These days, most of the knitting yarn that you buy is pre-wound into balls, but when you buy yarn produced by independent dyers who use hand-dying techniques it is usual for the yarn to come in the form of a hank. This was also the way that yarn was often bought when I was a child and I well remember the hours that I spent sat on a stool in front of my mother or grandmother with the hanks of yarn stretched between my hands as they wound the yarn into balls so that it was ready to knit with. As I grew older and my hands became larger sometimes the roles were reversed and it was I who wound the balls while my mother or grandmother held the hanks.
In those long ago days the yarn was bought in hanks that usually weighed one ounce each. If the yarn was double knitting weight, then it didn't take very long to wind each hank into a ball; 4-ply, being somewhat thinner, took longer. I'm not at all sure what the length of yarn in each of these hanks was because in those days manufacturers didn't give this sort of information. The hank that I received yesterday was laceweight (this is significantly thinner than 4-ply), weighed 8 ounces and comprised 2400 yards of yarn. You can see what it looked like here although I should say that while this is the colourway that I have chosen my hank has more orange and blue in it than the one shown; but that is the glory of hand-dyed yarns, no two are the same (I didn't buy here either, my favourite online store is the Woolly Workshop).
Yesterday evening I decided to have a change from knitting and crocheting. I decided that I was going to wind this hank into a ball. I have had a number of hanks of this yarn in various colourways over the last couple of years and I have tried various methods of carrying out this task. It is not easy having to do it one your own, and on almost every occasion I have ended up in a mess and had to break the yarn and have ended up with either two or three balls. I've tried doing it with the hank placed over the back of a chair but I find this is very wearing and because it requires me to stand for the whole time that I am winding the ball, it does cause me some discomfort in my back and is likely to end up with a recurrence of the sciatica from which I regularly suffer. I have found that the best way for me is to sit on my bed propped up with pillows and with my knees up in the air. This means that I can place the hank of yarn over my knees and move them apart until they are at a suitable distance for maintaining the hank in place while I wind the yarn from it onto the ball that I am creating.
Yesterday evening things went very well and the ball grew quickly but as it got larger it became more difficult to hold. While I have fairly large hands there is a limit to how far my fingers will stretch over an object and after about two hours of winding things slowed dramatically. However, I persevered and I was approaching the end of my task when a catastrophe occurred. As the hank now only comprised about 30 yards of yarn, it had no appreciable weight to it and when I somewhat carelessly forgot to move my arms around my legs as I was winding, the hank came off my knees and in a matter of seconds I was left with a knotted mass.
I could so easily have reached for a pair of scissors and cut the yarn, after all there was only a small proportion of the 2400 yards in this mess, but my stubborn streak was determined to unknot it and ensure that there was the full amount on the ball. It took me more than an hour but I succeeded and ended up with a ball 16 inches in circumference.
An Indicator of Scale