yarn basics down, you're sure to be on a roll.

 

RELATED: 15 Essential Knitting Tools and Materials

 

Hank

In a hank, the yarn is rolled into a big circle then folded into itself. Typically, a hank of yarn must be wound into a ball of yarn before it can be used. To create a ball from a hank of yarn, you can try using a swift in combination with a ball winder—the swift allows the yarn to be pulled freely as it's umbrella-like shape holds the hank and winds the yarn into the ball; meanwhile, the ball winder (which is typically shaped like a spindle) clamps onto the edge of a table and holds the yarn. A friend's pair of arms will also do to hold the hank while you wind it into a ball. Hand-dyed and artisanal yarns are usually treated and sold in hanks, as they display color better.

 

Skein

In a skein, the yarn is rolled into a loose, oblong-shaped twist. Pull skeins, wherein the yarn is pulled out of the middle, are most beginner-friendly. Once you find the end, you can cast on and start to knit right away. Skeins are typically measured in yards and meters, and weighed in ounces and grams. In the United States, yarn is mostly sold by weight. Most yarns from big brands are sold in this form. In some circles, "skein" is used to refer to "one unit" of yarn. When most people attempt to conjure up an image of yarn in their mind's eye, it's the skein that usually pops up.

 

Ball

In a ball, the yarn is rolled into a sphere-shaped mass or round shape. With balls, the yarn end is usually pulled from the outside, but sometimes can be pulled from the inside. When forming yarn into a ball, it is recommended that you wind gently so as not to stretch the yarn too much, and wash your knitting upon completion to re-fluff the yarn. A ball winder can assist you in creating the perfect yarn ball, or you can create a ball by hand with relative ease.

 

Related: A Guide to Knitting Yarn: Types, Weights, and How to Choose It

 

How to Choose

Simply put, whether you decide to use yarn rolled in a skein or a hank, it ends up in the form of a ball. If you want ready-to-knit yarn, balls are best. You can begin a project from a skein of yarn, but ultimately you will need to roll your de-structured and shapeless skein of yarn into a ball. Hanks have it the hardest in terms of usability—whereas visually they are the most interesting and appealing, to use them, they must first be wound into a tangle-free ball.

 

It is recommended that you decide on the project you are going to undertake before you purchase any yarn. It might be a good idea to browse some online stores or visit a local arts and crafts shop to sample the different selections and get inspired. In the knitting world, it's not uncommon for someone to fall in love with the yarn first, then figure out what they want to create with it after—in fact, the more advanced you become in your practice, the more inclined you most likely will become to kicking of a new project with the yarn selection.

 

In addition to considering the texture, fiber (wool, cotton or linen), volume, and color of the yarn you want to use, it's important to keep in mind that the manner in which the yarn is rolled to sell does matter, and can determine whether your knitting project is hassle-free or doomed to ensuing tangles. To avoid having the yarn tangle as you stitch, most would agree that it's best to work from yarn that is rolled into a ball. Balls and skeins are considered ready for immediate use—all you have to do is locate the end of the yarn, cast it onto your needle and begin knitting—whereas yarn purchased in hanks must be rewound, typically into a ball, before it is ready for use.

 

Skeins are easy to knit from initially, the ability to pull from the skein without tangling the yarn becomes more difficult as the skein of yarn is depleted and it begins to lose its shape. At that point, many knitters opt to take the remaining yarn from a shapeless skein and re-roll it into a tangle-resistant ball. To keep your yarn clean, organized, and free of tangles, you may want to invest in a yarn bowl, which will allow you to thread and pull your working yarn while it remains in the bowl. Engstrom adds, "Everything has to be wound into a ball of yarn before you can use it."

 

Find some yarn that you can fall in love with, prep in into the knitter's best friend, the tangle-free ball, and you know what's next—have a ball knitting your next creation!