Today we debut Woolly Wisdom, an irregular “column” offering advice and information on yarn world mysteries. The topic this week is pilling, those annoying little balls that appear on the surface of knitted items, especially sweaters.

Roisin asked Gary Jackson, of Diamond Yarn (Canada’s largest importer and wholesaler of hand knitting yarns), for his advice about dealing with pilling. Gary and his wife Stephanie have 30 years of experience in the industry and are the Diamond Yarn sales reps for GBOW. They have been very supportive and helpful to Roisin in getting GBOW up and running.

Here is what Gary wrote about pilling:

The softer the wool, the more it can tend to pill – depending. Merino & merino blends can pill if too loosely knit.

Washing the garment in cold water soon after knitting, tends to settle the fibres down though, as they want to mesh together without felting if knit to proper tension.

If the knit is not knit tight enough, the stitches cannot meld together to reinforce each other.

You will notice Debbie Bliss & Sublime Extra Fine Merino have a high torsion twist. This helps alleviate pilling, but again, the garment must be knit to proper tension. Many knitters go down a size or two on their needles when they knit with the more precious natural fibres, unless they are making a scarf, then go up a few sizes as usually there is little abrasion.

A mesh wool (not spun) can pill more than a tightly spun pure wool. The hardier the wool, the less it will pill. The tighter the twist the less it will pill. The coarser the wool, the less it will pill.

Galway does not have a history of pilling. This yarn is 25 years on the market.

Do you have a yarn mystery you would like solved (or at least investigated)? Send email to