What is a Yarn Bra & Do I Really Need One?

Knitting, crocheting, it doesn’t matter. If your yarn ball or skein isn’t contained, you are in for some real problems. In this article, we’ll go over the why and the how of yarn bras – for yarn balls and skeins.

Yarn bra is the term used for various things, usually made of cloth or flexible plastic, that people use to contain their yarn balls while working with them.  They can be made out of household items like socks or plastic bags or commercial versions are for sale from various knitting suppliers.  Yarnists, being inherently creative, are constantly inventing their own versions.

All yarn bras do two things:  they enclose the yarn, no matter what the shape, and provide an opening for the working strand.  The yarn bra has to continue to hold the ball closely even as the yarn ball shrinks as the yarn is used up.

What a Yarn Bra Does:  Keep it Clean

One of the challenges of yarn, whether a ball, skein, or cake, is that it’s sticky.  In order for a fiber to make a good yarn, it has to be sticky.  The individual strands have to stick together or it won’t hold together as a yarn.  But this stickiness means that it will also attract and hold dirt, dust, hair, etc.

Yarn bras don’t change the stickiness, but they do help keep the yarn where you want it.  Instead of rolling all over the floor, or uncontrollably large stretches of yarn all over your couch and everyone on it, your yarn will stay in the bra until you pull it out.  If you roll your yarn bra around on the floor, it will pick up dirt, just not as much – and you’ll deserve it!

Wandering Yarn

Have you ever pulled on your yarn and had your yarn ball take off across the room?  Don’t worry.  If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.  The last time it happened to me was last night.  Even after all these years, every now and then I forget, or get too lazy, and fail to contain my yarn.  And pay the price.

Being at least somewhat round, almost all yarn likes to travel.  This can lead to long stretches of yarn that are difficult for a knitter to control, many opportunities for the yarn to pick up extra fuzziness, and, of course, it’s the ultimate kitten bait.  It’s hardly your cat’s fault if you dangle that kind of temptation in front of them!

Even without the help of a cat, wandering yarn can easily become tangled yarn.  Sometimes the act of untangling yarn can be gratifying and soothing, but for most, it’s a frustrating time that eats into their precious and limited knitting time.

[Hint:  If your yarn does become tangled, shaking it is a highly effective way to loosen any knots.]

Center Pull Is a Must

Have you tried pulling from the outside of your ball or, worse, skein? How did that go?

I think every knitter tries it at least once. I know I did. And it was a disaster.

On top of all of the usual problems you have with uncontained yarn, that is braless yarn, pulling from the exterior of your ball is the quickest way to create a major yarn mess. All of the above problems apply, only more quickly and more often. You’ll be spending much more time cleaning and untangling your yarn than you will knitting.

Center pull is a must. It can’t be said too often.

Of course there are exceptions.  There are limited times when you may want to pull from the outside and inside of your yarn at the same time. That’s a bit much for a beginner.  Just go with two balls of (contained) yarn.

Finally, yarn bras work by keeping the outside of the yarn ball stable while providing an opening for a strand of yarn to exit from the interior of the ball. The best ones are somewhat elastic and shrink as your yarn ball shrinks. At best, if you tried pulling from the outside of your ball while it’s in a bra, it would need a lot of encouragement. It’s tough to feel relaxed while knitting when you have to constantly micromanage your yarn.

I hate micromanaging my yarn. Yarn bras are my solution.

Other Yarn Considerations

Yarn comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Fifty gram balls are very common.  Medium to large skeins are also common.  Then there are yarn cakes.  In every case, the yarn bra must fit the yarn, but the actual shape is not all that important.

Because yarn is relatively loosely wound, it’s pretty easy to squeeze it into a smaller container.  That’s how it works with most yarn bras.  While they may have some elasticity, the yarn’s squishiness is what makes it possible to get the bra over and around the yarn.

You don’t really need to have the yarn contained when you first start using the ball or skein.  It’ll hold together for quite a while, usually.  Be warned though, some balls fall apart pretty quickly, especially if the yarn is slippery.

Real Life Yarn Bras

Most yarn bras that are commercially produced and sold strongly resemble the mesh sleeves that you sometimes see on produce. They’re elastic enough to hug your yarn even as it shrinks. There aren’t as many commercial one available anymore, probably because yarnists usually come up with their own free versions. Such as:

  • Athletic tube socks – My favorite if you want to store a few smallish yarn balls or one skein. Also, easy to clean and very long lasting! Pantyhose would work, too, if you can find some. The main drawback to sock-bras are that you can’t see the yarn ball.
  • Produce mesh – Another good reason to eat your veggies and fruit! But I tend to have some questions about how clean these really are.
  • Plastic bags – While you could use a new plastic food storage bag,English muffin bag yarn Bra I usually choose to use an english muffin bag. Just turn it inside out, maybe put a hair tie or loose twist tie around the open end so the ball doesn’t escape when it gets smaller – rarely necessary. Larger plastic bags usually don’t hold the shape of the ball or skein well enough for my taste.
  • Yarn sleeves is another term I’ve heard used, which suggests you could use a sleeve, maybe from a sweater that is no longer useful but has good knit sleeves?

Yarn Bra Alternatives

Specialized yarn containment for cones and cakes do exist.  Unlike yarn bras, they don’t hold the cones or cakes together from the outside.  One is the popular yarn bowl.  These are frequently very attractive.  They don’t work well with yarn balls – at least, mine fell apart and made the usual bra-less mess.  I’ve heard they were designed specifically for yarn cakes and that’s why they don’t work with yarn balls.  They definitely don’t work with skeins.  I haven’t tried it with a yarn cake yet, but my cakes tend to fall apart more quickly and easily than yarn balls, so I haven’t risked it yet.

The second device I’ve seen used is basically a spindle, like a paper spindle sometimes used in offices or restaurants, these hold the cake or cone by gong straight through the middle.  In theory, this should allow the yarn to spin while you pull.  These might only work with exterior pull.  That would be different!

In practice, I’ve never used a yarn spindle.  If you have, I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.  Also, if you’ve tried using either of these with yarn balls or skeins, I’d love to hear how that went.

Quality of Knitting Life

When you look at all the reasons you should use a yarn bra, this is what it comes down to. We all have many demands on our time and energy. A yarn bra prevents some of the speedbumps that would slow down your knitting and interfere with your enjoyment of it.

  • It manages your yarn so you don’t have to.
  • It keeps it clean, which means your final product is cleaner, too.
  • it prevents aggravating, time-sucking knots.
  • By preventing problems, you’ll have more time for knitting and a calmer mind to begin with.  You’ll enjoy your knitting more.

I hope that answers your questions about yarn bras.  If you have used one, or you start using one for the first time, let me know how it goes!

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