My husband and I have a minor running disagreement about whether you should pull yarn from the outside or the inside of the skein. John prefers to pull yarn from the center because he says it is neater, while I prefer to pull it from the outside, even though that means the ball of yarn inevitably flops around like a fish on my couch when I don’t wind it into a ball, or rolls onto the floor beneath my chair or coffee table when I do. So, who is correct?

Yarn Pulling Methods

Apparently you can use either method, depending on how the yarn is wound. Those methods involve ball-wound, skein-wound, and hank-wound yarn.

According to Lion Brand Yarns, “The only difference between a skein and a ball is the way they are wrapped: the shape the yarn is wound in. It has absolutely no relationship whatsoever with the amount of yarn involved and so has no bearing at all on yarn amount calculations.”

On the other hand, Red Heart points out there is a big difference between balls of yarn and skeins in the way they are used. The yarn manufacturer says it winds some of its yarns as balls, and others as skeins. The balls are rounder and shorter, intended to be pulled from the outside.

Red Heart ball

Just remove the label wrapped around the ball, and begin pulling the yarn. If you pull the yarn out from the center of the ball, it tends to tangle. Examples of Red Heart balls include these product lines:

  • Soft
  • Boutique
  • Unforgettable
  • Grande
  • Boutique Swanky

Red Heart skeins, in contrast, are long and tubular, intended to be pulled from the center. While looking at the yarn label from a reading point of view, pull the end of the yarn, located beneath the label, to the left for about six inches. Then go to the right end of the skein to pull out the other end of the yarn. Otherwise the two ends can tangle. An example of a Red Heart skein is its Super Saver line.

Red Heart skein

Red Heart makes it easy to figure out whether you’re dealing with a ball versus a skein because a skein’s product label provides an illustration that guides you in pulling the yarn. If you have an older Red Heart skein, however, this diagram is missing.

Red Heart center pull diagram

So, what if you’re dealing with a brand of yarn other than Red Heart? Lion Brand Yarns says that most of its yarns are center-pull ones. It advises you to look carefully for the direction the yarn end is pointed beneath its label when you pull it out, then go to the opposite end of the skein to pull out the other tail. To locate that tail, pinch the yarn between your thumb and forefinger on both ends of the skein, until your fingers meet in the center of the skein, and then pull out the yarn. Yes, you’ll have a “wad” of yarn that comes out all at once, but you can wind it into a small ball that you can work with immediately, and then continue pulling from the center of the skein once you use up the small ball. Because I’m not as accustomed to pulling out the yarn from the center of the skein, I probably pulled out too much in the first photo. John pulled out less yarn than I did in the second photo.

Pulling from center 1
I pulled out too much yarn from the center of this skein, but it’s not a big deal, since you can simply work from this “wad” first, then continue to work from the center of the skein.
John pulled out less yarn than I did from the center of the skein, but ideally you should pull even less out from the center of the skein.
John pulled out less yarn than I did from the center of the skein, but ideally you should pull out even less.

Lion Brand Yarn’s advice likely will work with most skeins of yarn, but not hank-bound yarns that you’ll frequently find in independent yarn shops, many of which will offer to wind the yarn at no cost into a center-pull ball using a yarn swift.

I haven't begun working with this hank of yarn just yet, so it is not wound into a center-pull skein.
I haven’t begun working with this hank of yarn just yet, so it is not wound into a ball.

You can also create your own center-pull ball of yarn by untying or cutting the yarn (or paper band) that holds the hank together, usually in several locations, causing the yarn to form an elongated loop. You’ll want to retain that shape so that the yarn doesn’t knot itself into a hopeless mess before you get a chance to wind it into a ball. Drape the yarn around a chair back to keep it from tangling. Extend your thumb and forefinger on one hand, anchor one end of the yarn beneath the other three fingers, and then wind the yarn figure-eight style around the two extended fingers until you run out of yarn. There’s a nice photo tutorial called Hand Wind a Ball of Yarn on Instructables that shows you how to do this.

An alternate method of winding yarn, if you prefer to have a ball of yarn that pulls from the outside, as I do, is to follow the instructions on the Craftsy Web site, Learn the Easiest Way to Wind a Hank of Yarn Into a Ball. Basically, you begin wrapping yarn around your forefinger and middle finger, then remove the yarn after a few windings and wrap your yarn a few times in a different direction. Every so often, switch your winding direction until you end up with a ball that looks like the one shown on the left side of the first photo in this post.

The Craftsy site advises you, however, not to wind yarn into balls until you’re ready to work with it, as this can cause the yarn to stretch out of shape over an extended period of time.

There are some special yarn holders that are designed to keep your yarn in either ball or skein form. These holders keep the yarn from tangling, rolling away or getting dirty. The cylindrical acrylic holder shown below is ideal for center-pull, tube-shaped skeins. The lid has a hole in the center from which you can pull yarn out of the skein.

Skein cylinder

You can use an ordinary serving bowl to hold a ball of yarn, or purchase a glazed ceramic or stoneware bowl that sports a slot to keep the yarn in place and helps control tension. John bought me a beautiful one for Christmas, but I confess I bumped it with my foot—not very hard—against a coffee table, and it shattered into several very sharp pieces. As much as I love the look of ceramic and stoneware bowls, I realized that for me one of the Furls Crochet acacia wood yarn bowls, lightweight but sturdy enough to tuck into a yarn bag when I travel, is a better option. At the time this post was written, by the way, those bowls were on sale.

Furls Yarn Bowl

It turns out that there is not a single answer to the question of whether you should pull your yarn from the center or the outside of a ball or skein of yarn. What do you prefer to do?

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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11 thoughts on “What’s the correct way to pull yarn from a skein?”

  1. I prefer to pull from the center when that’s possible just because it’s smoother and easier than having the skein flop all around while I work. 🙂

  2. A hank has to be unravelled and wound into a ball.
    A skein is made so that you pull the yarn from the inside. This is done so that you don’t have to waste time winding it into a ball which stretches the yarn and takes away the softness and the ‘fluff’ or loft of the yarn. A skein is also made that way so that it doesn’t roll around, saving you time and patience! It also saves you money if you are one of the ones that can’t figure out another way to stop the rolling around. Believe me, it kills me to say it but your husband is right!

    1. Hi
      Never take yarn from the inside of a skein and put on a ball you are removing all bulk from yarn .
      Always knit from inside of skiing

  3. I like the idea of the skein and it’s smooth ease of use –but it can be deceiving on how much yarn you have left.
    I don’t mind rolling it into a ball and giving it a tug every so often because I can see how far my roll has gone down!

  4. I use old slurpee cups with lids, or plastic Clorox wipes containers with lids to pull from center. If I cannot find the center pull, then I pull from outside skein and roll into ball. My best free yarn holder/dispensers are large 48 oz/3 lb red plastic Folgers coffee “cans”. Tall enough to hold center pull skeins, as well as balls of yarn without ball bouncing out and rolling around. It also helps that I keep my chosen yarn holder, along with hooks and everything I might need standing up in a wide, rectangular, reusable grocery bag that I keep on the floor beside me. Bonus… it is big enough to hold my folded/rolled up unfinished project. I usually have a few projects going at the same time, and each one has its own bag. Functional, organized, ready to grab for hooking on the go and very cheap! Instead of buying the overpriced bags at the grocery store, I found a 12 pack, 3 color combo, of reusable grocery bags on Amazon that was reasonably priced, the only crochet organizer of any kind that I actually paid for!

  5. The new balls of yarn that the manufacturers are producing look great on the shelves. That’s where it ends!!!! After you get them home the torture begins. If you pull from the outside, the yarn knots and twists. You search for the center to no avail, You then have to stop and wind up each and every ball that you purchased which can mean hours of time winding them into usable balls only to have them roll all over the house while you are trying to knit. If you don’t have a fancy yarn bowl to contain them or your ball is too large for that little expensive bowl, you are just out of luck. I thought knitting was supposed to be enjoyable. I have been knitting for many years and it was . . . until the yarn companies starting making cute little balls of misery!!!@*%!!!!

  6. I am also very frustrated with the pull from the outside skeins. I bought a lot of yarn to knit hats for the homeless, to discover they were outside pulls. Now I will spend a year flip flopping yarn trying to knit. It will certainly reduce the number of hats I can make. Who came up with this stupid idea anyway. I bet they don’t knit !!!

  7. Inside pull keeps you from having to turn the ball or skein every few feet because of it sitting on the piece of yarn you are working, plus there is no falling out of your bag, keeping it from getting onto the floor, where, especially on a bus or train, for instance, it will pick up dirt.

    A ball is okay because you have more control over it, but you still have to keep pulling more yarn because you can keep losing slack every few feet.
    Just my experience.

    Helpful article by the way. Thanks. B)

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