What's this for? And is it working after all...?

Do you have any idea what this is and what it's for?


Like many other handicraft tools, I inherited this little utensil from my Nana, who used to do sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery.

This old-time, umbrella-looking instrument is called a swift and is used to hold a hank of yarn while it is being wound off. That is, if you sometimes buy a hank of yarn, instead of the usual, nicely wound ball, the swift is an indispensable assistant in the winding job. 

Before I had set up my swift to work properly, winding yarn was a real agony - either I had to force my family or friends to help, which wasn't always a possibility, or I would stretch yarn around my own feet, and this made the winding extremely uncomfortable because of the position of my body - I had to sit on the floor, with my legs stretched, my back bent and my feet contorted, holding the whole hank. I won't waste my breath talking about tangling and knotting - sometimes I spent hours (or even days) trying to untangle the yarn. This funny device has really made my hobby much easier.

Nowadays, this exceptional tool is scarce, and in the old days it was made mostly out of wood and metal, sometimes of other materials too. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they made it out of whale ivory, so these artifacts are now considered very valuable antiques.

This is what the swift looks like when it's closed...

...and like this when it is attached to a table or other working area.

Mounting is simple - C-clamp is easily tightened with a wooden screw.

To wind your yarn into a ball, you need to open the swift like an umbrella. The "umbrella" is made up of many wooden bars, loosely joined by strings of thread, thus forming an interwoven construction which holds the hank of yarn.

The wooden egg-shaped ball with a hole (picture below) is actually a holder of the "umbrella" so that it doesn't slide back down, once it's lifted up. On my device it is almost split in half, the screw has fallen out, so a metal ring was inserted under the ball, with a regular screw, which I now have to adjust using a screwdriver. To sum up, the "umbrella" can slide up and down and can be adjusted to the desired width, depending on the diameter of the hank.

And here is how you wind a hank of yarn into a ball: once you remove the label, you will get a big round piece of yarn which is tied with a knot in one place so as not to tangle the yarn. Grab that knot and carefully spread the whole hank around your swift loosely. Then adjust the "umbrella" by opening or closing it as much as it is necessary to stretch the hank over it.

Untie the knot and see where the beginning and where the end of yarn is. The beginning should be on the outside for easier winding.

Now you can start winding the yarn into a ball. As you tighten the string, the swift will go around and make this, in reality boring job, more interesting.