One of the most common things we get asked is about how yarn is packaged - is there any difference between a ball and a cake of yarn? Is a hank the same thing as a skein? (Skeen? Skayne?) Where do "yarn donuts" come into the mix? These are all different ways of talking about what is called the yarn's physical "put-up."
The most common commercial “put-ups” by physical presentation are hanks, skeins, and donuts. Here's what they look like in the wild:
Hanks are the twisted presentation that you see in Berroco Vintage, Noro Sonata (shown at left above), and Malabrigo Rios, just to name a few examples. To avoid absolute madness, hanks need to be wound - either by hand into a ball or using a ball-winder to make a cake.
Skeins are the football- or cylinder-shaped presentations that you see for yarns like West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4-Ply (shown in the middle above), Red Heart Super Saver, and Berroco Remix Light. These have already been wound at the mill in a configuration where you can pull the yarn from the center without requiring winding at the shop.
Donuts are… well, shaped like donuts. In our shop, you can find Berroco Coco (shown above at right), Gedifra Metal Tweed, and Gedifra Soffio/Soffio Colore. You can easily pull from the outside or inside of the ball, but they are hollow and usually have a label that goes through the middle of the ball. (They also shed layers of yarn like crazy and get “drippy” - they’re our least favorite put-up.)
A very few yarns come pre-wound into center-pull cakes or balls, but those are less prevalent in the American market; Juniper Moon Farms Cumulus Rainbow and yarns in the Zauberball family are examples of these.
So why do companies choose to ship their yarns in all these different formats?
Okay, so how *do* you pronounce the "skein" word? Excellent question - it's pronounced "skayne," with a long-a sound in the middle.
What about yarn cakes and yarn balls? These are generally terms used to describe how yarn is wound from a different form (usually a hank) to prepare it for use by crafters. A cake (at left below) is generally formed by winding yarn around some kind of cylinder, whether it be a mechanical ball-winder, a nostepinne, or a toilet paper tube; a yarn ball (at right below) can be created just by winding a yarn around your fingers, folding it into a nucleus, and then winding the yarn in different directions around the nucleus.
Lindsey Spoor is the owner of Stilly River Yarns in Stanwood, WA.