Yarn unwinder thingamajigs: A Review
I have no idea what generic name to apply to these devices. ”Yarn Susan" is trademarked, "yarn spinner" might be confused for something that spins fiber into yarn, and "yarn holder" fails to describe the action of the device. I’m just going to use the highly unimaginative "yarn unwinder" for now.
Regardless of what they should be called, I’m going to discuss (at some length) two similar but different versions. (Forget about how I ended up with both, and let’s just take the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison.)
But before we dive in, if you’re wondering why a knitter might need such a device, you might want to read about the perils of over-twisting, which is better explained by TECHknitter. Last year, it finally dawned on me that some of the problems I have had with yarn kinking up while I knit and worst of all, with biasing of the knitted fabric had to do with the fact that I have always knit from center-pull balls. I used to love a center-pull ball, yarn barf notwithstanding. The ball stays put while you are knitting instead of rolling away from you across a dusty floor or requiring some restraining device like a bowl or a bag. But, it can also cause your yarn to over-twist and this can (although not always) lead to kinked yarn or biasing fabrics or both. Curses!
Anyway, in frustration, I made this yarn unwinder out of K’nex and it worked great but ultimately, it had it’s limitations. So I made this yarn box when I found the K’nex couldn’t support a Colourmart cone. But even the box wasn’t exactly what I needed so I turned to the internets and found several people had designed just the sort of thing I was looking for.
A general description and comparison
Both versions I bought are from Etsy, the version seen in the top row of the photoset is made by Willysman Woodworks and the version in the second row is made by Craftiness. Both are custom orders, but neither is very different from the standard models that each shop offered. I had both made in walnut with a natural finish and I’m guessing that both Maurice from Willysman and Dave from Craftiness could customize your yarn unwinder to any specification you had. Both guys were great to deal with and very happy to customize. They cost very nearly the same (Willysman was a few dollars more for the basic model) but keep in mind that different types of wood have different pricing.
The main difference between these two models is that Maurice makes his with a lazy susan mechanism that is hidden between the base and the platform whereas Dave has a free-spinning platform with a hollow post resting on the base’s spindle. I initially thought the ball-bearing system would have a significant advantage over the free-spin system in terms of smoothness and (lack of) friction, but I actually found that they were about equally smooth and both generated minimal tension on the yarn.
However, the ball-bearing system has this advantage: once you stop pulling on the yarn, the spindle stops turning much sooner. This is unlike the free-spinning system, in which the momentum keeps the top turning and the yarn re-winds in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem with the design, just something you’d have to get used to happening every so often.
A side note about the ball-bearings: they aren’t silent. Most people don’t knit fast enough to keep a yarn unwinder spinning constantly but even at the slow rate at which I knit, it’s still audible. For me, this is not a problem but I can easily imagine there are other knitters out there that might feel otherwise or who have family members / co-habitators who might be driven to distraction by the sound of tiny metal balls rolling along a metal track. The sound doesn’t bother me, but I don’t think I’d try to knit in a lecture hall or meeting with this thing, even if I was someone who would try to knit during a lecture or a meeting.
In the last row of the photoset above are two side-by-side comparison shots (Craftiness on the left, Willysman on the right).
Since both shops will do custom orders, this comparison is only useful in that you can see how their standard dimensions differ from each other. As you can see, the free spin (from Craftiness) is wider across the base but has a shorter post (which is shorter than my 150g Colourmart cones), but still works quite comfortably with both cones or cakes.
In a nutshell…
Willysman Yarn Holder pros:
- Can be lifted by the post since all parts are affixed
- Post can be unscrewed from base for ease of storage and/or trasportation
- Stops spinning (soon) after you stop pulling, preventing any reverse winding
- Very light-weight
- Well made
Craftiness Yarn Spinner pros:
- Very quiet
- Spins very smoothly
- Fairly light-weight
- Beautiful craftsmanship
- Least expensive (depending on type of wood used)
I can’t really recommend one over the other since they both work exactly as I need them to and the workmanship is quite lovely for both. But, if portability is crucial to you, the Willysman yarn unwinder can pack flat, unlike the model from Craftiness. If, however, the very idea of the sound of metal ball-bearings rolling along makes you shudder, maybe go with a product from Craftiness.
Overall, I’m very happy with both. And now that a yarn unwinder, in whatever form, has become an essential knitting tool for me, I intend to make use of both of them. (I may take up a real Fair Isle project one day, right?)