Many folks I know like to make balls of yarn from the skeins they've purchased in the store. Even if the skein is a "pull skein", they'll often be found winding .... and winding .... and winding.
Me? If it's a pull-skein, I just get right to the fun of the knitting ... but if it's a loop of yarn, than I too like to make them into perfectly shaped yarn balls. Although, my balls are not round, but rather pancake or straight-lined donut shaped. This allows for pulling the yarn from the center ... the yarn donut doesn't roll about the floor picking up dust-bunnies in it's wake ... and I have a pretty display of yarn for inspiration!
Aren't they beautiful ... and it took only 20 minutes to wind over 1000 yards of yarn!
I use an umbrella swift and ball-winder set that I've had for years. An umbrella swift is just what it's name implies: an umbrella like construction (that telescopes out or in) and spins around to quickly wind yarn. Here's one of the skeins on my swift:
The kids LOVE to watch this thing spin (I'm still trying to figure out why!) and it holds a large skein of yarn. The one I have is plastic and metal and does a great, fast job.
I'm saving my design funds for a wooden swift like this one .... which is gorgeous and not too awfully expensive as far as a knitting tool I'll use for years (sound believable? I've already started working on dh about this one ...). The ball-winder I have and have used with NO problems for at least 11 years is this one and there are many out there very similar (Knit Picks and Lion Brand both carry similar ones in their catalogs).
Now, you may be wondering why ANYONE would spend almost $100 for tools like this (especially when yarn could be purchased with that money). Well, sometimes good tools are worth their weight in gold ... and this is one of those occasions. As my design work has increased, so has the quality and cost of my yarn. I want to treat it the best way I can. Winding a center-pull skein is the best way to handle wool or other natural-fiber yarns because the yarn is under the least amount of tension this way ... this is why you NEVER want to wind a "hard ball". That wool or cotton will be stretched ... knit in a stretched and stressed condition ... and will ultimately relax and go into it's natural position, and you're hand-knit will never measure right! Trust me ... treat your yarn right and you'll have a beautiful product at the end.
So altho the initial outlay is amazing ... the tools last a LONG time and more than pay for themselves. My almost $100 investment some 11 or 12 years ago has allowed me to quickly wind yarn (without having to have someone hold a skein on their hands and fuss the whole time!) the correct way for all those years (and in MANY different localities). A win-win!
Mary C. Gildersleeve
By Hand, With Heart -- hand-knit designs