I inter-library loaned Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Workshop DVD a while ago, and even though I haven't made it through the whole series, I have really used one of the first things she shows you how to do. Since not everyone has access to the DVD, and it's been such a helpful thing in my knitting life, I wanted to share the technique with you here. It's a way to wind perfectly lovely center-pull balls, easily and simply with just your hands for tools. I have a ball winder and swift that I use frequently, but this trick is great in a pinch or if you're just in the mood to hand-wind your yarn.
When Laura and I were at the lake recently, I had to wind a skein of Manos Del Uruguay Wool Classica for a new project I'm working on, and she took photos of the steps involved. Just a note if you're planning to do this- I only do this with aran-weight yarn or chunkier. I am sure you COULD hand-wind a ball of sock yarn, but I don't have the patience for that.
First, put the yarn over your knees, a chair-back, or on the hands of an obliging friend. Then place the yarn tail over your hand, with the tail facing the back of your hand. I'm a lefty and I prefer wrapping the yarn around my right hand. See what feels best to you.
Begin wrapping the yarn around your thumb and first three fingers. I usually do this 10-12 times.
Remove the first bundle of wraps and loosely pinch it between your thumb and fingers while keeping the yarn tail over the back of your hand. Continue wrapping the yarn again.
Keep wrapping, changing direction every now and then. Once I've changed direction a few times, I stop putting my fingers around the yarn bundle- I just wind like it's a regular ball of yarn. The only trick is to not wind over the yarn tail. This is important to maintain the center pull nature of the ball.
When you're done you'll have a nice, even ball of yarn that feeds pleasingly from the center.