Nostepinne: the low-tech way to wind your own center pull balls 2

For a long time I was a big supporter of balling any yarn I purchase, regardless of how they were when I purchased them. I even balled some nicely wound center pull cakes, believing that a ball is much easier to use, tidier, and less likely to tangle. 017

Yarn Barf

noun, slang

1. A big tangled mess of yarn that comes out of a center pull ball when trying to retrieve the end.

The origins of this belief that center pull balls are terrible is due to the commercially wound center pull balls. Not the cakes, but the center pull balls, like the Kroy Sock Yarn balls in the adjacent picture. Those types of balls can be center pull and are supposed to be, but holy hannah they are very often a pain in the butt. Yarn barf, tangles, the ball collapsing as you go, etc. So because  I had such a miserable time with those kind of center pull balls I assumed ALL center pull balls (including cakes) were awful, and therefore balled every bit of yarn I got my hands on.

This was a mistake.

Balls DO have their benefits (they are pretty good at not tangling, and it is easier and faster to ball up yarn than it is to make a center-pull ball/cake by hand) but there is a bucket load of downsides, the biggest being that they are BALLS, and therefore roll all over the place, including under the couch to collect dirt and dust and the various flotsam and jetsam of life that resides under couches. There also is the problem that the ball needs to move around and roll to unwind, which means the yarn doesn’t always smoothly and easily unwind as you knit. I find I have to pull out slack from the ball, knit, then pull out more slack, knit, etc. It is a pain.

When I finally left a center pull cake as it was and just used it as a center pull cake I was converted. What a magical experience it was! No tangles, no collapsing, no rolling under the couch. Just smooth, easy, happy knitting. Once I discovered the wonders of center pull cakes I looked dejectedly at my stash and all the balls and got pretty sad. So many balls of yarn that used to be center pull…

I resolved to convert my balled stash into a center pull stash.

My spoon nostepinne

Now, the obvious answer for making center pull cakes is a ball winder. I have a pretty fantastic swift (courtesy of my mother-in-law and father-in-law) and have been eyeing a ball winder for a time to complete the set, but I’m cheap. It is going to take me a while to work up the will to spend money on a ball winder. I then looked to other options, including DIY ball winders, and came across a device called a nostepinne. Weird word for what is a pretty simple tool. Basically, its a stick. It is a smooth stick, usually made of wood, that you use to wind center pull balls. You can get fancy dancy ones that are carved, you can get them in various widths, some have notches or grooves to hold the yarn, but seriously… its a stick.

I dug through my kitchen drawers and found a nice fat, smooth wooden spoon and decided to give it a try as a nostepinne. 2015-03-27 11.27.29The basic technique isn’t complicated and there are a lot of tutorials and explanations online for how to wind a ball using a nostepinne (I linked to a few at the bottom of this page), but the broad strokes steps are the following:

  1. Wind a starter section an inch or so wide. Just wind it around as you would normally until you have a good core to use for the “real” winding.
  2. Begin winding the yarn in a diagonal fashion (bottom right to top left is how I usually do it). Either use your fingers to hold it or catch the loops on the edge of previous loops in order to keep the diagonal loops from just slipping down the side.
  3. Continue to wind in a diagonal fashion while slowly rotating the nostepinne.

That’s it.  Well, sort of. Obviously this is the simple way of doing it and there are other fancier and perhaps nicer ways of doing it. There is a criss-cross method that results in a nicer looking ball and that probably has more stability and that looks a lot more like the cakes you get from a proper ball winder, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet, and doing it this basic diagonal way gets the job done. Once you’ve wound all the yarn you just side it off your nostepinne and you’re done!

I must confess that my first nosepinne-wound ball was a bit of a disaster. I accidentally wound my end (the end I would be pulling from the center to knit with) into the ball without noticing. The next time I tacked my end to the spoon nostepinne using a little hair elastic so that I wouldn’t lose it and then wound away. Lo and behold, it worked! It wasn’t beautiful or perfect, but it was definitely a center pull ball! Huzzah!

I have done a few since I have have some tips, or things I have found helpful:

  1. Be sure to secure the tail end to the nostepinne so that you don’t lose it later. Some nostepinnes have little notches or grooves for this. I just use a little elastic band. Do whatever works for you, but do secure it. It is very easy to accidentally wind that end in.
  2. Make sure your starter wrapped core (step 1) is substantial enough. You want some yarn accumulated so that when you start going diagonal there is something for the yarn to grip against. Otherwise the diagonal yarn will just slip and become a weird loopy mess.
  3. Don’t wind too tight, that isn’t good for your yarn AND your diagonal loops are more likely to slide down your ball.
  4. If you are having trouble keeping your diagonal loops from slipping try using a finger and a thumb as guides. Each wrap will hold the previous wrap in place, so your fingers just need to sort of prop the wraps up long enough to get wrapped over again.
  5. A tiny nosepinne-made center pull ball! Hurray!

    When a ball is done you need to secure the wrapping end somehow. You can’t just leave it loose because it will unwrap and make one hell of a mess. What I have found works is to make the last few wraps around the center of the ball snugly, and then tucking the end into one of those last wraps. It doesn’t need to be perfect or fancy, you just need it to not unravel on its own.

  6. After you slide your finished ball off your nostepinne, it helps to give it a bit of a squish. This helps it to collapse (in a good way) inside.
  7. If you’re going to use a spoon or some other random household thing as a nostepinne, try to find something a little wider than you think you need. If the thing you’re using as a nostepinne is too thin/narrow it can be hard to wind. I’d say thumb thickness is best.
  8. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the tidier your balls will be, so just keep trying!


Here are some additional resources on using a nostepinne: