The Challenging Longevity of Pristine Knitwear

Knitwear that pills gets my award for most frustrating quality challenge. These days there is zero guarantee that knitwear won’t pill. I’ve bought designer and budget knitwear that pilled after a couple of wears. I’ve also bought designer and budget knitwear that’s pill-free after several years of wear. 

I used to think that a particular type of wool or fabric composition caused pilling, but threw that theory out the window after seeing too many exceptions. I’ve had 100% acrylic, merino, cashmere, cotton, and lambswool pullovers that haven’t pilled at all. I’ve had the same that have pilled awfully. I’ve bought fabric blends that have pilled badly, or not at all. It’s all terribly, terribly inconsistent. The only yarn that I can confidently say will pill after a couple of wears is cheap cashmere. Don’t buy it unless you don’t mind pilling.

Generally, most of my knitwear begins to pill a little after two to three years of wear. I take my wool-rich knitwear to the cleaners where they do a brilliant job of de-pilling the item. Items look pristine after their magic touch. I launder cotton and cotton-rich knitwear myself, and so far, the pills have been minor to non-existent.

I am extremely impressed with the following pullovers from my wardrobe that haven’t pilled at all. Not a hint of pilling, and I’ve worn most of them till the cows come home. Some of the items are new this year, and others are at least six years old. Most are at the two to four year mark, and looking good. My point is that the brand, price point, colour and fabric composition runs the gamut. From 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alexander McQueen and Bella Freud, to COS, Reiss, Boden, Ann Taylor, the Loft and the Gap. Fabrics range from 100% cashmere, merino and cotton, to polyester/cotton/nylon blends.

Bottom line: pilling involves more luck than wisdom, unfortunately. It’s important that my knitwear looks pristine for longer because it amplifies outfit polish and crispness. I wear a lot of knitwear and loathe pilling. So last year I came up with a personal knitwear purchasing strategy that’s working so far. I’m far less frustrated with quality issues, and can continue to enjoy my knitwear.

Here’s my strategy:

  • No more pricey designer knitwear despite how gorgeous it is because the possibility of it pilling after a couple of wears makes me too angry.
  • No cheap cashmere.
  • Purchase wool and wool-rich knitwear from a shortlist of brands who haven’t let me down in the past.
  • Freely purchase 100% cotton and polyester/cotton/nylon blends from a range of brands because the likelihood of them pilling is far lower.

I wish I could suggest a flop-proof way to purchase knitwear so that it won’t pill after at least a few years of wear – but I can’t. The best I can do is pass along info after I’ve road-tested the items and hope for the best. Taking good care of knitwear by laundering it properly also helps, but is no guarantee.

Over to you. Tell us about your knitwear pilling experiences.

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