Pilling: some thoughts.

August 07, 2015

I have some rather strong opinions on the matter of pilling, and inspired by a conversation with Libby over at Truly Myrtle, we agreed to both put some words down and blog about it.

I’m looking for yarn that isn’t going to pill.’ is a phrase repeated often in the shop. More often than not it leaves me floundering, because that’s a fairly difficult stipulation to make when it comes to yarn.


There are some basic rules I follow as to if a yarn will end up with those little bobbles all over it, but as with any rules there are always exceptions.

  1. A single ply yarn will pill. There’s no two ways about it - being plied helps to hold all the fibre in place, and if you’re missing that component, you’re going to get some fluff popping out. This fluff then joins up with other fluff, has a party and makes for pilling.
  2. Soft yarns are also at a greater risk of pilling. They tend to have finer fibres (indicated by a small micron count) and a shorter staple, which means the fibre is more likely to pull itself out of the twist, and do the party thing.
  3. If you’re making a garment, the places where the fabric will rub against itself or other surfaces will pill: under the arms, on the cuffs, wherever your bag rubs against your body as you move around.

My best advice is: accept you will have some pilling, especially if super-soft is your game. If it is something that makes you crazy, save those soft or single ply yarns for special accessories, ones that won’t be subjected to a lot of friction. Invest in a good de-pilling device. This is where I admit I don’t own one. There are so many options with such mixed results that i’ve left the hunt for one off my to-do list, and have chosen to live with the fuzz.

A couple years ago I knit a garment with Malabrigo Lace knowing full well it would pill and felt - and accepted that from the outset. I was much too in love with the colour and the feel of the yarn to worry about how it will look after a few wears. I think of it as a child would of a favourite toy - it may look a little rough around the edges from use, but it is still much loved.

Aforementioned yellow cardigan, as a WIP (and already getting a bit fuzzy).

There is a time and place for super soft, as there is a time and place for work-horse yarns. The more I knit, the greater my appreciation for a good, robust yarn. You may not get that ‘ooooh’ factor when you touch it, but it’s usually reliable, predictable and the fabric is less likely to do surprising things when blocked and worn.

When you’re selecting yarn for your next project, i’d like to challenge you. Take a few extra minutes deciding. Think about your vision of the finished item:

  • Could you sacrifice the super soft touch for better wear?
  • Will it get lots of use or will it be an occasional item?
  • Could you adjust your expectations as to which colour to go for in order to obtain a better fabric?
  • Do you love the yarn so much that you’re prepared for a little more work to maintain a nice finish?

Of course, sometimes, a yarn simply calls to you in a way that can’t be ignored. I know the song well. However, armed with a bit of knowledge, you’ll be better able to anticipate how it will wear, and that’s the most important thing.

Happy knitting!



Mary-Anne said:

Pilling is why I turn to Romney if I want it to last. Having said that, sometimes even my handspun Romney / Corriedale garments pill. Then I get a pair of scissors (yes scissors! – if there’s a cheapo shortcut I’ll take it), sit on the deck in the sun and lay sections of the garment over my thigh. Where the fabric rests against the curve of my thigh I chop away with the scissors holding them sideways to the fabric.
I find that I usually only have to do this once, maybe twice, which is as much as it takes for the shorter fibres to rub themselves to the surface.
Warning – I wouldn’t use this method on a delicate lacy shawl – I’m not that crazy!

Maree B

Maree B said:

Bravo! So well said. Hand knitting yarn and garments are often expected to wear like commercially produced ones, it just isn’t true. Also with the more and more patterns (esp US) using slacker tensions,it makes it harder for the yarn to stay smooth. There’s a reason why many European patterns use DK patterns worth tensions of 24 – 26st over 10cm.

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