The dreaded ‘P’ word

‘Pilling is a pet peeve for lots of knitters. When your finished objects start to pill, they begin to look old and the beauty of the yarn, the design, and the workmanship is diminished. Why does pilling happen?’ – Clara Parkes, Knitting Daily

Have you ever knit a jumper, worn it once or twice and realised the yarn you used pills like there is no tomorrow? For someone like me, who abhors what I call the ‘Devil’s Balls’, this  is the worst feeling ever. Before starting Kettle Yarn Co. I would spend weeks searching for the ‘perfect yarn’ for a project, always seeking that Holy Grail  of yarn blends – deliciously soft and not itchy but a yarn that will still wear like hardier, crunchy wool without pilling.

image from my Aidez in Cascase Eco+ in 2012

I’d always assumed that pilling in a store bought jumper indicated an inferior yarn had been used, but soon learned that fibre type, length, ply, twist – many factors can contribute to pilling in a yarn. It wasn’t until I began researching yarn qualities and construction that I really started to understand  the hows and whys of pilling. Clara Parkes‘ brilliant books – The Knitter’s Book of Wool and The Knitter’s Book of Yarn – and her various articles on yarn construction started an extreme case of what I call ‘yarnitis’ – a feverish need to KNOW yarn.

This led years of hands-on experience, swatching, wearing and rigorously testing a large number of different blends for that illusive perfect blend.


Through this research I began to slowly get an understanding of how long staple yarns are hard wearing and low pilling; How those longer strands have less ends poking their little heads out in a woven length of yarn to ball up and how thicker micron weights – yarns thicker than than  the ever-pervasive Merino ,which is prone to pilling – are more able to resist abrasion. Unfortunately this hardy robustness is also what can make them itchy as those tiny pill resistant ends can also feel pokey to sensitive skins.

It turns out that the cost of  soft yarn is often pilling and/or damage to fibres as those short, tender threads that give us gentle garments are also naturally prone to abrasion. To quote my yarn-hero Clara again on how to deal with pilling:

‘Remove as many of the pills as you can, either by plucking (if they come off easily) or by snipping (if they resist). That first batch of fibers doesn’t want anything to do with the fabric, so let it go.’ 

So when you finally come to terms and accept that some pilling is completely natural and to be expected in soft yarn, how much is too much? And what are the qualities one should look for in a yarn blend to ensure long lasting wear in a project? These are questions I have asked myself over and over while choosing yarns for Kettle Yarn Co.

I still believe that no pilling is the best policy, therefore strive for as close to that perfection as I can get! To help you plan your projects with my yarns I’ve created a ‘wear chart’ that shows my blends and gives an indication of how many shaves it will take before light pilling (and ONLY LIGHT) stops completely.

Just as an indication, my Relax jumper knit in ISLINGTON – a two shave blend-  has been worn at least once a week since I finished it in July last year. It still looks brand new and I’ve never had to shave it! It still only has the tiniest micro-balls that aren’t bothering me yet.


Most of you will never even notice the light pilling I am referring to, but for the ultra-picky – like  me- you can choose which blends will best suit your intended garments!



I’d love to know if people think this is a good idea and if it helps you!

10 thoughts on “The dreaded ‘P’ word

  1. This is so amazing and I have a deep respect for your research into pilling! Devil balls is right! Why would I put so much time into knitting something just for it to go all manky?? Argh I need to save my pennies for another dose of your lovely yarn. I’m so happy that you rigorously test it. It’s just awesome 🙂

  2. oh, I love this idea! pilling always makes me dismal, and I have to say I find it very unpredictable to pick which yarns will be the worst culprits.

    quick question: what tool do you use to shave the little blighters off? do you have one of those battery operated thingies?

    • I do! And it is one of my favourite tools EVER! I don’t recommend brushes for pilling as I think they just break up the plies more and create more fuzzies to pill. Using a proper sweater shaver is the best way to go…cut those stragglers off and every time you do it you’ll get rid of pilling ends and end up with a smoother fabric.

  3. I like the idea of this chart. Just this past winter I made a cardigan that I love, and it is super soft, but it pills like no bodies business. I pills so bad that I can fibers fly if I move to quickly. So a cardigan that I thought I would love doesn’t get to see much wear time because I always have to take into account what my day will look like and if I want to be worrying about pilling and flying fiber all day long or not.

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