One thing I am not asked very often, but think it is worthwhile to know, is the difference between a ball, cake, skein and a hank of yarn. This might not seem like a true distinction, but I assure you, they are four totally and completely different things. I admit that I do know the difference but am a terror because I interchange skein and hank as well as ball and cake.
Let’s start with the easiest; a ball. The most common place balled yarn comes from are those without swifts and yarn ball winder. Those who buy yarn from a store take it home and rewind it by hand. Before I had my swift and baller it was a common occurrence for this to be happening in my house. Either me or Paul would be balling yarn in the living room. It wasn’t near as quick as the process with a yarn ball winder so Paul would usually start before I actually needed the yarn. By the time I knit up to the point where I needed another ball, it was done! Click here to read the story about Paul and 1000 yards of lace…
When you end up breaking and heading out for a swift and yarn ball winder, you’ve progressed to the cake! I would suggest if you are looking at a ball winder, you either get a swift at the same time or get a swift first. It is near impossible to cake yarn on a ball winder when it is not on a swift.
I use ball and cake interchangeably because sometimes cakes are referred to as ‘center pull balls’ because you can start using the yarn from the center of the cake, which will allow it to sit in one place while you’re knitting. With a ball, you need to put it inside something like a yarn bowl, bag or yarn buddy of some king. This was a real problem with me and my cats. Sometimes they would steal it right out of the yarn bowl!
The skein is probably the word I misuse the most. A skein is actually the form yarn comes in from most big box stores (some LYS’s too, but most common in big box stores). They come in an oval shape and ready to knit, just like the photo below. This is technically a skein
A hank on the other hand is when the yarn is wound in a circle with choke ties holding it together. When this yarn is displayed at your LYS it is twisted together. When I post photos of un-caked yarn, this is a hank… even though I call it a skein. From now on I am going to make an effort to use the proper names for these forms yarn can take!
I’ll tell you a little anecdote to end this post. When I was looking to buy a yarn ball winder, the planets aligned and all the LYS in my area were sold out. I desperation to get one immediately, (because waiting a few days was obviously going to kill me) I called a big box store to see if they sold them. This was a crafting big box store and the lady who was working in the yarn section was unsure what I meant. I described what I was looking for in detail, even the process of hand balling, so she would get my meaning.
At this point a light bulb went on somewhere and she realized what I was talking about. Instead of telling me if they carried this implement, she tried to convince me that nowhere sold yarn in hanks anymore. I assured her that hanks of yarn were alive and well in the world and she steadfastly did not believe me. I ended up assuming they didn’t carry yarn ball winders and, secure in my knitterly prowess, I called my LYS back and ordered a yarn ball winder.