know-how

Pilling

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I'm excited to be bringing you a collaboration today! Tash from Holland Road Yarn shop and I have joined forces to tackle the bobbly subject of pilled knitwear!

Like most of you, I'm not a fan of pills but it seems they're an unescapable problem with knitting. Or are they? I've done some investigating to find out if you can avoid pills and how to deal with them when they happen. You might be pleased to hear that there are some tips and tricks to get the best result from you yarn and reduce the amount of pills you have to endure.

CHOOSE YOUR YARN WISELY

I've been known to choose wholly inappropriate yarn for projects. Take my red sweater in the pictures for example. I used very beautiful Malabrigo Merino Worsted for my Flowing Lines. The colours are glorious and the yarn is super crazy soft and yummy. But, look at those pills?! Almost as soon as I put it on the yarn started to rub into pills. It's pilled over the whole of the body but especially under my arms it rubs most.

The little Kelpie vest I made for my daughter last year has also pilled terribly. I used Louisa Harding's Grace silk & wool blend and again, it's soft and warm and totally unsuitable for a garment that gets worn, bashed, rubbed and beaten up!

Both of these knits were made with luxury fibres that had been loosely spun. It turns out that those two factors create the ideal enviroment for producing pills.

Softness vs Durability

  • All wool is prone to some degree of pilling but if you're after a garment that's not going to pill too much, it pays to avoid luxury fibres. Both of my yarns contained merino which, although deliciously soft, is not a durable fibre. It's slippery and silky and doesn't have the "stickiness" of a courser fibre such as Romney which will wear better over time.
  • My red sweater yarn was a "single". That means it was one single piece of wool lightly spun into a yarn. Single spun fibres are delicate. They don't have the structure of a tight spin to hold the fibres in place so they work their way out easily and cause pills. A loosely spun fibre like the pink yarn I used will do the same. A smooth, tightly spun yarn will hold together better over time.
  • Generally speaking, a cellulose fibre (e.g. cotton & linen) will pill less than a protein fibre (e.g. wool, silk & alpaca) but even those will pill too depending on the quality of the yarn and how it's spun. If you're set on finding the least pilly yarn possible, it might pay to experiment by knitting up swatches of similar fibres and seeing how they compare.
  • I am an unashamed lover of natural fibres so choose those every time but even so, don't be fooled into thinking that man-made fibres won't pill. Acrylic is terrible at pilling and because the fibres are so strong, those pills are fixed like concrete to your garment.

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    KNITTING TO REDUCE PILLING

    • Knitted fabric pills much more than woven fabric because the overall construction is looser. Knitting with a smaller gauge will tighten your knitting and help reduce pilling by holding the yarn more firmly in place. Of course, some of our favourite garments are loose and flowing so this won't be possible all the time. But, if you're desperate to use a soft, loosely spun yarn, knitting at a tighter gauge may help balance things out.
    • An alternating knit/purl stitch such as ribbing or seed stitch will pill less than stocking stitch or garter. You'll see that both my garments in the photos are mostly stocking stitch! (Reverse stocking stitch in the case of the red sweater).
    • Wash your knits carefully! Machine washing causes rubbing which in turn causes pilling. It really is worth hand washing your knits! (Plus, it really is a very lovely thing to do).

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    GETTING RID OF PILLS!

    Once you've got those ghastly pills, how do you get rid of them? I must confess, I've still been wearing my red sweater, despite the pills. They're pretty yucky but I still love the pattern, the fit of this sweater and it's so lovely and warm. So, I've tried to ignore them, look straight ahead and pretend they're not there. It wasn't until I came to write this post that I thought I'd try depilling them!

    Many people shave their knitwear with very sorry results. One accidental bump of the razor and you've cut straight through it! I've tried using a razor in the past but haven't been happy with  how precarious and unsatisfactory shaving is.

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    This time I tried a special machine - an electric depiller! After hearing Georgie Hallam rave about her depiller I knew I had to try one too. So I held my breath and bought a rather expensive Electric Shaver. I was not disappointed. This machine is magic. I absolutely cannot get over how well it removed the pills and how fabulous my sweaters looked after I'd used it! They are as good as new.

    If you can't stretch to an electric depiller I do recommend trying a manual depiller (not a razor!). You can get combs and brushes fairly inexpensively that apparently do a pretty good job. The trick is to tackle those pills as soon as they start to appear and to de-pill regularly.

    Unlike man-made fibres, wool pills less and less as time goes on. Dealing with those short fibres that work their way out quickly leaves the more secure fibres in place so eventually your sweater is supposed to stop shedding altogether. I was told recently that even the super soft red malabrigo in my sweater will stop pilling quite so badly once it's shed the first lot of short, loose fibres. I'll have to let you know if that's true!


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    Good luck with your pills! If you want to catch up with more tips and tricks for dealing with pills check out Tash's post on the Holland Road blog!

    Washing & Blocking Shawls - Part two

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    Righto, so you've followed part one - soaked your shawl and rolled it in a towel - now what? Blocking. That's what. 

    Pinning out a shawl is a slow business. I often take between 30 minutes and an hour to pin out a shawl.

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    1. Find a space to lay out your shawl and grab your tools. Then stretch your shawl firmly but gently along the whole top edge (especially the centre) to stretch it out as much as possible.

    I like to block my shawls on the floor so I can spread them right out, crawl around and view them easily from above. There are lots of things you could use to spread your shawl out on. I use a large wool blanket and pin through that into the carpet. If you have wooden floors you'll probably want to invest in some foam pads. You can buy blocking mats although some people make do with yoga mats and kids foam puzzles. 

    I have recently started using blocking wires and I absolutely love them. I was a bit daunted until I tried them and realised how simple they were to use and how much easier it made things. At the very least I recommend T pins. They're strong and long and perfect for holding your shawl in place while it dries. You can use them on their own or together with wires.

    My blocking wires are made by Lazadas. I've got a set of long blocking wires (which came with some pins).

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    2. If you're using blocking wires - thread your wire through the stitches along the bottom of your shawl or the picot points if it has some. It takes a while but it's worth it.

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    3. If your shawl is wide or your wires are short, use extra wires and overlap them where they meet for a few stitches. I tend to use two long wires for my shawls.

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    4. Lay your shawl out in roughly in the shape you're aiming for. You'll see that I've blocked crescent shawls in my photos. Notice that the top edge curves upwards. It may look like your shawl has a lump in the middle when you're knitting it but that lump can be flattened right out and curve upwards on itself. This will make the wingspan of your shawl wider and your shawl easier to wear.

    If you're blocking a triangular shawl the top edge will (mostly) lie flat. But, sometimes triangular shawls will also curl up at the ends too (like my Southern Shawl) - it all depends on the way it's been increased along the edges of your knitting. Lots of edge increases correlate to more steeply curved ends. Play around with your shawl and see how it wants to spread out.

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    5. I usually start pinning at one corner, pulling the lace open. As you pull the border downwards and work your way around the shawl your top edge will tighten. You can keep gently but firmly stretching that top edge as you pin to get more length into your shawl. I usually end up re-pinning lots of times as I get the shape of the shawl just right. 

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    6. Sometimes I pin the top edge temporarily while I'm stretching and pinning the border out but I take those top edge pins out once I get going because the top edge will lie well without pins. It helps to get the corners pinned and then go back and readjust along the border.

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    7. Crescent shawls want to scoop inwards and around at the ends into a horseshoe shape. Some (like my Antipodes Shawl) scoop around almost full circle. Play around and see what curve your shawl wants to adopt. I spend a lot of time fiddling with my pins as I go, pinning and repining to get the lace open and the shawl curved.

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    8. You might like to experiment with how you block the border edge. Sometimes the pattern wants to fall into little points.

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    9. Blocking wires make it easier to create curved edges on your shawls and they also make blocking picot points a breeze.

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    10. I try to get my shawls symmetrical if they're designed that way but it can be super tricky to get them exactly right.

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    11. Once finished, your shawl may feel a little like a trampoline - tightly stretched. That's how I like mine. A shawl that is blocked tightly in a scooping curve with the top edge stretched, the border opened right out and and the ends curling inwards will drape beautifully. I love a well blocked shawl that falls into gorgeous spirals at the ends when it's worn.

    Leave your shawl to dry for a day or so. Then, unpin it, throw it around your neck and ENJOY!

    If you still want more information and details, I talk at length about how I block my shawls on my podcast if you fancy watching that too.

    Washing & Blocking Shawls - Part 1

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    It wasn't long ago that blocking was a complete mystery to me. I finished my knitting, admired my handwork and that was that. Nothing was soaked or washed until it was dirty some time later. These days, after learning a little about blocking and trying it myself, I'm a complete convert. Blocking is nothing short of magic - especially when it comes to shawls and lace. 

    Recently, I've been noticing some degree of panic amongst many knitters when the word "blocking" is mentioned. Trust me, it's not tricky. There are a few tools that make it easier to block a shawl and some shapes that you're shooting for when you're laying it out, but overall the whole thing is not difficult and actually quite pleasant.

    To help you make sense of blocking I thought I'd show you you what I do with my shawls once they're off my needles. Because it's a long process I've split it into two parts - soaking, then blocking - but I do one straight after the other while my shawls are still wet. 

    Before I begin I have to say that like knitting, there is truly no one "right" way to block your shawls. I've worked out a way that I like through trial and error. If you have any tips or tricks that you've found useful I'd love to hear them and please feel free to fiddle and experiment until you find a method that suits you.

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    1. Soak your knitting. I use very warm water and a splash of wool wash. Fill a bucket or sink, pop in your shawl, dunk it under the water and leave it to soak for about 15 to 20 minutes. If you're soaking more than one be mindful that darker dyes may run a little and it might be better to soak these separately. If you're using a wool wash that requires rinsing, briefly soak again in clean water. Take care not to change the temperature of your rinsing water too drastically or you might felt or shrink your wool. (I weave in my ends after blocking.)

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    2. Gently squeeze the water from your shawls. Don't wring them, just squeeze between your hands until the worst is out. 

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    3. Lay your shawl flat on a big bath towel and roll the towel from end to end.

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    4. This part is fun - walk up and down on your sausage roll towel. You might find that other people like doing this job for you. Giving your towel a good kneading will get most of the water out of your knitting.

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    5. Unroll your shawl from the towel and get your blocking surface ready. 

    Ready to block your shawl? Head over to part two to read how I do it.


    How To Knit An SSK (Slip, Slip, Knit) - Tutorial

    How to knit an SSK

    This tutorial is the first in a series of tutorials that I've made to show you how to knit some of the stitches in my patterns. SSK may be a well known stitch to many of you but it can be tricky for those who haven't tried it before because the description "slip, slip, knit" makes little sense.

    Hopefully, my photos make it really clear. Happy knitting!

    How to knit an SSK 1

    How to knit an SSK 2.

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    How to Knit an SSK 4

    how to knit an SSK 5

    How to knit an SSK 6

    how to knit an SSK 7