make a yarn ball

winding a yarn ball by hand

Here’s a simple way to make your own center-pull yarn ball if you don’t have a ball winder. It’s a great way to wind yarn that may have been purchased in a hank or wind yarn that has been pulled out to start over on a project.  Either way, it’s an inexpensive alternative to a ball winder.

Making a Yarn Ball

If you are starting with a hank of yarn, untwist the hank and lay it out in a neat ring. Look for the little ties keeping the yarn held together. The ties may match your yarn or be different, and there may be anywhere from 2 to 6 of these ties.  Snip all the ties off, but one of the ties will be the end of your yarn, so DON’T loose this end!

Place the end of your yarn into a pill bottle and close the lid with the yarn still in it.  Start to wrap this end of the yarn around the outside of the pill bottle.

After wrapping the bottle a few times, it’s a good time to grab a friend. Have your friend hold open the loop of yarn as shown in the picture to help prevent tangles. Don’t have a friend? Try sitting on the ground with your legs out straight in front of you and loop it around your feet. (Although don’t get mad at me if your legs cramp!)

Continue winding around the pill bottle, angling and changing the direction of the winding so it begins to form a yarn ball as shown in the pictures. (Note – if you use a pill bottle with a rounded top edge as shown in the pictures DO NOT let the yarn slip above the top edge. If the yarn slides over the top edge, you won’t be able to pull the pill bottle out of the ball.)

When you get near the end of your yarn ball, wrap the last section horizontally around the ball to help hold it all together.  Open the pill bottle lid and pull the bottle out from the center of the yarn ball.

Now that you have finished making your center-pull yarn ball, you can get back to knitting!

Additional Note:  Michele left a comment below and gave me the best suggestion.  She frequently uses recycled t-shirt and cotton fabrics for her projects and I realized a small pill bottle would get swallowed up pretty quickly on the bulky yarns.   I poked around in my spice cabinet and found some much taller plastic bottles with lids (specifically a Molly McButter, haha) that would work great on super bulky yarns and recycled T-Shirts. Thanks Michelle!

center pull ball of yarn


  1. How clever!! Thank you for sharing!! Beautiful ball of yarn too!!

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Thanks Chrissy. I do love the yarn, and I’m still pondering what I should make with it!

    • evelyn essling says:

      My husband used to smoke cigars and occasionally he would get a fancy one in a tube from someone having a new baby, and I took that tube for my yarn winder. I had about 4 and donated them to friends who were knitting.
      ALSO, I took two liter bottles, cut the bottle off about 3″ above the bottom., put the yarn ball inside with the yarn coming out the top. You have to squeeze the top back inside the bottom a little, and you keep your yarn clean. I used to take my projects with.. to Dr. appts etc. and people wondered how I got the yarn inside. Bigger balls of yarn? gallon milk jugs! Oh the looks on their faces when i showed them!!! I used to work nights, and when it was SLOW I’d sit and knit. 1 time I had 3 bottles at my feet. Had to shuffle them around occasionally to keep them untangled.

      • Hi Evelyn – that is the best story ever! I wish I could see photos of your yarn bottles because I love that idea! There is nothing worse than all that yarn getting tangled up as you work and it sounds like you have a wonderful solution to it. Thank you so much for sharing your idea with everyone. Happy knitting!!

        • Jean shannon says:

          Thanks Evelyn. I’m a gardener and I hate it when my garden twine ball starts to get small and it falls apart and gets all tangled. Now I have a solution,

  2. What kind/brand is that yarn? Its beautiful!

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Hi Miki –

      It’s a hand dyed yarn by Pagewood Farms. The color name is crayon, but I can’t remember the name of the yarn. :/ I think this is a good example of why NOT to throw away yarn labels! :)

  3. Tempie Clark says:

    That is awesome!!

  4. That is awesome. I might have to try that.

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Thanks Cody! A ball winder will probably always be better, but in a pinch this works really well!

  5. smart! thanks for sharing

    I pinned on my page

    happy new year

  6. What a terrific tute! Thanks so much. I do a lot of recycling tshirts and cotton fabrics for locker hooking and rag rugs, so this tutorial will help me!

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Hey Michele – you got me thinking…I found much taller plastic bottles with lids in my spice cabinet (specifically a Molly McButter ha,ha) that would be GREAT for super bulky yarns, cotton fabrics, p-yarns etc. Thank you so much for the comment, I would have never thought of it!!

  7. For a really fat yarn, try an oatmeal box.

  8. Phyllis Carlyle says:

    Before putting the hank of yarn on your feet, see if you have a chair back it will fit on (or chair legs upside down.)

  9. Ronna magargee says:

    I received an iPad for Xmas . I,m having fun learning to use it. What a great idea for making a center pull yarn ball. I,m having fun learning great stuff. Thanks ronna

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Thanks Ronna! There are all kinds of wonderful knitting blogs and patterns out there on the internet. Enjoy your iPad!

  10. What a fabulous idea! Saving this one to use and share with all my knitting/crocheting friends! Thanks for the tutorial!

  11. Thank you – worked GREAT!! I used an empty Rx bottle, pop the cap/sink the yard end/then wrap away!

  12. I’ve always wondered how my grandma made her yarn balls. One part of our “crocheting lessons” we never got to. No idea if her method was like yours, but just glad I have one mow. Thank you!! :-)

  13. Christie Romain says:

    If you don’t wind it too tightly a tp cardboard would work in a pinch. Cut a small slice in one end to slide the beginning yarn in to hold it. Thank you for the great idea.

  14. I have a novelty yarn wound in a hank with several strands together, one with sequins, another a slinky tape and a third strand. They would not pull well from the center, so my usual manner of winding (like yours) is out. Any suggestions so that I end up with an untangled, easy-to-unwind-as-I-knit ball that has all three strands intact? any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      That is a challenge! I would maybe just hand wind it traditionally in a round ball and knit from the outside strands instead of the inside. If you keep the ball in a yarn bowl or some other small bowl with smooth sides while you knit, it won’t have as much of a chance of getting snagged. I hope this helps, Karen.

      • I use a lighter and pencil to make a hole in the lid of an empty protein powder container. Pull the end of the yarn through the hole, put the yarn inside the container and screw the lid back on. The yarn pulls through the hole smoothly and the container keeps the yarn anchored as I crochet. ~Aleah

  15. I just used this method with a Chapstick tube and fine thread 20 for crochet and tatting worked great. Thanks.

  16. Have you ever tried using a pencil? My aunt taught me that one years ago. Just hold the end along the pencil with your finger and start winding. My yarn comes out looking very similar to ones made on a ball winder.

  17. I use my thumb for the center and wind around it. I may have to try the pill bottle method though, it looks like it would be much easier to keep the center thread from getting caught in the ball. Thanks for the tutorial.

    • Hey, whatever works right! Especially if you are in the car, on a plane, etc. and don’t have a pill bottle. Thank you for the comment and thanks for reading! k

  18. béatrice says:

    génial !!!!

  19. I love this tutorial thank you! I frequently purchase thrift store yarn and am always dealing with un wound yarn piles. Never again!

  20. Thanks for the great idea – never thought of using something with a lid to hold that precious yarn end! When my friends are not keen on holding yarn…. I use chairs – they never complain about aching arms. I put two kitchen chairs with their backs together. Play with their position until the hank you want to work with will go around the chair backs ie you can pull the chairs apart enough that the hank is fairly stable as you work with it. Being fairly short, I found it easiest to actually stand on one of the chairs so that as I roll the yarn into a ball I can hold it virtually vertical over the backs of the chairs/hank. It sounds a bit crazy as I type it, but it works out pretty well – especially for us short, friendless people. If you think I will send a photo of me doing it, think again! Just try it and you will figure it out for yourself.

    • That is a great idea! And I would love to see that photo! Your idea sounds a lot more comfortable than what I sometimes do, which is use my feet – l’m just not as flexible as I used to be! Thanks again for the great comments! Karen

  21. Kathy Sloan says:

    Another great idea but I thought I would add my technique…I start with about a 6″ tail to begin, just let it dangle, being careful to not pick up as you wind. With my left hand up, my thumb and little finger sort of forward I wrap the yarn in a figure eight configuration, continue wrapping until you can no longer wrap in this way (fingers aren’t long enough). Carefully remove the yarn from your fingers and finish winding yarn, then use by pulling the tail left at the beginning.

  22. I love to knit and crochet little things, like clothes for 6 inch dolls. I hate idle hands when I am waiting at Dr. offices etc. Packing full size balls of crochet cotton and fine yarn was a nuisance. I started using empty pill bottles. I wrap the yarn/thread around the outside and catch the end with the lid. Bonus inside is prefect to store needles, snaps, buttons, ribbon, and a little sewing thread to finish the item I am making. Also great to put the little parts in to, ie. Booties, hats, parts that need to be seen together.

  23. i put the tail of yarn under my watch band and wind the yarn around my left hand moving my hand around every 20 or so winds and changing directions–when i’m done the tail that was under my watch is the first thing i start with–just make sure you wind loosely

  24. what is a tp cardboard tp cardboard would work in a pinch. Cut a small slice in one end to slide

  25. A wonderful idea, and here are three suggestions.
    1. If you don’t have someone around to hold your loop for unwinding, drop it over the back of a chair. Depending on the height of the chair back, you may find it easier to wind while standing up.
    2. Don’t remover the pill bottle. Use it to store the name of the yarn, color number, swatch count or yardage wound. You could also store an actual swatch or a magazine clipping of something that inspired you to think of this yarn.
    3. Package wrapping mavens, this is also a great idea for ribbon storage providing that the bottle is wide enough not to make the ribbon crimp. Another idea is to wind the ribbon so that it will fit inside the bottle where it will stay nice and clean. Let the end stick out from under the cap so you can see how the ribbon actually looks. What a great idea for those pieces that don’t have much yardage left, but too much to throw out.

    It’s nice to see lots of interest in this piece.

  26. The arms of an adjustable office chair work great if you are alone. When I worked at motel, I wound my hanks during slow periods.

  27. Jeanne Wadsworth says:

    When you get to the end what do you do with the tail? Not the part in the bottle

  28. I always made a huge fat knot and used that as my center pull end, it’s easy to find when fiddling inside. I like the pill bottle idea.

  29. This is my first time on your site I came across it by accident. I don’t personally do projects using yarn or thread, but have know how to make this type of yarn balls for years. One person made the comment that made it sound like she threw out the shorter piece of yarn that she could not use for anything. I have a friend that would use those small pieces to make beanie style hates. When she would get a piece just add it on until hat is finished. When she had enough finished that she felt it was worth it, she would send them to 3rd world countries. The people just loved them. My other thought is many people use the stripes in their machines to check their blood sugar. They come in bottles about the same size like you where talking about. I’m sure most people know some one who is diabetic who would save them for you if you are not using them yourself.

  30. Eugenia Read says:

    After seeing how much time I was spending winding yarns using toilet paper rolls, my hubby ordered a winder with swift through Amazon. He also noticed how much space was saved by having wound yarns in drawers. He is also impressed with how little time it takes me to wind a skein and sorry he didn’t buy it sooner. Shortly after I received winder, a friend of a friend gave me 2 large garbage bags full of yarns…they needed rewinding of course. In heaven, playing with my new toy and more yarn!! So, ladies (and gents if any), the moral of this story: a winder is a good investment. Happy winding!!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: