Ball of Yarn, Skein of Yarn, Hank of Yarn, Cake of Yarn

Balls, Skeins and Cakes…OH MY! Being a new knitter or crocheter learning the lingo can be hard. One of the big questions is what do I call my yarn. Depending on who you ask they will throw around different words for their yarn. Let’s break it down and tell you the difference so you can be the one with the answers.

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What’s in a Yarn Name

You can call yarn many different things and it differs based on how the yarn is wound. Really you can call the yarn whatever you like but let’s break down the names so that you know the differences.

Learn the different names for how yarn is wound with Chic Sheep by Marly Bird™

How many different names can we give essentially the same thing? I can count 11, but that doesn’t mean that is all of them.

  1. Skein
  2. Hank
  3. Ball
  4. Cake
  5. Donut Ball
  6. Cone
  7. Twisted Hank
  8. Folded Hank
  9. Bullet Skein
  10. Pull Skein
  11. Hard Core Ball

Today we will be talking about the 4 most common. Don’t worry if you don’t know one, or interchange them. There is no yarn police that is going to come and get you, but there might be a few sticklers out there that will correct you!

A Skein of Yarn

Chic Sheep by Marly Bird™ in a skein-Purchase your own

Skeins are what you most commonly find at your big box store shops. This is a term that can be said two ways. Some call it a skein (like rain) and others call it a skein (like mean). I have always called it skein like rain and that is how I have heard most people talk about it.

Many times people will call this a ball of yarn. Skein is a general term for yarn that is machine wound. Typically these are NOT center pull without getting “yarn barf” but sometimes you can be successful. If you see a skein that is longer those are typically the ones that you can easily center pull from. Each brand is a little different and some may be more consistent than others.

A Hank of Yarn

Hanks of yarn are used when dyeing yarn. You can take a skein and turn it into a hank like we did when we dyed Chic Sheep with Kool-Aid.

Chic Sheep by Marly Bird™ in a Hank for dyeing

Depending on who you ask a hank can have two names. A hank is a long loop of yarn. This is ideal for dying yarn because it allows the most color to saturate the yarn.

Once the yarn is twisted on itself sometimes people call it a twisted hank. Like in the photo, this is the most common version you will purchase a hank. It allows for easy shipping and storage of the yarn.

Yarn cannot be used in this form to knit or crochet. It must be wound into a cake or ball to be able to use it without getting tangled.

A Ball of Yarn

Chic Sheep by Marly Bird™ in a ball

Although ball of yarn can be used to describe any way the yarn is wound it ultimately refers to a ball shape of yarn. Once your yarn is wound into a ball it will be worked from the outside. You can’t work a ball as a center pull, that would be a different name.

To create the ball of yarn you will need to hand wind it. Some people will wind the whole skein of yarn into a ball while others will wind a ball at the end when they only have a little left. Creating a ball is another yarn management tool.

A Cake of Yarn

Sorry to disappoint you but this is NOT something that you can eat! A cake of yarn is made by using a ball winder (yes it gets a little confusing because I said a ball winder to make a cake). You can also hand wind a cake of yarn using a hand winder.

Chic Sheep by Marly Bird™ in a cake

Cakes are center pull and are typically what you make when you have a hank of yarn. Since you can’t use a hank as it is to knit or crochet you wind it into a cake using a ball winder and swift.

Cakes can also be made with left over yarn. If you are using a skein (either center pull or working from the outside) you might have yarn left over at the end of your project. Using a ball winder you can make a cake to allow for easier storage of your yarn.

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  1. Karola Wright says:

    Dear Marly!!! Thank you so very much for doing this. It was pure agony during stitches United hearing so many people good this up!! Plus it was great to see you as well!!!

Marly Bird

The One and Only, Marly

Marly is a knitwear and crochet designer (and yarn addict) that is here to help you learn how to knit and crochet in a way that's fun and approachable.

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