off the pill

May 14, 2016 :: by Pam Allen

In our last post on pilling, we talked about the nature of pills, how they come about and the relationship between yarn twist, fiber length, and soft hand.

If pilling is a part of life, how to live with the (annoying) phenomenon? We asked everyone in our main office, all knitters, the following questions: 

1) What are your thoughts and feelings re: Pills. Do they annoy you, drive you crazy? Do you notice them? Do you live with them in peace and harmony?

2) Do you try to get rid of them? If so, what, in your opinion, is the best way to do so?

And here's what they had to say:

Leila Raabe:

Pills are the nature of the beast. I don't mind them much and to be honest, I usually leave them be for most of the season (the horror). There are more important things in life than looking perfect all the time. I mostly worry about not letting my knits get dirty or grimy. That said, some sweaters pill more enthusiastically than others, especially my "nicer" ones (in fibers like cashmere)—so I end up avoiding wearing them until I can get to those pills, which is a shame.

To de-pill a sweater I use a fancy tool called a Gleener. I've tried a lot of different things out there—sweater stones, electric fabric shavers, combs, razors, even manually by hand—none of which made things very easy or enjoyable. The Gleener was a gift from a kind soul (thank you, my friend Cynthia in SLC) and it's been a godsend. It has various detachable heads to use on different types of fibers/weights and is very effective at making sweaters look like new again.

Despite having this tool, do I still let sweaters go a while before de-pilling them? Yes.

Jerusha Robinson:

Pills are a fact of sweater life, whether store-bought or handmade, and I have a pretty symbiotic relationship with them. Occasionally you'll see me picking one or two off of a sweater I'm wearing, but they don't really faze me. 

When I do my hand washing, usually just a few times a year for the heavier sweaters in my wardrobe, I will do some de-pilling if something has gone a bit by the wayside—I have a little battery-operated sweater shaver made by Singer that works well. I don't go crazy because there's only so much you can do!

Whitney Hayward:

I'm of the peace and harmony camp, although I think peace and harmony is a euphemistic way of saying I'm a little lazy about pills. Smaller pills don't bother me, and it's only when they're large that I work to remove them. One of my favorite hats is knit from a soft single spun yarn which pills like crazy, and if I'm careful to not shove it hurriedly into a bag, or put it in places where it can rub up against other things, I can go longer without addressing the fuzziness. 

As for the way I get rid of them, I have a sweater stone. It's made of pumice, and I'm not totally convinced it's any different than your average pumice stone, but it works pretty well. Truthfully, I more frequently use tiny nail scissors and clip the biggest offenders, leaving the small ones be. I worry about using the pumice stone too much. I've never been sure whether overusing the sweater stone is creating more abrasions in the fiber for pills to sprout up later. I have no idea if that's based in any kind of reality, but that's probably why I use the nail scissors more often. I'd be curious to see how other people handle them!

Dawn Catanzaro:

I’m pretty indifferent to pills. Knowing that they are often the price for a soft and squishy sweater helps, though. I don’t usually notice them except under the arm. Somehow those always bug me. I’ll find myself absentmindedly picking at them at the most inappropriate times!

Living happily with pills means I usually remove just by picking them off when I notice them. I've heard that pulling at the pills drafts more yarn up and out of the ply, and so leads to more pilling. By this logic, shaving would be the best way to keep pills gone, but I haven’t experimented yet.

Do you have a favorite way of removing pills from your knits? We'd love to hear your philosophies about and methods of keeping your woolens pill-free—leave your story in the comments!

Related posts in: Pam allen | Sweaters | Tools | Wool
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