I bought a few skeins of fine silk in Japan a few years ago. I ran into all kinds of trouble. I finally asked the owner of Habu Textiles if she would unwind them on her machines. All but one skein she wound onto cones. The final skein she sent to Japan; it was so hard to undo. It came back on about 10-15 cones, each with small amounts wound on and some with threads flying about. Even they found it nearly impossible! I bought proper Japanese equipment but still decided it was worth it to pay to have them unwound. I’m unwinding a bunch of skeins now from Junco Sato Pollack and using my equipment. Many skeins come off beautifully. A few still gave me fits. It’s a joy to crank and wind a spool when all the threads come off easily. My advice is not to buy those skeins or to admire them and leave the threads in the skeins. I have cut a skein or two creating lengths of threads that I’ve laid into warps. Here are a few details.
Unwinding skeins of very, very fine threads can be an extremely tedious, and near impossible task. Special equipment can make a difference. The extra circumference of Japanese spools is important. Winding on small spools or cones can be impossible.
You also need a proper skein holder or skein maker. A common umbrella swift doesn’t hold the skein flat due to its X shape. If the skein isn’t held evenly the threads can fall down and tangle.
This is the winder that winds the Japanese spools. When a thread breaks, pat the skein from the inside and hopefully the broken end will fall out, and you can continue nicely. It’s imperative to open the skein properly. See below.
Here is the winder with an empty spool on it, ready to go. Notice the guide arm that guides the thread onto the spool. This is essential. I had an antique one, but the guider was gone. It was terrible trying to guide and crank. Another empty spool is shown alongside.
Open any skein CAREFULLY. You must find the precise place that is the center of the ring of threads in the skein. This is true for all skeins if you want them to unwind easily. Search for the ties that encircle the threads.
Look carefully for the ties that tie the skein so the exact center can be found.
You can’t check the ties too carefully. Really see that not a single thread is out of place. Often there are two ties that just tie the center of the skein and another one that does the same plus has the ends of the thread tied to it. Find which end unwinds easily and tuck the other end inside the skein holder. Also note that where the ties cross within the skein is not an exact place. It just keeps the ties from slipping.