One of my absolute knitting bugbears is pilling! Pills form when fibre ends work their way out of the twisted plies that make up yarn. Rubbing across these ends pull them further and further out until they form knotted balls of fibres or, even worse, a fuzzy, shaggy texture all over the surface of my knitting.
I do anything I can to avoid pilling so I look for yarns made from longer fibres like Corriedale and other crossbreeds; they have less ends than our super short Australian Merino fibres, so they put up with more wear before they start to get fuzzy. Stronger fibres like Shetland aren’t as easily pulled out of the plies and, even when they do, they tend to form well-behaved pills that are easily removed. Yarns made up of many plies tend to hold their ends in in a way that limits pilling, whereas singles or gently plied yarns leave lots of ends exposed to rubbing.
And so I pore over the Yarns section of Ravelry for hours, carefully reading reviews of prospective contenders for my next project… but sometimes I fall in love with a yarn and have to knit with it, just because it’s so soft and squishy, the very same reasons why it is also a prime candidate for pilling. I knit these kinds of yarns more tightly than normal, so that all those ends are tucked into the stitches and so can’t pop out as easily. But there are times when pilling happens, regardless of all my best efforts! So what else can we do?
I decided to compare the two de-pilling tools that we sell at Sunspun on my lovely, cozy but pill-prone jumper knit from Wirraworra, a yarn spun in South Australia from Merino and Corriedale. The Corriedale helps to reduce the Merino’s tendency to pill but I need to clean this up regularly to keep it looking good. Here it is with a good dose of pilling:
I bought a Classic 50 Fabric Shaver from the Fabric Care Company a while ago and I love it. So much that, after I’d de-pilled everything that needed it, I started hunting the house for other things to work on ; ) It plugs into the wall, rather than using batteries, and works by shaving any loose or long fibres with 3 blades covered by a guard to protect the knitted surface. I find that it cleans up pilling of all kinds really well, even that shaggy, fuzzy one.
I wanted to compare it to the Lilly Brush, which has only recently been available in Australia and has got lots of people talking on Ravelry! It’s a simple brush with nylon bristles that you sweep across pilled areas; it dislodges and collects the pills on its bristles and you simply remove them as you work. (As a bonus, it also removes lint and pet hair from clothing or upholstery fabric.)
So I worked on the left side of the body of the jumper with the brush and the right side with the shaver. I left the pocket across the bottom un-worked for contrast. Here it is after a minute or two of working on it:
All pills gone! Super easy. So which one do I think works better? I think it’s a question of different purposes, different tool. The length and strength of artificial fibres, like acrylic, nylon, and polyester, hold pills tightly to the surface of the knitting, so products that sand or shave pills off are better for projects made from synthetic fibres. In contrast, natural fibres, such as wool, cashmere and cotton, are shorter and more fragile so pills can be removed more gently with the Lilly Brush or removed one by one with small scissors, both of which remove only the pills, rather than any loose fibres like fabric shavers do. The Lilly Brush is super light and small, which also makes it an easy thing to take travelling. So that’s my findings! How do you remove your pilling? Are you a shaver or a comber?!
Ideal uses for Classic 50 Fabric Shaver:
Artificial fibres, like acrylic, nylon, and polyester, and all natural fibres.
Vital stats for Classic 50 Fabric Shaver:
Power-operated, 50mm cleaning head, has a cleaning brush and safety cap, 12 month warranty.
Sunspun price: $49.95
Ideal uses for Lilly Brush:
Natural fibres, such as wool, alpaca, cashmere and cotton.
Vital stats for Lilly Brush:
Lightweight and small, has a slide-on case to protect bristles.
Sunspun price: $13.95