What’s In A Name – 11 Names For Yarn Balls And What They Mean

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Blue and white yarn ball and skeins with a text overlay which says "learnknittingonline.com, What’s In A Name – 11 Names For Yarn Balls And What They Mean, Wondering what’s the difference between a hank and a skein?" followed by the LKO lettermarkHave you ever knitted using a skein? What about a hank? Or a cake? All these names belong to yarn balls. And they have a definite significance. If you ever felt lost in a haberdashery, looking at them, this guide is for you.

How Many Of These Yarn Balls Do You Know?

Here you will learn all about the types of yarn balls, and their particular names. Don’t feel intimidated. Actually, they’re pretty cool. Also, they give you some clear pointers about what they are.

Don’t be surprised by these names. Sometimes, what you see as a skein may be a hank. But that’s what this guide is all about.

There are also bullet skeins, and cones, and hard core balls. All have their purpose. But it’s up to you to learn them all.

Before delving into yarn ball names, let’s talk a little about yarn. Typically, yarn is a bunch of strands packaged together. The idea behind this is to prevent the strands from coming loose. And it’s undoubtedly handy when you need to knit.

Sometimes you can turn a skein into a ball. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t always have to do that. For you, the knitter, it can be quite enlightening to know these yarn balls. Also, you will learn here how to use them.

Yarn Ball Types and Their Meaning

Type #1: What is a hank?

A hank, in short, is a loop of yarn. You recognize it by the continuous circle appearance. That serves for keeping it together. As with any type of yarn balls we’ll talk about, a hank has its ups and downs.

For starters, hanks are perfect for painting yarn. We won’t insist on the topic. Just know that there are many resources to teach you how to do that.

The not-so-great part is that you should turn your hanks into yarn balls. Because it would be tricky to work with a hank as it is, that’s what you must do. You basically have to unwind the yarn from the hank. As you do so, wind it into a ball.

A hank of army green yarn
Example of a Hank of Yarn

Some people prefer to make a cake. It doesn’t matter. As long as it helps you knit as you like, these are details. So, in other words, hanks can be a bit of a pain due to this extra work.

You can opt for a ball-winder for this operation. But it’s not mandatory. Actually, you can simply use your hands! In the end, you’ll have a lovely cake or ball. From that, you can quickly knit or crochet as you like.

If you’re looking for a reason to buy hanks, here’s one. They look classy. They have a refined look about them. So, for lack of any other reason, just use this one. It’s as good as any.

But why do yarn factories make them like this? It’s simple. These yarn balls require less time than others to produce. Therefore, manufacturers should deliver them like this.

Also, in haberdasheries, you can notice how neatly such yarn balls look on the shelves. But, if you’re not crazy about winding them, just opt for other types. We still have plenty to explore.

Type#2: What is a folded hank?

Hanks are pretty popular and for all the right reasons. If you ever want to die yarn, they’re the way to go. But we already talked about that. What comes next doubles the fun. Hanks are not just loops of yarn. There are variations to this type of delivery.

As a knitter who wants to brag to friends about knowing all yarn ball types, this is essential. A typical example of hank is the folded hank. Just the name should be enough to give you a hint.

A folded hank is just what the name says. Factories take a regular hank, fold it, and place the label around its midsection. If you buy hanks from the store, you, too, can turn them into folded hanks.

A folded hank of gray jumbo alpaca blend yarn
Example : LB Collection® Jumbo Alpaca Blend Yarn

They might take a little less room in the designated space for yarn. That’s one consideration. But there are reasons why yarn balls are sold like this. For starters, you will find novelty yarns sold like this.

Also, this type is ideal for bulky yarns. That’s how you can glean the character of the thread. Not the same you would be able to do if it came as a ball, for instance.

To start knitting, you only need to take off the label. Then turn the open hank into a ball. Enlist a friend’s help to make things easier. Once you have it turned into a ball, you can start working.

Type #3: What is a twisted hank?

If you thought we’re moving from hanks, you would be wrong. There’s another type of hank that’s available. You can find it anywhere you look. Basically, a lot of yarn balls are actually twisted hanks. And that’s what we’ll talk about now.

There’s a strong reason to become confused now. Typically, experts would say a twisted hank is a hank twisted into a braid. However, it’s not unusual to hear the same people call these yarn balls skeins. Now there is ground for confusion here.

If you intend to be a purist, you’ll only call them twisted hanks. If you’re a hand-dyer, you’ll love this one. You can buy standard hanks, die them, and twist them. That’s how many sell them. So, the practical value of this delivery is obvious.

An twisted hank of orange yarn
Example : KnitPicks Static

According to haberdashery owners, displaying yarn like this is ideal. People coming in can focus on various colors. Also, you will be able to tell apart multiple weights. Not to mention, they’re pleasant to look at.

So, how do you use them for knitting? Just like with any other hank, you do the same. You take off the label. Then you untwist the braid. Afterward, you put the loop of yarn on the hands of your helping friend.

Turning a twisted hank into a ball or a cake is easy. From there, you should just grab your knitting needles or your crochet hook.

It’s maybe something you can tell when you use hanks. Yarn balls give a certain feel. You touch the yarn. And you feel it. That will help you envision how your work will look like. Even more, it may influence the type of needles you will use.

Most high-end hand-dyed yarn balls come like this. They spell high-quality from a mile away. So, if you’re the mood for something special, try this type. Twisted hanks will never let you down.

Type #4: What is a skein?

Even if you don’t knit much, you surely heard of skeins. Many people refer to a skein as a unit of yarn. Take a look at all the knitting magazines, and skeins will appear again and again.

You will find people calling twisted hanks skeins. Others will call any twisted yarn this way. Maybe it’s a matter of preference. Of course, that’s why you might also feel confused from time to time.

And here’s another reason to make your confusion run deeper. Some people call skeins machine-produced yarn balls. The main characteristic of these is the shape. It’s not round, so it basically beats the point of calling them balls.

Yet, many people love skeins, despite the confusion. Hand-dyers don’t make balls like factories do. For them, it would be a lot of time invested in the winding. However, if you look for machine-produced skeins, you’ll find them everywhere.

A skein of multicolor yarn
Example: Wool-Ease® Hand Dyed Yarn

The idea is that these factories have the proper equipment. And, by that, we mean machines that can be as large as an entire room. We’re talking industrial-scale here.

It’s evident that a small enterprise can’t compete with that. Hand-dyers must do everything, well, by hand. That’s why their skeins are actually twisted hanks. And, let’s face it. They look fantastic like that.

As mentioned, if you want factory-wound yarn balls, you’ll find them in stores. For twisted hanks, search for products from small producers. Sometimes stores carry them, and you can find them there.

Do you need more reasons to get confused about skeins and hanks? Here it is. It seems that a long time ago, hanks and skeins were interchangeable. They just indicated various lengths of yarn. Now that’s confusing!

Why should you know about all these? Maybe it would be a great conversation starter when meeting other knitters. Or, you will know what others are talking about. Either way, you surely don’t want to be out of the loop.

Type#5: What is a pull skein?

A pull skein may be one of the best-known yarn balls in existence. The chances are that many skeins you used were pull skeins. There are some variations to the name you should know about.

Some people call them pull skeins. But others call them center-pull skeins. Basically, these variations mean the same thing. However, it is essential to know as they give you a hint about how to use one.

A pull skein of orange yarn
Example : Caron Simply Soft Ombres Yarn

Because the center keeps the threads pulled together, the name center-pull skein is not off the mark. It also gives you an excellent way to start knitting. You only need to draw from the center. Also, you can pull from the outside.

Furthermore, you will notice how the skein collapses as you use more thread. It will pretty much look like spilled guts. Don’t worry. You can always wind the yarn into a ball. This way, you can avoid a small disaster.

The main advantage of a skein is that you can work it as is. There’s no need to wind it unless you want to. Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward type of yarn delivery.

Type #6: What is a bullet skein?

Another common type of yarn balls is a bullet skein. You can find this type in many haberdasheries where it’s a staple.

It looks much like a pull skein. However, it is a bit shorter and rounder, hence the name. Machine-made, it’s a time-saving option for yarn factories. If you need a comparison, it’s like a melon tapered at the ends. Or it’s much like a big football.

11 NamesAnd What They Mean | learnknittingonline.com
Example : Bernat Baby Blanket Yarn

Everybody loves bullet skeins. They are yarn balls you can work straight off the shelf. Find the end of the thread and pull it out. Start knitting, and the yarn will just unwind from the skein.

Another great advantage of bullet skeins is their compact shape. You can stack them together. Even more, you can stack them one on top of the other. It’s easy to have them around. It’s easy to knit with them. What more can you ask for?

Use them for swatching. Actually, they’re ideal for that. Even if you use a little of each one, they still keep their shape. You can have an entire shelf dedicated to them. It might feel like you own a haberdashery of your own.

Type #7: What is a ball?

Now that’s a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. A ball is precisely what its name says. Yarn balls do come as round balls that factories make, or you just wind by hand. Don’t be surprised to hear that mass-produced options exist.

There are even entire lines of yarn that offer just balls. It may be unusual, but not as uncommon as you might think. The main advantage is that balls don’t collapse. Actually, they work best for knitting.

You create your own yarn balls when you wind a hank or a skein. Any other type can be wound into a ball. That’s the simple truth. However, you should know one thing. If you wind your yarn balls too tightly, you lose tension from the thread.

That’s not desirable. So, it would be good to work with factory-produced yarn balls. They don’t suffer from the same downsides. Therefore, you can still be proud of your work afterward.

A multicolor ball of yarn with a tag around it
Example : Premium Sari Silk Handspun Yarn

Balls don’t ever collapse. They’re your best allies when you want to knit, no other steps needed. In case you want to use it nonetheless, just wind gently. Another idea is to wash the knitted item. This way, the yarn will get back some of its bounce.

Don’t be surprised to find still confusing definitions. Even with something as straightforward as a ball, there can be variations. For instance, some people might call any round-shaped yarn a ball. Of course, that’s a bit of stretch.

However, you should know a few things about these yarn balls. Some companies sell them, and they appear to be popular in Germany. Still, not many haberdasheries prefer them. The reason is simple. No one likes to chase a bunch of yarn balls through a store.

At home, you may notice the same issue. You can’t stack them together. Also, you can’t store them easily. In a nutshell, they can be a bit of a bummer.

Nonetheless, let’s not forget that they’re easy to work with. Winding up your hanks into balls is a good idea. As long as you knit them right away, you don’t have to worry about storing them. In case you want to wind your skeins or hanks, just pick a cake shape. We’ll talk about that right away.

Type #8: What is a cake?

Cake is one name for yarn balls that sounds sweet for several reasons. Some even call this shape the knitter’s bliss. Ball-winders turn hanks into cakes and deliver them as such.

Get a ball-winder for home use for this step. The hank must land onto an umbrella swift. Then, make sure to thread the end of the yarn through the ball-winder. You will love how easily hanks get turned into cakes this way.

The best part is that you can do this at home. With the help of the right equipment, you’ll get there. Ball-winders are easy to use, and they require little effort. The cake form is nice looking. Also, it is convenient and practical.

A cake of multicolor red toned yarn
Example : Bernat Blanket Breezy Yarn

There’s no more need for chasing down unruly yarn balls. Also, you don’t have to worry about a tangled mess. Yes, these are all excellent reasons to call the cake the knitter’s bliss. You will like how easy it remains in the same position.

At the same time, you roll the thread from it with ease. It never topples, and never rolls away. The yarn is not as tightly wound. So, all in all, you get all the advantages.

And yes, yarn balls are available as cakes, too. Sure, they’re not the sweet kind of confectionery, but they don’t give you a sugar rush, either. They are simply practical. Also, they show off gradient colors rather nicely.

Therefore, it’s easy to see why this shape has this name. Another simple definition for it would be a cylinder to flat top and bottom.

Here’s another reason to like cakes. They are center-pull yarn balls, so it’s challenging to make a mess. It’s common for manufacturers to sell cake to display long color gradients.

Type #9: What is a donut ball?

Donut ball is a cute name, you have to admit it. But there’s more than cuteness to this name. Yarn balls come as donut balls under certain circumstances. For instance, manufacturers like to use this shape for short yarn items.

Basically, you don’t buy yarn by the pound in this shape. Mostly, luxury items and novelty thread get the special treatment. The donut ball shape exhibits well the weight and feel of the yarn. However, purists don’t use this term.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook it. Feel free to use it, just like any other name mentioned here. Donut ball is just an elegant way to wind yarn. Used for displaying high-quality yarn, you’ll see it on shelves quite often.

A donut ball of violet yarn with label
Example : Sugar Bliss Yarn

Here’s one trap that might confuse you. Some people just call them yarn balls. Yes, like in the meaning of round yarn balls. But, let’s face it. Round is not what these balls are. They look like donuts, and that’s final.

Whether you want to add a bit of sequined cashmere or use other luxury thread, a donut ball will be the way. Factories like to wind them like this, to show off their qualities. And, since they’re good at winking at you from the shelves, give them a chance. You might end up saving up a little only for one donut ball.

Usually, factories pierce the label open center for allowing it a bit of structure. However, when you remove the label, you’ll see it collapse.

Here’s a piece of advice. When you work with donut balls, wind them gently into round balls. You don’t want to lose tension from the thread. Or you can just knit from the donut shape. You might like the tangled mess it will result, but if you feel brave, just do it.

And here’s another thing about donut balls. They are center-pull, so pretty easy to work with. So they might not be classic yarn balls. But seeing how mostly specialty items use the shape, it’s all right.

Type #10: What is a hard core ball?

This name may sound like part of some new rock music trend. But it’s not. It’s still a name for yarn balls. You might not find it that often, but it’s out there. Therefore, you need to learn what it’s all about.

To start with the basics, it’s a yarn ball wrapped over a cardboard core. This core is rigid to preserve the shape. You’ll find such yarn balls displayed in windows at haberdasheries. They are quite good looking. Since they maintain their structure, they’re simply nice to look at.

Some cool yarns come like this. Fine cotton, for instance, is a choice. Also, metallic fibers are a typical pick for hard core balls. As you can see, yarn manufacturers don’t shy away from putting metal into hard core (pardon the pun).

A hard core ball of burnt orange yarn
Example : KnitPicks Curio #10

Synthetic fibers are other prime candidates for this type of display. Actually, any slippery yarn can come wrapped this way. The hard cardboard manages to keep it in place. And that’s a great advantage.

When working with slippery threads, expect some challenges. However, if you knit directly from a hard core ball, you won’t have to struggle. This type of yarn ball is just good like that.

What happens when you reach the final part? Now, that’s a challenge indeed. You don’t want your thread to become all messy. If that’s your worry, get the center end and wrap it as a round ball.

This way, you will avoid a catastrophe. And you will get to enjoy the finest yarns. Hard core balls might not be as widespread as others. Nonetheless, it’s good to have some around. Depending on your project, you’ll surely find them handy.

Type #11: What is a cone?

Last, but not least, let’s talk about cones. A cone is something that might look like it has descended from another time. Maybe you just checked your grandma’s stash. Or you saw it by accident, in the window of a store that doesn’t appear from this century.

To put it mildly, the cone is an ancient form of yarn balls. Weavers still use them like this. But it’s unusual for other people to have them. Unless, of course, you really rifled through your grandmother’s old yarn.

Still, this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Cones are available almost everywhere, actually. And the best part about them is that they’re cheap.

A cone of multicolor fall toned yarn
Example : Lily Sugar’n Cream Cone Yarn

So, they sell for pretty reasonable prices. That’s good news if you’re the kind of knitter who never has enough yarn. Also, the yardage is pretty long. Unlike skeins or hanks or any other yarn balls, these are heavy-duty.

Of course, you might not like its appearance too much. A cone is not stylish like a donut ball. Nor is it conventional like a skein. It’s true that the look of a cone won’t impress you. The yarn doesn’t look too glam, either.

One thing to remember about cones is to wind the yarn off them. Due to their factory-made construction, they stretch the thread. And by that, we really mean it. They stretch the yarn so hard that there’s no bounce.

Still, don’t become desperate. You can just unwind the yarn from the cones and turn it into balls. Or you can choose another shape, like cake. Either way, you will allow the thread to relax a little.

You can also turn it into skeins or hanks. That’s ideal if you want to regain the softness and dye it later. For instance, you can use a niddy noddy for this purpose.

After that, just wash it and hang it to dry. You will find it softer and more manageable after that. And there are some other things to be aware of.

Some cones have a waxy coating. That comes from the milling, and it’s ideal for weaving. However, that might put you off. Therefore, the solution is just to wash it. You’ll get rid of the coating, and you’ll have plenty of yarn to work with.

Seeing how inexpensive cones are, they are worth a shot. Plus, you won’t have to deal with pesky knots. They come in such long threads that you won’t have to do that.


  1. Debra Trayler

    My Grandmother owned a haberdashery shop in the 1960s. She taught me to knit when I was seven years old. I’m now a Grandmother, I teach knitting at U3A and even I didn’t know half the reasons in the above article. Thanks so much for sharing that!

  2. I just love reading all of your articles. Thank you

  3. What a lovely, informative article. Thank you.

  4. Great funn reading this !!!

  5. Rosemary Thomas

    What an interesting article. I knew what a hank was but that was the limit of my knowledge , not any more, I wasn’t buying a ball but a doughnut

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