Why Do Garments Pill: Pilling: those pesky little bobbles that don’t respect your clothes can be the bane of your wardrobe closet.

So what exactly is pilling? Well they are the small balls of fibres that form on clothing, the cause of which is from rubbing or abrasion.

To explain further, I have a wool and cashmere coat, beautiful quality, but I carry my handbag over my right shoulder, and as the bag rubs against the top of my waist I have noticed that the right side of the coat is not only pilling but becoming worn in that area. Yes it’s a coat that I have had for years, so you expect some wear, however, the left side of the coat is perfectly smooth, no bobbles. The option here would be to alternate how I carry my handbag, which would make sense, however being right-handed I’ve got used to carrying my bag on the right.  It’s that friction, the rubbing of my bag against the fabric that causes the pilling.

Body areas that are prone to pilling can be the shoulders and torso. Pilling is not a fabric defect or fault, its just that the threads used to make up the fabric are shorter and can be prone to breakage, which is why some fabrics have mixed blends to give additional support. Pilling also does not discriminate when it comes to fabric; a fabric of quality and drape will always be an investment, however, some looser weaves of fabric can tend to pill more. The dye treatments used to colour the fabric can also weaken the fibres. You will notice pilling on wool and some cashmere jumpers for example, that does not mean it is of a lesser quality, it’s down to the length of the fibres used to produce the fabric, and where pilling is concerned the shorter the length of fibre the more it wants to party!

Woven fabrics such a silk, cotton and linens to name a few, tend not to pill. Silk is a natural filament that creates long fibres which are then woven to produce fabric; cottons can vary which is why you have many different levels of thread count – the higher the thread count the tighter the weave, so the smoother the finish, such as Egyptian cotton. Viscose jersey is another fabric that I have found is not prone to pilling, I’ve had a viscose jumper that not only retains its colour but also doesn’t pill and is comfortable against the skin. A lot of synthetic fabrics nowadays tend not to pill, they are breathable and comfortable to wear – gone are the days of bri-nylon hot flush clothing, and an electrifying personality from static build-up.

Machine washing can also create pilling: it’s the friction caused by the agitation from the washing machine that is the culprit, the garment rubs up against other garments, and then there is the detergent used, if is quite abrasive and you live in a hard water area this adds to the build-up of those little bobbles. A delicate wash in your washing machine can help, but you still have to factor in the other garments. You could turn the garment inside out but there’s no guarantee that the pilling will not occur on the inside of your garment. So whilst the outside is perfectly smooth and pill free, the inside of the garment can still develop the bobbles which would feel like little grains of sand against your body, or the tiny stone that you get in a shoe, which whilst small can be irritating. I did say they were pesky!

Fabric softeners can help to reduce pilling as this provides a protective coating which makes the fibres smoother and not as fuzzy. The quality of the fabric is also a consideration. Hand-washing is always a gentler option for some garments, which is why you will see that written on care labels. (You only have to make the mistake once of machine washing a wool jumper that says hand-wash only, to learn that Barbie is now the owner of the jumper and not you!) Also when hand-washing garments you want to gently squeeze the water out and not wring with all your might, that way you won’t break the fibres.

There are gadgets you can purchase to remove pilling, just be mindful that you want something that glides across the fabric, gently removing those pesky little bobbles and doesn’t pull at the fabric.

Coral Turner is a couture designer based in London. She specialises in unique ready-to-wear handmade garments, as well as bespoke pieces made to measure. "My dresses are just like you... one of a kind."

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