Swift (textiles)

Swift (textiles)

"For other uses, see Swift (disambiguation)"

A swift is a tool used to hold a skein of yarn while it is being wound off."Swift." "The Oxford English Dictionary". 2nd ed. 1989.] It has an adjustable diameter so that it can hold skeins of many sizes, and rotates around a central rod."Swift." "The Oxford English Dictionary". 2nd ed. 1989.] Handwoven Magazine. "Weaving Terms." "Weaving Resources." Interweave Press. March 1, 2008 .] They are generally made out of wood or metal, however other materials may also be used. In the 18th and 19th centuries, swifts were sometimes made of whale ivory and they are now sought-after antiques. Swifts are not used very much in the textile industry, but are used more by knitters and crocheters who buy their yarn in skein form. The swift allows for easy balling, without the yarn getting tangled and knotted.


A swift can be as simple as four rods fixed into an axis, with bands connecting them. By sliding the bands the effective diameter changes, for different sized skeins."Swift." "The Oxford English Dictionary". 2nd ed. 1989.] However, most swifts are more complicated than this.

The 'umbrella swift' is one of the more common varieties, the advantage of it being that it folds up when not in use. Wooden umbrella swifts are the most common type of swift in use. They are preferred by hand spinners because they fold up, which is good for storage, and they are generally more stable, of higher quality, and look nicer than metal umbrella swifts.

A spinners weasel is similar to a swift, however it does not adjust to various sized skeins. While today this is a big disadvantage, as different manufacturers don't always make skeins the same size, it was not an issue when all yarn was hand spun. At this time skeins from one spinner would all be the same size, as they would have been made on the same niddy noddy, thus only one diameter was needed.

Common substitutes

In the modern day spinners weasels are even less common than swifts.

One substitute for a swift is to have someone else hold the skein. [Breiter, Barbara; Diven, Gail. [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=blkqpMqIzBYC&pg=PA10&dq=umbrella+swift&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=Ui6AIoFyI33FCil1QHcUqBrdDAQ "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Knitting and Crocheting Illustrated".] 2nd ed. Alpha Books, 2003. ISBN: 1592570895. Google Book Search. Retrieved on May 3, 2008.] This has several disadvantages however, first a willing second person has to be found, and secondly unless the other person has had a lot of practice holding skeins, the yarn winds off a swift much better. Yarn tends to catch on the hands and wristwatches of the person holding the skein, and a swift has neither hand nor watch to catch the yarn.

Another common substitute is the back of a chair. The disadvantages of this is that the skein is not kept under tension, and thus the yarn has a tendency to get tangled, and one has to stop very often to untangle it.


Swifts are most commonly used to ball a skein of yarn. An increasing percentage of yarn is sold in skein form, especially hand dyed or hand spun yarns, which necessitates balling for knitters and crocheters. Swifts are also sometimes used by weavers in preparing the warp: if the yarn for the warp comes in a skein, the warp can be wound directly onto the warping board from the swift.Handwoven Magazine. "Weaving Terms." "Weaving Resources." Interweave Press. March 1, 2008 .] As weaving yarns generally come on cones though, this use isn't as prevalent.


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