When I was new to spinning, one of the most pressing questions I had was, how do you get the skeins to come out evenly. As I started to examine yarns, I realized that often the even exact lengths of mill spun yarn was due to one thing: Knots! There were usually joins within the skein that I absolutely hate because they always seem to appear at the most inopportune times as I am knitting. So the idea of equal length skeins was promptly thrown out the window.
Why skein handspun yarn at all, you ask? There are a number of reasons to skein your yarn. First to measure the length you have spun to see if you have enough for your project. Also winding into a skein helps to keep the yarn in a neat package to permit finishing.
There are a few different tools that can be used to wind yarn into a skein. I use a windmill type winder that has a two yard circumference on the paddles. This makes my yardage calculation very easy, multiply the number of strands in the hank by two to arrive at the yardage. Remember, as you measure freshly spun yarn, to allow for shrinkage that naturally occurs in the finishing process. This can be anywhere from 5 to 15% of the length. As a general rule, I use 10%, unless I am working with very fine wool.
Niddy noddies are also very useful, as well as being much more compact. They can usually be disassembled to make them very easy to store.
Umbrella swifts are the most ideal form of winder, as they can be adjusted to accommodate the skein after it has been washed (and significantly shrunk) making it easier to form the skein into a center pull ball for knitting, or winding onto a pirn for weaving.
Table top winders are another option. Some models are adjustable, so they can be used to wind or unwind skeins of varying diameter.
If none of these options are available to you, the home remedy method is to wind the skein onto the back of a chair. This makes the skein diameter a bit small, but you can also flip the chair upside down and wind the skein around the legs. In either case, be sure not to wind too tightly, as it can make removing the skein very difficult.
Once you have wound off the skein, be sure to tie it in a few places before removing it from the winder. Using scrap yarn, form a figure eight by wrapping half of the strands of the skein, pass both end of the scrap yarn through the middle of the hank, bring them to the top and tie. Be sure to keep these ties loose, as they may act as a resist in dyeing the yarn. They can also prevent the yarn twist from evening out properly when soaking it.