I’m always looking for ways to make my work more efficient – especially the non-creative tasks – so I have more time to do the creative and deep-thinking work. There’s definitely some happiness that comes out of brainless tasks like winding yarn, but when you’re doing them on a large scale, it can get physically and mentally tiring. I probably should have been a mechanical engineer (if I had known what that was when I was applying to music school!) – I love tools and I love to figure out how to rig up the tools I need. Oh, I’m also wicked cheap, a bit of a packrat (hoarder?), and a pathological reuser, so I like to either use stuff I already have in my basement or get someone else’s old stuff from a thrift store to make these tools. The more I can reuse, the less I can buy or bring new stuff into my house, the happier I am.
So the latest tool I decided I needed is a motorized yarn winder. Please note that these do actually exist out in the marketplace, made by legitimate companies who charge a totally appropriate price for really high-quality versions (see Nancy’s Knit Knacks). But I wanted to try a homemade, probably janky, version. It’s no fun to just buy tools – way too quick and easy! Part of the fun of my random tool adventures is the challenge of trying to figure out how to make a functioning thing with stuff I (mostly) already have. If it’s not a little bit of a difficult, frustrating, pain in the butt, it just isn’t as satisfying. (Have I mentioned I grew up in New England? We cultivate this particular mania here. I blame the Puritans and all the rocks in the soil. Thanks, glaciers!)
So… I did a bunch of research online to see what kind of motor I could use. My first thought was to buy a sewing machine motor and foot pedal and see if I could somehow make that work. And then I ran across a few videos online showing how to make an electric yarn winder using a kitchen hand mixer. Whaa?? So of course I tried this with the mixer I already own (first step: use stuff you have), but the low speed on it was too powerful and too hard to control. Plus we use it to make food, so maybe it’s not okay for me to commandeer it for yarn winding. So I went to a local thrift store (Savers) and found exactly what I needed: a mustard yellow Sunbeam Mixmaster (love that name!), probably from the 1980’s. I combined the mixer with some empty yarn cones I had from weaving yarn, some “gripper” material to close up the space between the beater head and the inside of the cone, and some adjustable clamps (because I don’t plan to hold back), and suddenly I had an amazing way to recycle yarn from sweater pieces quickly, directly, and automatically onto a cone of yarn, rather than hand-cranking or hand-winding a ball (both of which start to make me ache after a little while. SO MUCH FUN! Total cost was $4.99+tax for the mixer, and it’s a beast! (In a good way.)
I use the mixer at the lowest speed most of the time, and it is really only usable with really sturdy yarn like cotton. Delicate yarn like cashmere or shetland wool would not hold up as well to the strong pull of the motor and would break a lot. And while I have a lot of empty weaving yarn cones, this also works with toilet paper or paper towel rolls, which are exactly the right size to slip over the beater. Those two don’t hold as much yarn as the cones do (especially the cylindrical ones), but they absolutely do the trick. You just have to pay attention when the cone/tube starts wobbling — it’s about to fly off the beater! To a certain point, you can push it back down on the beater (centrifugal force!) but once it starts getting full it’ll be hard to control and you should just stop and start a new ball.
If you want an overview of all the steps to turn a sweater into yarn, check out this post!