Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Winding a Hank of Yarn using your Bike

Here is a story that I feel is a decent introduction to me.  As indicated by the title

1. I knit and

2. I bike.  Not seriously in races or anything, just around the city.

At first these two activities might not seem to go together and that is what I would have said a week ago too, but as it turns out that would have been due to a lack of imagination on our parts.  Don’t worry; I wasn’t riding around the city whipping up a sweater or anything (That would be ridiculous.  It hit -20 with the wind chill here last week and it’s too hard to knit with mittens on).

No, instead what happened was I got a hank of handspun 100% silk from my sister for Christmas.  It feels like amazing.  It feels like expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that I have never bought yarn that nice for myself.  I buy the kind of yarn that comes in skeins and balls, ready to knit.  Fancy yarns come in hanks that have to be wound into balls before you can start using them.  There are ball winders and other equipment that you can buy to aid you in this task, but something else worth noting about me is

3. I’m cheap.

My Dad is too.  It’s in my blood.  When will I have another bunch of yarn fancy enough to come in a hank?  I would never buy such yarn for myself, so not until at least next Christmas.  And one use of a swift and ball winder per year (maximum) is just not enough to invest in them.  I mean, sure, there are 1000 m of yarn here, but I’m not in any rush.  I don’t need no fancy ball-winder.  As you may have deduced

4. I’m stubborn.

What does a swift do that cannot be done by just winding the yarn carefully and slowly by hand?  Well, I’m not sure, but somehow I made a huge mess.  The yarn kept sticking to itself and I tried to have faith that it would come untangled, but things kept getting worse.

Mess o' yarn

See the scissors poking out on the right hand side? Yeah, I used those a few times.

I must have missed something obvious.  I consider myself reasonably bright.  There must have been some trick in starting the winding that I missed.  So I did what anyone would do.  I asked the Google, but it couldn’t help me.  All the videos made it seem so straightforward.  No one else’s yarn was sticking together or getting tangled.  It must have been my yarn particularly.  Yes, that must be it.  I’m going to make a beautiful shawl with this gift from my sister and if I’m really really careful and don’t waste any of it, I might have enough left to make a second thing.  I can’t waste any of it.  I really needed this to work well, so it couldn’t be my fault.  When Google fails you, there is only one recourse.  I made tea.  Oh, right,

5. I like tea.

I drank the tea and I looked at the mess.  I willed myself not to cry over tangled yarn because, apparently, some people have even bigger problems if you can imagine.  I considered that it might be a little bit my fault.  Maybe I let some of the loops get pulled into the wrong spot and that’s why everything was now a disaster.  So, I cut the yarn, pulled the end out (a longer process than I can really convey interestingly) and I started again winding a new ball.  And again I couldn’t manage to pull the yarn free from neighbouring loops.  I didn’t seem to have enough hands to hold the ball, wind the yarn and detach the strand I was winding from the ones I needed to stay put.  I needed something to hold the extra loops in place.  I looked around.  It’s not a big apartment.  The largest nearby object in it was my bike.  And part of it appeared to be just about the right size for…

Tangled Mess on a Bike

Cushions the blow when your wheel gets caught in the streetcar tracks

Yarn around the bike handlebars.  That I was willing to get lace silk yarn near the greasy, gross gears on my bike must tell you how desperate the situation had become.  Although, as it turned out, the bell was the object more in the way.  I’m sure my neighbours were thrilled by the repeated accidental dinging.  So I set about winding.  It was going a lot better…at first.

Start of a ball

Yes, I occasionally sat on the bike while doing this.

I got a rhythm going.  When it appeared to get tangled, I kept pulling, confident that no loops were getting pulled anywhere they shouldn’t.  It was working!  Well, except for the fact that I kept dropping the ball on the floor and it would roll under the couch and I would have to use a knitting needle to scoop it out and re-roll a bunch.  Another person might move the whole enterprise away from the couch, but when you’ve got a rhythm and a bunch of silk yarn near a lot of moving bike parts with sharp bits, you don’t tempt fate like that.

About 1/3 of the way through, it got tangled in a way I couldn’t fix and I ended up going to bed before I could finish, but one more cut with the scissors and a couple of days later

Four balls of yarn

Finished! I have completed a task that takes under a minute with proper equipment in a mere ~12 hours.

I am so stinkin’ proud of these four little balls of yarn.  To put it in perspective,

6. I’m working on a PhD.  I’m almost finished (I swear Mom and Dad), even though I’ve been almost finished for a year.  I am on my sixth thesis draft, have had the requisite argument with my supervisor about it and just handed it to my committee members for review.  So I have summarized 5+ years of work up into a 140 page document that took me over 6 months to write.

And these balls of yarn are the thing from the last month that I’m most proud of (granted I was on vacation over Christmas for a couple of weeks).  Which is probably not that strange, I guess.  I’ve found people have pretty much the same reaction to finding out you knit as finding out you’re working a PhD: “Wow.  That sounds tough.  I could never do that.”  This never makes much sense to me since my impression is none of these people have tried either thing, so they couldn’t really know what’s involved.  Some days it’s tough and everything goes wrong, sure, but some days there’s a real sense of accomplishment and you remember why you love this thing.  I think really what they mean to say is “I don’t want to knit/do a PhD, so I don’t.”  And you know, fair enough I guess.  I think they’re missing out (at least with the knitting; my opinion on the PhD thing varies depending on when you ask me).  If you don’t want to knit, then don’t.  But if you do want to knit, you absolutely can.  Most of it’s not really that hard.  Except sometimes, when you get a hank of yarn that you have to wind into a ball and you are too stubborn to buy yourself a ball winder.  And since the answer I found on the internet when I tried to Google was inadequate, let me try to help out future hand-winders who get off to as poor a start as I did: how do you wind 1 km of yarn from a hank into a ball by hand?  The same way you end up doing pretty much everything else you don’t know how to do: persistence.

Well, persistence and creative use of your bike handlebars, apparently.

Beginning of shawl

And so the shawl begins. If you look closely you can see the humbling effect of the ball winding incident: not one but two lifelines in a piece of knitting 12 stitches wide.

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8 thoughts on “Winding a Hank of Yarn using your Bike

  1. You know, I use my dining room chair and a whisk to wind my balls. I think what you did is pretty innovative. And I’ve totally been there with the tangled yarn. But I secretly like sitting there and untangling it. Weird…

    I see you’re making rock island shawl! I think it’s a great pattern and your yarn is a beautiful match. Can’t wait to see it!

  2. Thanks so much. Perhaps I’ll grow to love untangling yarn as I do it more, but I doubt it.
    Yes, I just started Rock Island. That’s how I found your blog (through blog posts about Rock Island on Rav). It’s great!

  3. Such a great post. 1) because you bike 2) because you knit and bike 3) because you used your bike to get your yarn untangled and that’s not a terrible use of handlebars, especially after having a cup of tea to smooth things out a bit.

    cheers!

  4. Thanks for commenting. I do love knitting and biking (and tea). I checked out your blog. Your pictures of Vermont are great and YES to your comments about getting more young girls interested in science.

  5. I’ve used many things to wind my yarn. I’ve even used my legs, stretched out in a sort of dance/yoga stretching exercise trying to complete two things at once. The bike is great. Glad to know you didn’t try winding it with the petals though. If you live in the Boston area you can come over to my house to wind your yarn. I have a winder now. I am very old.

  6. Haha. I tried using my knees, but I found it kept sliding off and it made my neck hurt. I guess I should have done more Yoga to prepare.
    Hmm. I think it’s about 10 hours to Boston, so I might pass on the offer for now, but actually that would probably be less time than this process took me.

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