Making a Magic Yarn Ball

Over the years I have been collecting various single skeins of yarn from sale bins, yarn swaps, thrift stores, and leftovers from my own projects. Sometimes I have even kept tiny balls of leftover sock yarn. If the yarn is beautiful and of good quality, I can’t bear to throw it away.  I am constantly sorting and tidying up my yarn stash, and I keep coming upon these lonely “orphans” and their little sisters of partial skeins. What to do with them? 

Make magic balls! 

how to make a magic yarn ball

What is a magic ball of yarn? A magic ball is a single ball or cake of yarn, which consists of many different types, fibers, textures, weights and colors. A magic ball can be used for making beautiful shawls, scarves, baby blankets and lap robes.

Some suggestions for making a magic ball:

1. Choose your color scheme. You can look at a favorite painting, a print blouse, or nature. I find that the easiest way to make a pleasing color scheme is to use a color wheel (available where you buy art supplies). The color wheel will show you how to blend colors so you will get the most pleasing effect. One of my recent projects used  teal, lime, olive green, light blue and an occasional shot of hot pink or orchid. 

2. Mix textures. I like to mix fuzzy, smooth,  thin and thick yarns in the same ball. When I mix a thin yarn next to a fuzzy or a heavy gage yarn, I usually double or triple the strands to keep the gage somewhat close. 

3. Mix fibers with thought to the future use of the project. If I am making a shawl or a scarf that will be used gently and washed carefully, I use up my small bits of wool, silk, rayon, ribbon, mohair, cashmere and alpaca. If I am making a baby blanket or a lap robe then I use acrylics, nylon fuzzy yarns, cotton chenille, and other man-made machine washable and dryable fibers. 

4. Make sure you have enough yarn in your chosen color scheme and fiber mix before you start – at least 16 oz, (500 gm) or more. That way you will be able to mix yarns in the order you like without worrying about running out. I like to use at least six different yarns, with different textures and weights. 

What you will need:

  • At least six different yarns in your chosen color and texture scheme 
  • A ball winder (my preference)
  • A pair of scissors

Start making your Magic Ball. 

I like to use a ball winder that creates a lovely cake of yarn. A big advantage of the cake over a ball is that you can see all the colors in the mix when you are finished. The bottom of the cake is the best place to see what is in the cake. When mixing colors and textures I follow a loose repetition of thickness, texture and color. I place the yarns to one side in the order that I used them. That way I can use them again in the same order as I create the or cake. It is usually necessary to make at least two or three cakes to complete a project.

I like to turn the handle off my ball winder about 7 to 10 times per each yarn change. This is the time to experiment. There is no wrong way to mix yarns. Fade  or contrast colors, short repeats or long, just let your inner artist do this part. The results are unpredictable once you start knitting it up. Be curious, be bold!

I will hold two or three strands of thin yarns together as one strand. I tie knots to start a new yarn change leaving tails of 3.” My preference is to leave the tails showing or pull them onto the wrong side of the work. The knots don’t show and the tails can add character.  If you are mixing all smooth yarns together, tie them together loosely leaving 6” tails that can be woven in later. 

Use a large gauge needle when knitting up your projects. I have used a US 13 to 19 (9.0mm to 16.0mm) circular needle with a longish cable for my last two Magic Ball projects. 

Here are a couple of easy pattern ideas to inspire you:

sugar and spice baby blanket

Sugar and Spice Baby Blanket (I didn’t make a magic ball to make this, but instead changed yarns every few rows. You could certainly make it using a magic ball for a very similar effect!)

Magic Ball Shawl

My finished Magic Ball Shawl. Some of those bits are flags from one of the novelty yarns I used. Others are where I’ve knotted two yarns together. Unlike the blanket, the yarn changes happened randomly throughout the shawl – often in the middle of a row.

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