Do you have a knit piece that you love but can’t wear because of pilling? You are not alone in the frustration of pilled yarn – particularly if you are a natural fibers enthusiast. The key to avoiding pills is understanding what they are and how they’re created. The goal of this blog is to teach you how to approach a variety of yarns and evaluate their pilling potential on a case-by-case basis.
What is pilling?
Pilling is created by friction against your knitwear. Those fuzz bobbles are essentially little felt pieces from fibers being pushed and locking together. Once the yarn pills and this felt bond is created it’s best to remove them as soon as possible because they can grow and build off the existing pill.
There are three main characteristics to consider for when avoiding pills:
- Yarn Construction: This is often the most important aspect to consider when choosing yarn that won’t pill. The softer the twist of the fibers, the more likely the yarn is to pill. Look at the ply or strands of fiber within the single piece of yarn. Place the yarn in between your thumb and middle finger as if to snap and slowly twist the yarn in both directions horizontally to see how easy it is to pull the strands of fiber apart. Oftentimes the easier it is to pull the fibers apart, the easier it is to pill.
Here are yarn constructions that are less likely to pilling:
- Chainette yarn.
- High-twist two ply yarn.
- Multi-ply yarn.
- Felted yarn.
For example, here are two yarns made out of the exact same Cotton fiber – one of which pills quite a bit, while the other I’ve worn for years with not a sign of pilling. The yarn prone to pilling is a soft two-ply construction while the non-pilling yarn is a high twist multi-ply yarn.
- Fiber Type: Each fiber has a staple length, which is the length of each individual strand of fiber. With wool, staple length varies greatly, which is why some wool pills much more than others (another factor is the crimp or straightness of the fiber). The longer the staple, the less likely the fiber is to pill. Shorter staple fibers tend to create a halo around yarn, which is quite beautiful, but encourages pilling over time.
Here are some natural fibers that are less prone to pilling, consider yarns with these blends:
- Coarser wools with long staples.
- Suri Alpaca fiber versus Huacaya Alpaca fiber.
For example, this bulky weight Ushya yarn (available from Fiber to the People) only has 2% Nylon added to an otherwise entirely Merino Wool yarn. That little blend and the chainette construction decreases the pill-factor significantly.
- Knit Stitch: If you fall in love with a single-ply yarn that is prone to pilling (don’t we all) your pattern can make an impact. The looser the gauge, the more area there is for the yarn strands to rub against each other. So if you have a lace stitch it’s much more likely to pill than if you knit it in a tight linen stitch. Or in the case below, I held a single-ply yarn double with a high twist synthetic yarn to keep it’s hold while maintaining the softness of Suri Merino.
For example, the Constellation Hat’s base fiber is a single-ply Suri Merino with a halo. By holding double with a synthetic fiber yarn that has a high twist, I’ve managed to contain the pilling while maintaining the squishiness of the luxurious alpaca yarn.
Hope that helps your next project – please share other tips and tricks you’ve come up with to avoid pilling!