yarn ball types

Yarn Ball Types

featured photo by Fiber for the People ® / instagram.com (@fiber.for.the.people)

When purchasing materials for a new crochet project, you buy individual units, which contain a particular length of yarn or thread. These units are most often called skeins, balls or hanks, but there are many different types of winding, which create different shapes.

cabinets with colorful yarn skeins inside

  • top photo by Ashleigh Kiser (@sewrella), bottom photo from here.

In this article I’m using terms first used together by Lisa Shroyer of Interweave here.


Historically, hank was a measurement of length, which varied according to the type of yarn being measured. Nowadays, it refers to a coiled piece of yarn, which you form into a circle and tie.

This method is popular for treating hand-dyed yarns, because loose form allows the dye to reach every part of yarn and displays color well. It’s usually sold in folded hanks, which we will cover next.

After you buy a hank of yarn, you need to make it into a ball or skein to use it. Ball winder is great for this, but if you don’t have one, just use your arms.


Top photo may look like a mess, but when you look closely, you can see ties on individual hanks. Bottom photo shows hanks of hand-dyed yarn in the process of drying.

Folded Hank

Folded hank is basically what its name stands for – tied loop of yarn is folded and sold this way. You can see instances, in which only the label keeps it together, or where one end of the yarn tightly wraps it in the middle.

It’s useful with artisan or novelty yarns, because it keeps the yarn in a relatively loose form and showcases its features well.

To work with it, you need to make it into a ball or skein – use ball winder or your hands to do that.

folded hank

Soft and slippery coils of rope feel much better in a folded hank than in a ball or skein. You can easily touch it and feel its weight while it’s still on a store shelf.

Twisted Hank

Twisted hank is a loop of yarn (hank), which is tied and twisted in a kind of braid. We often call this way of presenting yarn ‘skein’, since it’s a generic term for one unit, but twisted hank is much more specific.

Big manufacturers use it, as well as niche hand-dyers, and it’s one of the most popular ways of presenting yarn.

Twisted hank keeps the yarn untangled and showcases its color features beautifully. It’s also much cheaper than making cakes or balls, because it doesn’t require ball-winders, which can be costly and take up a lot of space.

As you might notice already, it also needs winding into balls before using.

twisted hank

Twisted hanks look fantastic in the photos and showcase the colors beautifully. When yarns are dyed in an irregular way, you can see the color change from one part of hank to another.


You can use the term ‘skein’ and ‘twisted hank’ interchangeably, just like you can call a donut ball a ‘ball’. It’s the most generic term to describe a unit of yarn.

It’s typically used for yarns in oblong-shaped twists.

skein of yarn

Pull Skein

Also called center-pull skein – this method of yarn winding is a crocheter’s best friend, because it can be used without the fuss of rewinding it into another shape.

You can pull the yarn from the inside or outside of the skein. If you work from the inside, with time the skein will collapse on itself.

pull skein

Top photo shows classic center-pull elongated skeins, but most of the mass-manufactured bullet skeins can be pulled from the center, too.

Bullet Skein

This kind of skein is made by machine and is one of the most popular ways of winding yarn. Elongated ball shape, squeezed with label, gives it characteristic, well-known look.

You can use it directly after taking it home from the store – pull the yarn from the inside or outside.

bullet skein


Classic ball of yarn is kinda self-explanatory. When you wind it by hand, you get a dense, round ball – you can see it often at home, but much less often mass-produced. Hand-wound ball unwinds from the outside in, so it will never collapse.

Important note on yarn balls is that tight winding can affect tension and further difficulties with final product. It’s very important to wind gently and washing your piece after crocheting, so that the yarn can come back to its natural form.

ball of yarn

You can make a ball by hand or use ball-winder. It’s a good idea to keep a ball in a bowl while working with it, so that it doesn’t ‘run away’.


Yarn cake has a shape of a cylinder – it can sit comfortably on a flat bottom. You can make it on a ball-winder from a hanked yarn.

We see it very often for big yardages, as well as multi-colored or ombre yarns. You can see the colors changing from the center to the outside, and therefore determine which color scheme fits your project best.

cake of yarn

You can crochet directly from a cake, by pulling the yarn from the inside or outside. It can be pretty important if you are working with ombre yarns – the choice of color you are starting with can change your project completely.

Donut Ball

Also called simply a ‘ball’, this way of winding yarn works great for small yardages and luxury yarns. Donut is wound loosely, held often only by its label, which is pierced through the hole in the middle.

You can work directly from it or rewind it into a ball.

donut ball of yarn

Hard Core Ball

This one got its name from the piece of cardboard or other rigid piece, that helps the yarn keep a ball shape.

It’s usually used for fine and slippery yarns, like the ones used for laces and doilies. They are too delicate to hold up big yardages without the support.

hard core ball of yarn

  • photos by Texyarns Australian Yarn (@texyarns)

This kind of winding creates presentable, uniform shape that looks fantastic on the shelf and stores easily.


We often associate cones with threads that are used for weaving or sewing, but you can find yarns in this shape, too. There are many instances, in which weavers’ yarn works great for crochet.

Good thing is that they often come in a big yardages and are pretty cheap, but we need to remember that machine-wound yarns undergo a lot of pressure. One of the options is rewinding it into hanks, washing it, and then making into balls. It may also help to remove any wax coating it might have from the milling process.

cone of yarn

You can knit or crochet directly from a cone, but remember to wash your piece at the end. As you can see, there are yarns made that use differently-colored threads at once, which produce lovely effects.

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  1. What were the pastel colors used in the leashed afghan? They are perfect and I love them. It’s hard to find the correct colors if you not used to the stitch. Thanks Patty

    1. hey Patty, I don’t really know what afghan you’re referring to. it’s an article about yarn ball types 🙂

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