An umbrella swift is a frame which is used to hold yarn while it is wound into balls or otherwise organized. The framework holds the yarn under tension so that it does not twist, tangle, or slide off, ensuring that it is easy to work with. These devices are primarily used by crafters such as knitters, spinners, and crocheters, and they are readily available from textile suppliers.
Swifts actually come in a range of designs, but many people prefer the umbrella swift because it is collapsible, so it can be folded up when it is not in use. For crafters with limited workspaces, this can be critical, as otherwise the swift would take up a lot of room. Umbrella swifts consist of a central bar around which the frame rotates. The frame can be folded out to hold yarn, or tucked up against the bar, and it is adjustable to accommodate skeins of yarn of varying sizes.
Most commonly, an umbrella swift is used with a yarn baller. To use the swift, the knitter attaches one end of a skein of yarn and gently turns the swift, unreeling the yarn and wrapping it around the framework. Then, the other end of the yarn is attached to the yarn baller, and the baller is turned on or hand cranked. As the ball forms, the umbrella swift spins to unspool more yarn as needed.
Wood is a common construction material for umbrella swifts, and it is often left unfinished to provide some traction so that the yarn will not slide off. It is also possible to find plastic or metal swifts. A clamp on the bottom can be used to attach the swift to a table, workbench, or the wall, and the swift can either be mounted flat or sideways, depending on personal taste and the available space.
It is important to keep an umbrella swift clean, because otherwise it could damage or stain yarn. Wooden swifts should be kept out of humid rooms, because the wood can warp, causing the swift to snag or catch as it is rotated, and it is a good idea to keep a an umbrella swift folded up when not in use so that the framework does not become distorted. Some people like to cover their swifts to keep dust and pieces of yarn from adhering to the framework.