As a continuation of the tread count issue – knowing you now understand what ply is and the value of long fibers as opposed to short ones, I thought this would be a good time to explain fabric pilling.

In my experience, natural fibers pill less than man made ones. Usually. Some man made fibers, like acrylic are notorious for pilling which can make sweater shopping a bit tricky. Some natural fibers are known to pill a lot too: merino wool and cashmere for example. A few years ago I coveted a very expensive sweater, I saved my pennies and waited for the sale and bought it. After 2 wearings the pills were so bad I had to get out the shaver – and the sweater content says 100% wool. So – what’s up with that?

Remember that I explained, with regard to the quality of fiber used in yarn construction in sheets, that long fibers are considered higher quality? Here is how that relates to pilling.

Pilling occurs when the ends of the fibers in each thread react to friction, and ‘stand up’. These ends get twisted together and cause a little knot. This is a pill. So, the fewer ends you have in each thread, the less likely you are to have a pill situation. Longer fibers are higher quality. Now, if you cut off that little pill, you have not solved the problem. The little ends are still there, just tucked back down in the thread, waiting for more friction to make them stand up again. And then they pill.

So: friction. I can get a shock when I slip across the linoleum wearing my nylon and cotton socks. Rarely happens when I wear my wool socks. Friction; think static. The polyester skirt sticks to everything, the cotton skirt doesn’t. Now does it make more sense that high quality natural fibers pill less than less expensive, man made fibers?

How do you prevent pilling? Some experts insist washing the garment inside out will help, others say this makes no difference. Some recommend washing with fabric softener but this can cause a decrease in absorbency of the fabric, or even stain it.

I stay away from fibers that I know will pill and hope for the best. Sometimes I get really indignant and return things to the retailer. Should do that more often, I think.

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