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Pilling Problems: Understanding, Preventing, and Managing Felt Pilling

Pilling can occur in felted garments, just as it can in knitted or woven textiles. In many cases, it is a natural process for woolen garments. The presence of pills in woolen and felted items is primarily due to the friction and abrasion that the garment experiences during wear.

Here are some reasons why pilling may appear in felted garments:

  1. Fibre Structure: In felted garments, wool or other animal fibres are used. These fibres have microscopic scales on their surfaces. These scales can catch on one another and create friction, which is a common cause of pilling.

  1. Wearing and Friction: Felted garments experience a significant amount of friction during wear, especially in areas where the fabric rubs against itself or other surfaces, like underarms and cuffs. This friction can cause the fibres to rub together and form pills.

  2. Washing and Agitation: Washing felted items in a washing machine, especially in a rough or high-agitation cycle, can lead to pilling and further shrinkage. It is recommended to wash felted garments by hand in room temperature water without much agitation.

  3. Quality of Felting: The quality of the felting process can greatly influence the likelihood of pilling. Well-felted fabrics with tightly interlocked fibres are less prone to pilling compared to loosely felted materials. An underfelted garment, ironed, initially looks great. However, it will begin to pill badly after a few wears. This occurs because the fibres don't connect tightly to each other, leading to them loosening up and adding friction, resulting in more bubbles.

While some pilling may occur in felted garments over time, following proper care and maintenance practices can help minimise its occurrence and extend the life of your felted creations.

Pilling in wet felted garments can be minimized through various methods. Here are some steps you can take to prevent or reduce pilling in your wet felted items:

  1. Proper Felting Technique: Pay careful attention to the felting process. Ensure thorough and even felting, with all fibres properly felted (mated) and entangled. Proper felting creates a more durable fabric that is less likely to pill.

  2. Avoid Over-Felting: While thorough felting is essential, be cautious not to over-felt the fabric, as it can result in a stiff and scratchy texture. Finding the right balance between felting and maintaining a soft texture is crucial. I recommend stopping the fulling process if you're uncertain whether the garment is ready. Allow it to dry, which will provide a better understanding of its felting readiness. If it's not ready, re-wet the item and complete the fulling process. In most cases, 5 minutes is sufficient.

  3. Use Different Fibre Types: Consider incorporating various types of fibres into your felting projects, such as silk, viscose, bamboo or other. I encourage you to experiment with various fibres. These can enhance strength and minimize pilling. Laminating felt with fibres like viscose, ramie, or flax, or using nuno felt, will also help reduce pilling. If you're crafting a garment, such as a waistcoat or jacket, I recommend using hemp fibre as a lining.

  4. Prevent Aggressive Friction: Be gentle when working with your wet felt during felting and fulling. Avoid harsh rubbing or friction, as this can lead to pilling. Take it slow and use gentle, kneading motions during fulling. If you need to rub the felt, only do so on the side without embellishments. I also highly recommend wearing plastic or latex gloves during felting and fulling. This prevents wool from aggressively poking through embellishments, which can lead to pilling when wearing the garment.

  5. Proper Care: Handle wet felted garments with care. When washing, use a mild detergent and avoid harsh scrubbing or agitation. Hand washing or using a gentle machine cycle is often recommended. I personally prefer hand wash.

  6. Air Drying: Lay your wet felted garments flat to air dry, rather than using a tumble dryer. Drying in a machine can subject the fabric to additional friction and lead to pilling.

  7. Storage: Store your wet felted items properly, protecting them from excessive friction, tension, or compression. You can place garments in cloth bags or wrap them in tissue paper to safeguard them from abrasion.

  8. Regular Inspections: Periodically check your wet felted garments for any signs of pilling. If you notice pills forming, you can gently remove them using a fabric shaver or a sweater comb. Do not pull pills by hand, as new will form in time.

By paying attention to these preventive measures, felting your garment well and maintaining your wet felted items carefully, you can help ensure that they remain in good condition and minimize the occurrence of pilling.

Happy Felting!

Warm Regards


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