Recently, I'd been trying what I call lap-skeining: knitting directly from a skein lying loose across my lap, instead of winding the yarn into a ball first. It was an interesting experiment but, ultimately, I decided, not my cup of tea.
I tried it when I was facing a 400-meter skein of fingering-weight silk and anxious to get started on my project, instead of sitting down for a marathon ball-winding session. Here, it seemed, was a way out! What did I need a wound ball for, when I had knees and gravity? So, laughing my evil henchman laugh all the while, I gave it a try. What I found, though -- once the initial exultant sense of getting away with something had ebbed away -- was that it turned out to be more extra fuss than warranted for the amount of time saved. This probably shouldn't have surprised me; otherwise, I suppose there would be lawless lap-skeining breaking out all over the land.
So it seems there's a reason why the wound ball was invented. Pulling a strand of yarn from the skein each time I needed to loosen another length was quite a delicate operation. It meant drawing the yarn centrifugally from the carefully laid-out skein, lifting the working strand off its fellows, their tendency to cling and pull up right along with it not always overcome by their own weight, and keeping the far loose end of the yarn from getting involved and causing a tangle. Nor was the knitting itself as relaxing and serene as it should be. In the back of my mind, there was a constant low-level buzz of worry that an ill-advised shift or motion could imperil the whole scheme. On the bright side, as Mary pointed out, when I really needed to relocate it, I could just hang the whole business rakishly around my neck. But on the whole, it was uncomfortably immobilizing. I couldn't do something as simple as re-crossing my legs without thinking about it. And that must be something I do a whole lot more than I ever realized, because not being able to do it sure was driving me crazy!
So it's back to the ball for me. Join the lap liberation front! Wound balls forever!
As knitters know, you can make a ball of yarn that pulls from the center by first making a little butterfly of yarn, then, making sure the loose yarn end stays out where you can see it, grasping the butterfly with your finger and thumb, and winding the yarn around and around over them. You have to keep the thumb in there for a good long time as you wind the yarn, to keep a hollow core in the ball so the end won't get sealed in too tightly to pull freely. You keep turning the ball on your thumb this way and that so the yarn will wind on evenly.
But as I learned when I started to read about spinning, there's a tool made just for the purpose, called a nostepinne. (That should actually be the special Scandinavian "o" with the little slash through it, but since I don't know how to make one, please just pretend it's there. :)
This pleasantly tactile nostepinne, made in Poland by the Kromski spinning wheel people, was one of my fun acquisitions last October at the Fall Fiber Festival in Montpelier, Virginia. This handy little tool helps liberate my thumb as well as my lap. In fact, a surrogate thumb is in essence what it really is. You hold it by the comfortable handle, and wind the ball onto the post, leaving your thumb free to answer the telephone, make a cup of tea, and generally come and go as it pleases. Just one of life's little luxuries.
But, of course, if you don't happen to have one handy, why let that be an obstacle? Even a pencil will do in a nostepinch! :)