Yesterday I posted a picture of a sweater, now 39 years old, that my grandmother made for me. To the left is another picture of that sweater – a close up. Notice that there are no “pills” on the sweater.
Compare this to close up below (best I could do :() of the cabled sweater I knit from a worsted weight 3- or 4-plied yarn (llama or alpaca) some 15 years ago. It pills.
Usually shorter and/or weaker fibers of will protrude above the fabric. When subject to friction (e.g., rubbing), these fibers catch and create little clumps of fibers called “pills.”
Variables: How much your fabric pills generally depends on a combination of variables, including: type of fiber (soft yarns pill more), fiber length (short staple-yarns pill more), fiber quality (poor quality yarns will break and pill more), and/or twist of yarn (the tighter the twist, the less pilling).
What to do with pills: You can remove pills from your knit, crocheted or woven fabric by using: a sweater stone that acts like sandpaper; an electric hand-held de-fuzzer; a piece of fine sandpaper; a disposable razor; or a sweater comb like the d*fuzz*it I’ve used for years. (When I wash and pack my heavy sweaters away at the end of winter, I remove any pills that I find.)
Selecting Yarn: If you plan on knitting something durable that will get a lot of wear (e.g., socks or certain sweaters), use a smooth yarn with a tight twist. Here is a close up of Peer Gynt; it is a tightly spun five-ply 100% wool yarn.
Look closely at Peer Gynt. Notice you cannot see any fuzzy ends sticking out of the yarn.
Testing for pilling: “To test for pilling or abrasion, hold your hand as if to snap your fingers. Place two strands of yarn between the snapping fingers and quickly roll them back and forth several times. If the yarn begins to separate or peel apart, it will likely pill under normal body abrasion in a garment, such as where the arms rub against the body.” (Shirley Paden, author of Knitwear Design Workshop)
Generally speaking: Most knits (more so than crocheted fabrics) will pill to some degree.
- Coarse long-stapled wools pill less than fine, short-staple wools
- Loosely spun yarns tend to pill more than plied or tightly twisted, smoother yarns
- Protein fibers tend to pill more than cellulose or bast (e.g., cotton, linen) fibers
- Generally silk pills less than wool
- Acrylic pills
More: Check out The Knitting Harpy‘s discussion on yarn texture and ply.
Back to my grandmother’s sweater: My grandmother knit my sweater out of Peer Gynt, a tight spun wool, long-staple yarn by Sandnes Garn. No pills on the outside. However, as shown in the picture to the right, on the inside of this two-colored sweater are floats … and thus there are longer lengths of yarn exposed to friction from being rubbed against my hip. That said, there are scant few pills inside the sweater.
Now, Peer Gynt does not come to mind when I think about a soft cushy wool. It pops to mind instantly, however, if I think about knitting a traditional Norwegian ski sweater or cardigan that will last for decades and/or generations!