Posted by: jinniver | May 25, 2008

It works!

I am a relatively handy person, beyond knowing which end of the hammer is the right one. For my birthday several years ago, Steve bought me a full drill bit set and a small RotoZip tool. When his fellow officers found out, they asked him how long I’d made him sleep on the couch. They were stunned to hear that I’d asked for those items. While we were at that duty station, we actually built an entertainment center, a tiled coffee table, and two end tables. They were definitely full of faults, but they were serviceable (my parents have the tables in their basement rec room) and we made them ourselves.

So, when I realized that a yarn swift had moved from the lists of “nice-to-have” to “must have,” the idea of making one myself was quite appealing. It wasn’t so much the money savings–although the less money I spend on tools, the more I have to spend on yarn–as much as it was the idea of turning pieces of unrelated wood and fasteners into a tool with a purpose.

I didn’t come up with the idea on my own, of course–a post on Ravelry mentioned the diy tools group in response to someone’s question about a less expensive swift. I dropped in and checked out the post about ball winders, although the subject quickly shifted to swifts. There were several different posts with suggestions, some with links to patterns that you could buy, and some with free patterns. My favorite was Anne Kuo Lukito’s Crafty Diversions with instructions for two versions of a DIY swift.

I didn’t actually follow the directions, but by looking at the supply list and the various pictures, I had a pretty good idea of how it went together. I preferred the first version with the CD, but not with the chiseling. I felt there was an easier way to do it, so I decided to try and figure something out. My two main requirements were that a) it worked (obviously) and b) it could be broken down into as small a package as possible when not in use–not just for storage purposes but mostly because we move every couple of years.

My basic design is very close to version 1 from the Crafty Diversions’ website. I made the base from two pieces of 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ x 2′ pine, while the swift arms were made from two pieces of 1″ x 1 1/2″ x 4′ pine (much longer than I needed, but it was the shortest precut piece in the 1″ thickness). The only reason the pieces for the arm were so thick was because I wanted to have plenty of depth in the holes I drilled for the dowels. I knew I wanted the base pieces to be 1 1/2′ long, so I opted to cut 3″ off of either side–I was going to need four scrap pieces, and this was easier than cutting off one 6″ piece and then trying to cut that in half by hand. Two of the scrap pieces went under the ends of the bottom base piece (which needed to be raised to accommodate the head of the bolt); the other two went on top, on either side of the top base piece. That provided a wedge to keep the top base piece from rotating without having to attach to the two base pieces together. The base was put together with a 5/16″ x 5″ long hex bolt with wing nut, with the hole drilled just big enough that the hex bolt could be screwed on.

I also cut 8″ pieces off both sides of the swift arms so that I would have four pieces of 1″ scrap. I used my largest skein to determine how much to cut off of the swift arms–I wanted another 2″ beyond where the yarn would lay. Two of those scrap pieces went under the ends of the top base piece, so that the entire base was even (the feet are not exactly the same, but it’s close enough to keep the swift from rocking). The other two scrap pieces were attached to the bottom swift arm in the same manner as to the bottom base piece–this allowed the two swift arms to “lock” in the x-formation without having to chisel, and also makes the swift arms easy to take apart. I’d already marked where my longest skein fell on the swift arms; now I marked where my shortest one fell, and then marked holes approximately every 1 1/2″ to drill holes (not all the way through!) to place the dowels–I definitely wanted the size to be adjustable.

The hole in the center of each arm was drilled larger than for the base, so that the arms would spin freely. As in the original version, I placed a washer on top of the wingnut, and then a throw away CD on top of the washer. The arms rest on top of the CD. The last parts needed were the adjustable dowels–four 9″ pieces cut from a 3′ length of 5/16″ oak dowel. Another change I made was to add a flat 1″ dowel plug on the top of each dowel to keep the yarn from sliding up and off of the dowels. One lesson I did learn–drill a starter hole in the top of the dowel before nailing on the plug. Although the nails I used were small (thin 5/8″ wire nails), the first one split the top of the dowel.

With the exception of the throw away CD (thank you, unnamed internet supply company!) and some longer nails which we already had, I purchased every part of my new swift. Total cost, before tax: $16.15. I’ve heard it said that the true cost of anything handmade is in the labor; in this case, even if I were charging $10 an hour for my untrained labor, it would only tack on about another $25 to the cost. Still a bargain compared to a $70 swift, and it probably would have gone faster had I actually either read the original instructions or planned out my full process from start to finish. Still, I had a good enough idea of what I wanted that I was comfortable winging it…and I think the end result looked pretty good.

And, as I hoped, it breaks down into a tidy pile that will be easy to store and move.

But…does it work?

Yeah. It works.

ETA: Like the yarn I’m winding? It’s Castle Fiber’s handspun hand-dyed Tussah silk yarn in the Dawning colorway.



  1. Awesome!!

  2. Oh my gosh. You just made yourself a yarn winder! That is so cool! I am humbled before your mad skillz!

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Meany!!


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