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What is an Umbrella Swift?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By naturesgurl3 — On Aug 07, 2010

I have to tell you, you can get totally spoiled by these things. They make balling your yarn so convenient that you never want to do it by hand again.

Even though they look like one of those unnecessary luxuries, for people who knit a lot, it can actually be a big time saver.

I know that I could never give up my yarn swift!

By closerfan12 — On Aug 07, 2010

@Planch -- I think you mean an umbrella swift and a yarn baller -- an umbrella swift is a yarn winder.

But to answer your question, yes, you can often buy an umbrella swift and yarn baller together. Most craft stores or knitting stores have several available, and if you need a specialized one (for size, etc.) then they can order it for you.

By Planch — On Aug 07, 2010

Is it possible to buy an umbrella swift and yarn winder together? Or are they two separate things that you have to get?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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