Even if you’ve never heard the term ‘pilling’ before, it’s something every knitter will have come across at some stage.
Pilling refers to fuzz balls or bobbles that form on the surface of your fabric. It’s a problem that can happen with manufactured garments too.
They usually turn up in areas where there’s friction, such as armpits and the section where your arms rub the sides of your sweaters.
It’s a common misconception that yarns that pill, do so because they are cheaply made and tatty. Often, this is not the case at all.
Bobbles actually form when fibres sliding out of the yarn gather, making clumps on the surface of a knitted item.
These fibres need to be slippery for this to occur, which generally means that they are soft and often at the pricey end of the scale. Cashmere and silk blends are real sticklers for pilling, but there are always exceptions.
Blends where several different materials have been spliced together (i.e. 12% cashmere, 33% microfiber and 55% merino wool), will often come away from each other – this can make pilling worse. Pure yarns, like pure wool, are less likely to misbehave.
Loosely spun yarns don’t hold their strands quite as well as tighter spins (which will feel firmer and more dense), so are likely to pill quite a bit. And obviously really chunky yarns have more strands, because they’re thicker, so they will pill a little worse as well.
Manufacturers will have their own spinning techniques to try and combat the problem so you will find that similar fibre blends will behave differently from company to company. Dyeing and washing techniques will also have an impact on how a fabric behaves with wear and tear.
How to manage pilling
1. Resist temptation to put fabric softener on your garments! This will make the fibres even more slippery and likely make your pilling even worse.
2. Remove the fuzz! The balls of fluff are on their way out of your garment anyway. Tugging at them might encourage more fibre to be pulled out, and form more pills, so you are better to very carefully cut them away from the surface of your knit.
3. There are loads of gadgets around that you can buy to remove them, combs and battery operated shavers work the best but don’t tend to last very long, and for very delicate fibres you have to be careful that they don’t cause damage.
4. Be patient! 9 times out of 10, pilling will slow and stop on its own.