‘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!