Just what is a Skein of Yarn?

When I first ventured on the internet I began learning a whole new language—American English. I already knew the jelly-jello and mum-mom and a few other bits and pieces from American books and film, but conversing with people from another country online means a lot more comes to light.

For example when I mentioned I was buying my dad a new jumper I was confused why a whole bunch of people were shocked that my DAD wore jumpers. Or the time I casually mentioned I left my hairbrush in the toilet—it was beside the sink near the mirror, but the word ‘toilet’ has a more narrow meaning over there.

As I’ve got older and started talking about crafts online I’ve learnt other things. What I call printed calico they call calico. What I call calico they call muslin. What I call muslin they call… actually, I have no idea and this has caused some confusion.

What’s causing me confusion right now is when we’re talking about forms of yarn, ie is it in a ball or a skein or whatever. Now, growing up in New Zealand it was ‘wool’, not yarn. You would knit something out of acrylic ‘wool’ or out of a wool that was a silk/wool blend. This doesn’t actually make any sense, so I’m 100% with the Americans on calling it yarn. Except when I forget. But that’s not the confusing part.

The confusing part is growing up wool came in ‘balls’ of wool or ‘skeins’ of wool. A ball of wool is when it’s wound into a ball type shape, a skein is when it is made into big loops on a skein winder or niddy noddy.

Thus, these are balls of wool (yarn):





These are skeins




Then I started hanging out online with American knitters. Apparently skeins are called hanks, and some types of balls are called cakes and others are called skeins.

Confusing? Not so much, I figured American’s call hand wound balls of wool balls of yarn, those wound on a yarn winder cakes of yarn and those bought commercially wound into balls skeins, and all skeins were called hanks.

The confusing part? I started hanging out with American spinners.

These people will call a skein winder, a skein winder. They will talk about winding a skein on the skein winder. The finished product is what an American knitter will call a hank.  Why is this? Is it just the knitters are wrong? If the knitters are right, why don’t Americans call skein winders hank winders, and why do they wind skeins not hanks?

Now I’m confused and never sure WHAT someone means when they say a skein of yarn!




So I’ve treated myself to some roving from my home country. It’s a dark grey New Zealand halfbread dyed in a colourway called ‘landscape’ from Heavenly Wools.




It’s a coarser fibre than what I’ve spun so far. I’m trying to spin nice and thick to get a nice bouncy two ply.



The coulours aren’t very true as the photos were taken at night, but hopefully I’ll get better photos once done!