Working with yarn bobbins

Suzie Blackman
Monday, 25 January 2016

Knitting bobbins are little (usually) plastic frames that allow yarn to be wrapped round and hang securely thanks to a little hook. They come in handy for certain kinds of colour work. Either:

  • There are more than two colours in a row (e.g. complex stranded knitting)
  • There are two or more separate areas of the same colour in a row (e.g. intarsia)

While not essential for fair-isle style colour work, bobbins can help avoid unravelling balls and tangles. They really come into their own for intarsia, avoiding the need for separate balls of yarn.

For our Cauldhame Scarf pattern, both statements are true. Each row is worked with six colours, and a total of seven strands, using a combination of marled knitting and intarsia. It’s difficult to imagine attempting the project without bobbins and it probably wouldn’t be a fun experience!

I recently had a great question from Raveller PippaJB using bobbins for my Cauldhame Scarf pattern:

“It’s the first time I’ll have worked with bobbins, and I was just wondering how much yarn I should wind on to each one?”

To answer PippaJB’s question first of all: Everyone knits differently but for me the right amount of yarn was 3-4g on a bobbin.

Rather than putting all the yarn you need on the bobbin at the start, it’s much better to keep the bobbins light and re-load them several times. Why? Overloaded bobbins cause uneven tension. Unlike knitting from a ball, the full weight of the bobbin is pulling on the working yarn at all times, so stitches are pulled much tighter when the bobbin is heavy then when it’s nearly empty.

I also found that my knitting was much slower with heavy bobbins, and they were more likely to get tangled up and to unravel. Yes, there will be more ends to weave in and you’ll have to stop to re-load bobbins, but life is easier and results better with lightly-loaded bobbins.

More tips for using knitting bobbins

  • Use straight needles rather than circulars, if possible, to allow you to keep your bobbins spaced apart
  • Let out a little yarn at a time; 20-30cm (8-12 inches) of working yarn is ideal
  • Secure yarn by wrapping once around the larger side of the bobbin opening, the weight of the bobbin should keep it safe

The author

Suzie Blackman

The dyer, designer, photographer, creative technologist and maker-of-things behind It's a Stitch Up. She lives in East London in a home filled with colour, fluff and house plants.


  1. Kathy H says:

    Hello I have some questions about using yarn bobbins. This is the first time using them for me. I’m knitting a baby blanket with lots of color changes.
    Do I float the yarn if it’s only 5-6 stitches and pick it up on the next row, or start a new thread?
    This is all very new to me.
    Thanks in advance for sharing your expertise.

    • Hi Kathy, personally, I float up to 7 stitches in a fair-isle project. However, given that your project is a baby blanket, you might decide that it would leave too many loose floats for a baby’s little fingers to get stuck in. It depends on the design and how much effort you feel like going to!

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