Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Yarn Winders And The Humble Toilet Paper Tube

Up until a week ago, I have been winding all yarn by hand with a nØstepinde.


Notice the rubber bands around each of them?  I use them to hold down the starting yarn end.  They are capable of making very large, centre-pull balls.


For three years, I’ve been holding out for a for a wooden ball winder, but since there is the tiny detail of not bringing in any income, I broke down and purchased a Royal ball winder.

It works, but I’m not overly impressed.  I’m still faster on a nØstepinde, since I only need to wind a ball once, and because I don’t make mistakes that I have to spend time fixing.  (I wind very loosely on a nØstepinde.)  When using the ball winder, it’s best to re-wind a second ball out of the first, to make a looser ball that releases some of the stretching tension on the yarn.  In addition, I can wind a larger ball on the nØstepinde, whereas the Royal — well, it can be a royal pain (although not impossible) for some skeins of yarn larger than four ounces.  Where it really shines is when using sport or heavier weights; the nØstepinde is a gem for fingering and lace weights.  (I was able to wind lighter weights on the Royal, but only by winding slowly and carefully.)

I’m used to the speed with which I can wind bobbins on my bobbin winders; with the Royal, I have to wind carefully and cannot crank the handle too fast (my normal speed), or else the gears start to slip.  I think that winding too fast may cause the gears to eventually strip themselves.  And, I have to pay attention to tensioning the yarn whilst winding, else it tends to run off course and wrap itself around the spinning mechanism.  On the other hand, this ball winder creates a nicer looking cake of yarn than I usually do with a nØstepinde, and it puts less strain on my hands if I have a lot of yarn to wind.

Recently, someone on Ravelry reviewed the Royal cone winder, the first I had heard of the device.  It was intriguing enough for me to purchase one second-hand.


Until I received it and experimented with it, I had no idea that yarn cones unwound differently than balls do!  Don’t laugh, but it was not until I wound and re-wound a cone of yarn that I learned that a cone of yarn remains stationary whilst unwinding from the top!  (This, even after the kind Raveler tried to describe it to me.)  I had been slinging the yarn cones on either a vertical or horizontal dowel, and was constantly dealing with unwinding yarn that wrapped and choked around the dowel.  Here are some pictures showing how a cone of yarn unwinds:







A Royal cone winder comes with two plastic cone sleeves.  Extra sleeves may be purchased; but after including tax and shipping charges, I decided I could use the money elsewhere, and I set out to find a cheaper alternative.


Yes, it’s the paper tube that bath tissue is wound on.  If you slip the paper tube directly onto the cone winder, it is too loose.  But, if you carefully open up the tube along its diagonals, you can re-wrap the tube, pulling the paper tight about the winder (and making the required cone shape).


Wind the paper around the cone of the winder (or around a plastic sleeve if you want to use them at the same time), until all the paper is wound on, then tape the paper down to itself.  I put the paper to the cone, with extra below the bottom of the cone (for flanges), and wrap the paper tightly around the cone until the cone is covered.


When winding on, it helps to add a piece of tape to the inside, sticky side facing out, so the paper will stick to itself as it is being wound around the cone (it’s the bit of tape to the left in the picture below).


Cut the bottom flaps into flanges, rounding edges and corners.  It’s not pretty, but it works!


To make a slightly taller cone, use the paper tube from a roll of paper towels instead.  The paper tube technique works for the Royal ball winder as well:


I found that I was able to wind an eight-ounce skein of Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool into a cone without any problem.  The Royal ball winder would not handle the same amount of yarn as gracefully.  Here’s a tip I learned from Syne Mitchell: sandwich the starting end of yarn between the paper sleeve and the cone; this holds the yarn end out of the way, fits the sleeve onto the cone more snugly, and is faster than threading the yarn onto a slit in a tube or cone.


The cone sleeve is left inside the yarn, and the resulting cone of yarn is sturdy and very stable.


Another mammoth cone of yarn wound onto a plastic cone sleeve:


Time to experiment with the different yarn winders!


Here is the difference between a skein of yarn wound once (left) or twice (the second time so the yarn isn’t stretched) on a ball-winder:


A cake of yarn wound on a ball-winder is not meant to be stored around an insert; removing it allows the yarn to loosen and relax:


I enjoy using a nØstepinde, and I feel less guilty about wasting time in front of the television if I do my winding then.  It’s also a wonderful way to prolong my admiration of a beautiful hand-spun, and let me say that it’s not (rather, it doesn’t have to be) a slow way of winding yarn!  Here’s a skein wound on a nØsty:


Below, a comparison: Top, cone-wound; Left, nØsty-wound; Right, ball-winder-wound:


Notice how much smaller and tightly-wound the cone-wound yarn is!

Why get both the cone and ball winders?  Yarn cones work very well for unwinding yarn when warping, or in situations (like machine knitting) where yarn feed needs to be smooth and even.  Yarn unwound from balls, even pulling from the centre, rolls all over the floor, unwinding too unevenly for warping.  Knitters will find centre-pull balls more convenient, and a properly-wound cake removes tension and stress from yarn for long-term storage.  (Weavers store yarn wound on cones indefinitely; is there a good reason to relax that yarn before weaving with it?)

Syne Mitchell told me that she wasn’t satisfied with the perfomance of a certain expensive wooden ball-winder, and returned it to the dealer.  I wonder if its performance had anything to do with the fact that these winders were made with knitters in mind, and so tend to perform better with thicker yarns?  I would also wonder what weavers use for finer threads, but I’ll save that for another day when I can afford to.


19 January 2009 - Posted by | General, Knitting, Weaving | , , , , , ,


  1. I have this cone winder,though it’s not called a Royal—I bought it from Halcyon Yarns. It is far better for winding weaving yarns onto because the yarn feeds off of these cones much faster and more easily than it does off ball wound cones, as you have noticed. I have used the paper cone trick with the ball winder, but not with the cone winder. Right now I have plenty of cones, but if I need some more, I will try your trick!

    Comment by Peg in South Carolina | 20 January 2009 | Reply

  2. Congratulations on finally getting to take your class; it sounds like you got a lot out of it! I really enjoy these explicatory product reviews; you cover all the factors in an easy to follow and entertaining style.

    As to handling fine or semi-fine weaving yarns when warping: I have two hand-crank Mattson quill/bobbin winders. The old one is the kind made for export to America in the early-mid 20th century; it has an inferior ratio and a larger shaft. I keep my nice new one for my quills, but with the addition of a little masking tape to hold them snug, I found that the old one can accomodate big plastic Schacht spinning wheel bobbins. Since I always wind warps with 2 or more threads at a time, I simply put all my thread on bobbins (unless I have multiple cones). It goes faster than you’d think. I’ve learned to make them really fat; they’re almost egg-shaped when I’m through. Then I put the bobbins on metal rods stuck through a small cardboard box on the floor. Spinning freely, they let off the yarn at the same tension.

    I do wind warps straight from the outside of hand-wound (no nostepine) balls when the put-up is too small to warrant the bobbin treatment. I put each ball in a small round-bottomed mixing bowl where it can’t jump around very much, which seems to solve the tension thing.

    Comment by trapunto | 20 January 2009 | Reply

  3. I never heard of anyone relaxing coned yarn before weaving with it. I do know that old cone yarn can be brittle, so perhaps for “long-term” storage storing in skeins would be the way to go. Of course, a lot depends on how tightly the yarn is coned. I have a Silver Needles cone winder (thank you ebay!) and it works well and fast.

    Comment by Syne Mitchell | 20 January 2009 | Reply

  4. I just love your posts. You tickle me!

    Comment by Jane | 22 January 2009 | Reply

  5. Push-pop cores are slightly smaller than TP tubes and fit snugly over the ball winder … if you have kids, that’s an option (mine certainly enjoyed the push-pops, grin!)

    I put my ball winder-on-core balls onto my wheel’s lazy kate and feed off of that for a decent tension-less feed.

    Great post, love all your detail — and I’m in awe of your nosty-winding skills, I’ll have to ask for a demo next time I see you!

    Comment by Amelia G. | 27 January 2009 | Reply

    • Amelia, Thanks for the neat tip! (My son will be happy to the excuse to have sugar.) Don’t you recognise the nosty I got from you?!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 27 January 2009 | Reply

  6. […] Paper Cones On Cone Winders Update to the previous post: […]

    Pingback by Paper Cones On Cone Winders « Spinninglizzy’s Weblog | 19 February 2009 | Reply

  7. […] Tussle For Toilet Tissue Tubes Jump to Comments We haggle over them here.  When I started using them, I thought I would have a plentiful supply.  Oh nooooooooo, I have to conduct serious negotiations […]

    Pingback by The Tussle For Toilet Tissue Tubes « the shenanigans of a little boy | 28 March 2009 | Reply

  8. I was given one of these cone winders, but haven’t a clue how to use it. My other one is almost the same except it doesn’t have the twisty thing on the metal bracket. Please can someone tell me how to use this winder? Thank you

    Comment by Betty | 6 November 2013 | Reply

    • Hi Betty, I think you might be able to use a bit of wire and pliers to rig up a yarn guide yourself. What I do is put a tube over the cone, thread the yarn through the guide, go halfway around the outside of (clockwise) the bumpy red-topped guide, then tape then end of the yarn to the tube over the cone. Then wind away! Hope that helps!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 6 November 2013 | Reply

      • Thanks, I will try that.

        Comment by Betty | 7 November 2013

  9. wow!! that was an impressive view of winding yarn!! i have three different sized nostepinnes myself, i made my first one out of a dowel spinner stick from the center of a tabletop lazy susan…..those 7 sided nail files are AWESOME for smoothing!!! i have a large peg style tabletop swift….LOVE….and a no-name ping qian? cheap chinese ball winder that i just LOVE!!!! i love using the nostepinne, especially for my high-end delicate yarns, but for the sturdier yarns i like using the winder….my questing is i’ve been looking for an attachment cone for the winder that would have a smaller center?? so that the hole in the middle isn’t so big??? any tips would be appreciated….email me at puppytrucks@yahoo.com if anyone has any ideas on that!!!

    Comment by beaglechase | 23 December 2017 | Reply

    • duh….question, not questing….although i guess it would end up the same!!! the yarn winder is a large size, i can do up to a 10oz cake….blue heron rayon metallic 550yds winds up perfectly on it

      Comment by beaglechase | 23 December 2017 | Reply

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