The Yarnologue

Yarn Bobbins and Butterflies

When knitting or crocheting color work such as intarsia or Fair Isle an issue you’ll quickly encounter is yarn management.

You can, of course, just work off the full balls of yarn. But most people find that method is both heavy and prone to crazy tangling from turning your project.

The solution lies in yarn bobbins and butterflies, which range from gadgets to hand tied. The best solution is the one that works for you!


Traditional plastic yarn bobbins

Traditional plastic yarn bobbins

Bobbins come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The ones pictures above were in a box of tools my mother-in-law gave me after she taught me to knit. This style has been around for a while, as evidenced by the fact that I think these belonged to her mother originally.

As you can see, it’s a simple matter of wrapping a length of yarn around the bobbin. You feed the working yarn from the slotted end, which also keeps it from unraveling too quickly.

Some people don’t like this style of bobbin because the hard plastic corners can get locked together if they bump into each other.

An answer to that issue is the “E-Z Bob” style of bobbin. You can see a picture of them on this website. This style of bobbin is doughnut shaped. One side is usually flat, while the other is domed. You pop the dome open, wrap the yarn around the inner core, and pop it shut again.

Because of the rounded sides this type of bobbin is less likely to get locked together. The yarn also feed from anywhere along the side, which some people prefer.


Hand tied yarn butterfly

Hand tied yarn butterfly

A gadget free solution is to hand tie a yarn butterfly.

This is a simple matter of wrapping the yarn in a figure 8 around two fingers (usually the thumb and pinky or index and pinky).
It can be a little hard to explain in text, so I made a little video demonstrating it.

In text, you’ll lay the yarn tail between your thumb and index finger toward the back of your hand. This keeps it accessible for latter. Then take the working yarn and wrap it in a figure 8 from one finger to the other. After you’ve made an adequate sized bundle take the tail and wrap it around the crossing point, then tuck it under the wrap.

The working yarn should feed smoothly from the butterfly as you knit or crochet.

The advantage of hand tied butterflies is, well, you don’t have to get up to find your bobbins, and they don’t add extra weight to your project.

Depending on the size of the butterfly I do find that I have to retie them occasionally.

Another option is to just let the yarn hang free! Depending on how many colors you are using, and how many yards you are trailing, some people don’t secure them at all.

I’ve heard this method is easy to untangle since there are no bobbins or butterflies at the end of the yarn to get tangled up.

Number and Size

The number of yarn bobbins you’ll need depends on how many colors with which you’re knitting or crocheting. Obviously, you’ll need one for each color.

If you’re working intarsia you’ll need a bobbin or butterfly for each color section, which means you might have two different butterflies for a single color.

Yeah, argyle!

Yeah, argyle!

For instance, for my Chadwick Argyle Cowl I had four red butterflies, two white butterflies, and a single black butterfly. (You can get the pattern here.)

How big to make your butterflies or bobbins is, to a degree, a matter of preference. You’ll want to include enough yardage to get a good amount of knitting or crocheting done, but not so much they become unwieldy. You’ll also want to consider how many ends you’ll have to weave in when the project is finished–the smaller your bobbins the more ends you’ll be weaving in.

As with so much in knitting and crocheting, you’ll get a better feel for it as you apply the technique!

On a random note, and I don’t remember how I found this, but this Jute Bundle with Wall Mount looks like it would be a very amusing way to manage your yarn. Of course then you’d have to have a dedicated place to sit and knit/crochet that project, but it still makes me giggle.

Which do you prefer? Plastic bobbins or hand tied butterflies? Share you’re tips for managing your yarn.


  1. shirley goldstein

    July 31, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    i am looking for large bobbins similar to the large yellow one shown above that you said belonged to your mother or her mother. i would appreciate it if you would let me know if you have them, and how they are sold. i hope you can help me. i cannot find them anywhere in the baltimore area. thank you very much.

  2. Hi Shirley
    Unfortunately, Knitting Fever doesn’t distribute notions. The bobbins are from my personal supplies.
    The large yellow bobbin says “Susan Bates” and is about 5″ long. But, as you probably realize, an internet search gives hit & miss results.
    Maybe these fish shaped bobbins at It’s All Just String will do the trick for you

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