How to skate the ball of twine

A drawing of the ball of twine. From Browne, A Handbook of Figure Skating Arranged for Use on the Ice, p. 110.

The ball of twine is an awe-inspiring figure that has become an icon for what special figures used to be. Despite its apparent complexity, it is pretty easy to skate. It’s based on two simple skills.

A heel pivot. Browne, p. 110.

The first skill you need is the heel pivot. Put the heel of one skate in the ice and rotate the other skate around it.

The second skill is a sort of swizzle with one foot while the other foot glides along.

Once you have those two skills down, you can skate the ball of twine. Here’s how to do it.

Here are the steps:

  1. Draw a circle on the ice. It should be the size of a comfortable pivot.
  2. To skate counterclockwise, start with your left toe on the edge of the circle and your right foot separated a bit and tangent to the circle.
  3. Swizzle your left foot across the circle, letting your right foot glide along. As it goes across, let it go along the circumference of an imaginary circle in the middle of the circle you drew.
  4. When your left foot reaches the other side of the circle, put its heel in the ice and do a heel pivot until your right foot is back on the circle.
  5. Repeat, making the left foot hit the circle slightly to the right of the previous tracing each time. Eventually you’ll get all the way around the circle and have a ball of twine!

Here’s how it looks from the skater’s perspective.

The ball of twine from the skater’s perspective. Watch how the left foot aims carefully across the circle and places the next vertex just to the right of the previous one.

Beginners may find it helpful to start with only a few spokes in the middle and gradually increase the number. You can start by marking thirds of the circle and aiming your left foot at them. Then try fifths, sevenths, etc., until you’re ready for the real thing.

The finished ball of twine.
The ball of twine was invented over a century ago by Edward C. Hill, who was born West Troy, NY. This is him skating it (Fitzgerald, 53).


George H. Browne. 1900. A Handbook of Figure Skating Arranged for Use on the Ice. Springfield, MA: Barney and Berry. Explains how to skate the ball of twine on pages 109–110.

Julian T. Fitzgerald. 1916. Skaters History on Ice and Roller Skating. Chicago: Julian T. Fitzgerald. Includes a photograph of E. C. Hill skating the ball of twine and a brief biographical sketch on page 53.

Additional note, 9/29/2019

I taught this figure to several skaters at the 2018 World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships in Vail, CO.

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