Dear Clara: Sweater Pilling! Help!

November 30, 2016
sweater pilling

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  • Thank you! Love every bit of this :). XoA

  • It seems to me that all knitters should take a course – “Things You Don’t Know That You Don’t Know” – to help prevent some of the lessons that are learned the hard way. Having spent an mini-fortune on a sweater lot that pilled before it was out of the house, I hope that others may benefit from this article. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • Excellent article!

  • Required reading should be You Book Of Yarn! I learned so much and I’ve been knitting for years and years. I refer to it when I have questions because I also don’t know what I don’t know!

    • Aw thank you!

  • This is so helpful – I wish I’d known what makes yarns pill years ago, though I still wonder whether there are clues for the ignorant about how to tell about twist and plies et al.

    I have always preferred to knit at a tighter gauge than what’s recommended, just because the fabric seemed more stable, but now I know why. Thank you very much.

  • I never heard of a Lilly Brush. Thanks for the tip. I’ve spent my time with my shoulder to the stone. Seed and moss will be my newest best friends.

  • Although even seed and moss stitch have limits–I knit a very cute shrug in moss stitch out of a very pilly cashmere blend and it hasn’t helped much!

  • Great article thank you!

  • Even better for cleaning up sweater pills is a Gleener. I learned the hard way when I made a sweater in super soft Malabrigo Worsted (single-ply, low-twist, super-soft Merino). I love it anyway, and my Gleener keeps it wearable.

  • Possum luxury yarns are an exception to the rule. While extremely soft and delicate feeling, they are very resistant to pilling and more durable. Zealana’s AIR is mostly cashmere, but the addition of possum down creates a barrier that resists the abrasion.

  • After 50+ years of knitting, I would also add that any time there is nylon in the mix, the sweater will pill. Nasty stuff. Probably the same thing holds true for cotton. Just no way around the pilling.

  • Brilliant information thanks Clara

  • Thank you! very helpful! Lilly Brush just got added to my Christmas wish list!

  • Thank you Clara! I feel I DO know what I’m getting into now.

  • Limoges yarn and Spanx stitches are now happily in my lexicon!

  • great info, especially the thumb test! thanks!

  • I am with Nancy. I prefer to knit at a tighter gauge (close, as I call it). And I am with Clara on going down in needle size in my constant pursuit of a closer knit. It has never failed that upon washing swatches, the fabric relaxes and opens up the stitches leaving me with holey fabric. BAD in my book! I knit for warmth, and yarns knit to ‘spec’ (gauge) are always too loose. The two projects I am working on now are supposed to be ‘worsted weight’ knit on US 7. The yarn is actually more of a DK weight, so I am knitting with US 5 and have proved (washed/blocked) a close knit that is still soft and drapey. Even my US 4 swatch is soft and drapey. I would have worked with the US 4 but I was afraid of running out of yarn before completing one of the projects.

    To give back to all the knitters who have shared their knowledge here, I offer this on loosely spun yarns. Once I have hand wound a skein of loosely spun yarn, I immediately rewind the ball again. If I am not pleased by the first round, I rewind again. (This technique does not work with winding machines, obviously.) I have found that rewinding does a good job of tightening the spin… and really helps with those very soft yarns that want to pill even before they pass by needles.

    Thank you, Clara, for a very interesting and informative article. As Lisa C. said, there are things I don’t know that I don’t know. Now I know more, thanks to you.

    MJ, the SKEINdinavian

  • Thanks for the awesome tips! I’ve been meaning to try the Lilly Brush. Another great battery-free and non-damaging fibre-friendly tool is the Gleener. It’s a two-ended thingy – one end has the pill removing tool (with three interchangeable heads for all gauges of knit fabric) and the other has a lint brush. It totally changed my life. I use it on my hand knits and store bought stuff too. I got mine at my LYS but you can order from their website too at

  • Fabulous article! With our Merino at John Arbon we say it stops pilling eventually its just those short fine fibres wriggling out to begin with. Loved your advice on getting a bit of roughage in your life!

  • Thank you, Clara! Love your imagery!

  • Not sure if it is ok to say but I took Clara’s Craftsy class “Know Your Yarn: Choose the Perfect Yarn Every Time” – very useful info!

  • Thank you so much for this very informative article! My garment is pilling before it’s even off the needles!
    I must also say thank you to the comments! They were helpful as well! I will be trying to decide which one of the tools suggested will end up being better for me.
    And I immediately went to My Bluprint (formerly Craftsy) and added your class to my forever library!