Skein Winders – A Guest Post from Tal Saarony

Hello again intrepid weavers,

The skein winders we had at school and grad school were all of the swift, or umbrella, type. This one is a  random picture from Amazon:

I struggled with the umbrella swift as I struggled with all things weaving. There are so many processes, so many tools. I am not technically gifted. When, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I asked my teacher to help with my first mess of a warp, he said he had never seen a warp with so many crossed threads. He had been teaching for many years, so it was quite an accomplishment on my part. 

Over the years I only ever used the umbrella swift. I didn’t know there were other types (this is pre-internert). As the years passed, my swift and I developed a mutual aversion made more bitter by co-dependence. 

I will explain the reasons I dislike umbrella swifts; just a caveat — I’ve only ever used wooden ones.

1. They can collapse. No matter how much I tighten them, I can never be sure they won’t collapse while I wind or unwind. This by no means happens every time, nor does it happen frequently, but the few times it has happened (during many years) make me distrustful and fearful of them.

2. The wooden ones are never smooth enough for my fine silk yarn. The yarn snags on the wood.

3. They are narrowest at their center and expand in width outwards, so the length of yarn per rotation is not equal and a skein will have within it different lengths of yarn. 

4. They don’t rotate smoothly.

The skein winder I use now is this:

I bought it on Etsy. I like it much better than the umbrella, although it too is not perfect. It rotates smoothly and the yarn is generally the same length. But:

1. there are many nuts and screws. The nuts do loosen if not checked regularly. I have had an arm fly off once during an intense session at high speed with an electric bobbin winder (sorry, that sounds vaguely obscene).

2. While the yarn rotation length is in theory the same — the space on the metal yarn holders being flat — I tend to apply too much pressure while winding, and the front of the metal holders gets pushed down a little, making the yarn toward the outer edge shorter than the yarn toward the inside.

3. It is adjustable for different skein sizes, but some skeins will be loose because you can play around with the pre-drilled holes, but obviously the available combinations will not be perfect for every size. I haven’t had a major problem, but it is something to consider.

4. It has a dinky handle to help rotate when winding, but the handle is quite small, more of a peg, really, and it fits loosely into one of the holes, but is not very stable. Sorry, it’s not in the pictures.

I saw these two winders for sale here:

Both look really good to me.

Peggy has pictures and information on various winders. She will enlighten you further.

Do you have a skein winder you love? Please share!


12 thoughts on “Skein Winders – A Guest Post from Tal Saarony”

    • Agreed. That’s the way I do mine. I discovered this by happenstance when I needed something to clamp onto in a new location.

  1. I have TWO skein winders and HATE BOTH of them. One is the Schacht bicycle-style. Lovely to look at, but if your skein is over 28 inches in circumference, worthless. The “adjustment” promised is maybe two inches max.
    The other is great for winding skeins of exactly 60 inches. Probably ok for unwinding the same, but all those great hand-dyed silk skeins I buy are somewhere between 30 and 60 and so I am forced to unwind them on my wooden swift which works well if I can rig it to look like a Ferris Wheel and not a merry-go-round. The designers did not plan for that. NB: the thread should unwind from the BOTTOM, not over the top.

  2. I have used the same Gunnar Anderson umbrella swift for 50 years and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have never had the problems listed on the posting and am sorry that you have. Perhaps the newer ones are not made as well. I use my swift constantly as I dye everything. I have a winder like the lower one (“pinwheel”) in the post and use it for winding skeins for the dyepot. BUT, it is not great for unwinding a skein as the diameter is fixed AND a skein, once wet and dyed, will not fit on it again. So, I use both.

  3. Hi Tal
    You have posted 4 pictures of swifts a swift is a weaving tool with adjustments to put bought skeins of yarn on that are made in different sizes. The 4 swifts are not skein winders. Picture number 5 is the skein winder it has no adjustments at all. Never the less not any of the pictures you have posted are a tool for working with fine thread or silk thread. As you have said Peggy has pictures of different winders, Peggy is a really helpful weaver and I know she has a skein winder to work with silk, I also know Peggy has a warping mill made by AVL for working with really fine thread and silk. I know this because I have spent a lot of hours reading Peggy’s blog and have enjoyed it a great deal. Peggy also has pictures of her studio and you can see. There is a great deal of difference in the way Peggy works with really fine thread and silk. As well as the tools to do so.

  4. My problem with the umbrella swift was that the best space for me to do my winding, was a horrible table to try and attach the swift to – it was always very precarious. I bought a Chiaogoo table top swift. It’s very simple to put together, just a peg in the middle and a peg at the end of each arm. I was worried it might travel across the table as I wound, but it never budges. I invested in a Stanwood winder. It copes very well with all thicknesses of table, and it can wind very large amounts of yarn. The most I’ve done is 250g, but I suspect it could have done more. It’s very sturdy and I have never had yarn catch in the cogs (I’ve had mine for about 6 years).

  5. There’s a difference between a swift and a skein winder. Swift’s are adjustable, for unwinding skeins of different lengths. Skein winders are fixed length (traditionally 2 yards) for creating skeins, often for consistent amounts of yarn. Niddy noddies also measure consistent lengths but on a smaller scale. Skein winders work best with stable arms, to prevent bending or changing as you wind. To minimize variation as the skein gets bigger, wind back and forth across the width of the arm. My favorite tools are antique – picked up over the years, but I have modern ones too. Love love love having the right tool for the job.

    • Thanks Carol – I came to say exactly that! Swifts were never designed to wind skeins; which is why they are so awful at the job, and why I also have a skein winder 🙂

    • Yes and yes! I use an antique clock reel to make or wind a skein and a Swedish umbrella swift to hold a skein for unwinding. Some people love a squirrel cage swift for unwinding as it has cages or hubs that hold the skein but also move with it- I think these are best for fine threads.

  6. Yes, an umbrella swift is not the right tool for winding skeins. It works beautifully for holding skeins to release yarn for winding into another form, such as a ball, or onto a bobbin. Ditto for squirrel cage reel. The skein winder the author has is the right type, but doesn’t look like a very well designed version (all those bolts and nuts!). The wooden one at the bottom looks much more satisfactory.


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