tips & tricks



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.


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.



    • 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).

    piling photo


    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.


    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!

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    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

    PicMonkey Photo

    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.


    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).


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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. 


    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.


    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.


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


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


    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.


    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

    PicMonkey Photo

    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.


    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.)


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


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


    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.


    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.

    Getting Back to Sewing & My Top Tools

    Getting Back To Sewing & My Tops Tools

    Getting back to sewing has been no easy feat. I've really wanted to sew, needed to sew but try as I may, I just couldn't manage to get myself in front of my sewing machine. 

    I'm very pleased to tell you that that's changed. I've done it! I have been sewing. I actually finished the first of my summer outfits and it feels so good. Was it really September when I started? Oh dear. Never mind, at least I'm feeling motivated now.

    But, before I show you my new outfit, I thought I'd tell you a few things that helped get me back to sewing in case you also need some encouragement, and share a few of my favourite sewing tools with you.

    Here we go. Ideas that worked for me that you might feel inspired to try:

    • Publicly announce that you're going to sew something. Once I told you on my podcast I was going to sew my skirt and make time for sewing, well I had to do it. I didn't want to turn up here in a couple of months and confess that I still hadn't done it. Perhaps it might work for you to tell someone you're going to sew a specific thing? Even better, suggest you do it together!
    • Break the job into parts and tackle one little bit at a time. I organised my pattern and cut out my fabric long before I sewed a seam. Then, when I did start sewing I broke the pattern down into chunks and told myself I was just going to do steps A, B, and C then have a break. Once I started sewing I actually went on to do more than those first steps because I was having so much fun.
    • Start even if your sewing space/table isn't perfect. This is a biggie for me. I like making things in a tidy space. It's easy with knitting, I can knit anywhere so I tend to plonk myself down somewhere tidy. With sewing I like to tidy up my table before I start and sometimes this task takes all my sewing time. This time, I gave everything a quick straighten and got on with my sewing. I didn't do my big sort and wipe. You know? It was actually ok ;)
    • Stop buying clothes aka get desperate. I haven't bought myself any new clothes for a very long time partly because I don't tend to go to the shops, partly because we're spending any spare money on our house but mostly because I am determined that I should sew my own clothes and wear a handmade wardrobe. Now it's hot I'm starting to feel desperate. It's sew or keep wearing the same couple of cool outfits day in and day out. Do you buy things you could easily sew?
    • And finally, organise a chunk of time to sew. I sat down on Saturday afternoon and made my skirt. Before I started I organised Mr Myrtle to make dinner so I didn't have to stop. I don't like sewing in a rush, I always make mistakes and stopping and starting isn't much fun either. A long stretch of time allows me to relax and sew carefully. 
    • It helps to gather a few good tools too. My favourite sewing tools are lined up in the photo: a magnetic pin-cushion, a good un-picker, sharp scissors, a rubber hoop for bobbins and a tackle box for my sewing machine feet. My iron isn't in the picture but I couldn't sew without my it, essential! Do you have favourite sewing tools? What can't you live without?

    So there you go. Some ideas to get you started. What do you think? Fancy doing some sewing too?

    Tips & Tricks: Using PDF Sewing Patterns

    Tips & Tricks - PDF Sewing Patterns

    I've generally steered away from pdf sewing patterns. Well, that's not entirely true. When I started sewing there was no such thing as the internet, let alone sewing patterns you could download. In my late teens and twenties I bought loads of paper patterns. I subscribed to the Vogue sewing magazine and bought everything that caught my eye with my hard-earned cash. In recent years, I haven't actually bought many new sewing patterns because more often than not I've adjusted those old patterns. When I've bought new patterns they were mostly paper patterns because that's what I'm used to. I've only used a few pdf patterns and two of those came with a Craftsy classes. So, when I bought the Moss skirt pdf pattern from Grainline Studios, I decided now was a good time to learn a thing or two about using pdf patterns. 

    I set about finding out everything I could. Since pdf patterns are available online I figured that was the best place to get information. I found a couple of really popular posts on using pdf sewing patterns*, tips and tricks from sewing bloggers and dozens and dozens of comments and tips written by "sewists" all over the world.

    I noted everything down, especially where suggestions contradicted and got to work with my own pattern to see which suggestions I liked. Here's what I discovered:


    • Turn off page scaling and set your print scale to 100% or "actual size". Don't click "scale to fit". You want to make sure you're printing off your pattern at exactly the size it was designed.
    • One of the pages will include a test square, usually between 1 and 3 inches square. Print this page off first and carefully measure that it is the size it says it is. If it is a different size, check your page scaling again.
    • Print your patterns in "draft" mode, it's quicker and uses less ink.

    Tips & Tricks - PDF Sewing Patterns


    • When you print the pattern you'll see there are instruction pages and pattern pages. Gather together all the pattern pages.
    • Trim off the left and top margins off all the pattern pages, you don't need to trim the bottom and right hand side margins. (If at this stage you want to work out which pieces will lie at the top and left side you can also leave these ones). Some people suggested folding the sides down instead of trimming them. I preferred cutting them off, it's fast and accurate.
    • I used scissors but lots of people recommend using an old rotary cutter and a quilting ruler. I didn't try either because I don't have them but it sounds like a great idea.
    • The pattern pieces will usually be printing with an alpha-numeric system. That is, numbers and letters. You job is to match up the numbers and letters. Either, lay all the pieces out so that the numbers and letters match up, or match them one by one and get on with the next step. There should be a schematic or "taping key" included with the pattern which will give you a guide as to how the pieces look when they're all joined up. I rather liked getting them roughly organised before I started.
    • Line up two adjoining pages as straight and as flat as possible and tape them together. I tried a glue stick but thought tape was more secure. Use lots of small squares of tape to join the pieces rather than one long strip. Not only is it cheaper but I think it's more accurate. Having said that, a little inaccuracy isn't the end of the world here. 
    • A tape dispenser is really useful at this stage!
    • Matt tape is iron-friendly so if you iron your pieces flat you might consider using either masking tape, a matt washi tape or medical tape. I used some medical tape until I realised I'd likely empty the medicine kit and resorted to plain old sticky tape which was fine. I'm not planning to iron my pieces.
    • Tape is stronger if fixed diagonally to the join and be sure to reinforce areas where three or more pieces come together.
    • You only need to tape the areas inside your pattern pieces but if you can't quite work out where that is at this stage, no matter.


    • Firstly, you don't need to cut out your pattern pieces. Feel free to trace your pieces onto paper if that's what you usually do.
    • I roughly cut out a couple of pieces as soon as they were completed and then cut them more accurately at the end but preferred sticking the whole lot together and then cutting each piece out. There's no right way of doing this, just make sure you've got the right joined together if you're roughly cutting out as you go!
    • I used scissors but again, an old rotary cutter could do this too.
    • Once all your pieces have been assembled and cut out, secure the cut edges and then flip them over and secure the joins on the back.

    Tips & Tricks - PDF Sewing Patterns


    • Use the pattern pieces them as you would a regular pattern.
    • I used weights to hold the pieces down on my fabric rather than pins which are harder to use with thick paper and tend to bend.


    I rather like these ideas:

    • Folded into zip lock bags
    • Rolled and stored in a tube or secured with a rubber band. Rolled patterns can be stored standing upright in a box.
    • Hang on clip clothes hangers. 
    • Punch a hole in a corner of each piece and the instructions and tie them together with yarn, bakers twine or a metal ring. These patterns could be hung on a hook.
    • Fold and store in a plastic sleeve in a ring-binder.

    Do you have any other tips for using pdf patterns? I didn't mention using a commercial printing shop to print everything off in one large piece. I'm not sure if it'd be cost effective - have you tried it?

    Righto, best I get sewing!

    * Sewaholic & Colette Patterns published checklists for using pdf patterns within a week of each other and both are great.