You know the drill. You buy a new jumper and a few wears later, little balls, known as "pills", start to appear in places of high friction, like the underarm and along the side seam.

"This jumper must be of poor quality," you cry, threatening to never shop at said retailer again.

Working out the right jumper to buy can be enough to make you want to take a beach holiday.Credit:Shutterstock

Not so fast. As it turns out, pilling may be a signal that your jumper is really of high quality.

Natalie Aardoom, head of buying and production at Witchery, explains: "The tricky thing is that the more loosely spun the yarn is, and more luxurious it is, can cause confusion – those pieces can be more prone to pilling."

This means that knits made from wool, cashmere and mohair, all fibres considered more "premium" than synthetics, are more likely to pill. But all you need is a pilling comb, available for a few dollars at a habedashery store, and your knit can look like new.

When it comes to buying knitwear, the care labels can throw even the most savvy shopper into a spin.

Aardoom explains that there are pluses and minuses to various yarns, depending on your objective. Just as you wouldn't buy one pair of shoes for every purpose, it pays to have different types of knits for different activities.

Cotton, for example, is often pigeonholed as a summer fabric. But in a thick knit with a rollneck, it can be toasty, and also offer excellent breathability and moisture "wicking" (that is, its ability to keep you sweat-free). It's also easier to wash as it can withstand more robust machine cycles than finer yarns.

Mohair is also on trend and – hip hooray! – doesn't pill. "It's beautiful and has this brushed textured surface that gives a great knit," Aardoom explains. Although the longer fibres mean some people with sensitive skin may find them scratchy.

Dr Deshan Sebaratnam, consultant dermatologist and senior conjoint lecturer at the University of NSW, says  people predisposed to skin sensitivites may find some yarns aggravate their condition, although true allergies to fibres are rare.

Lambswool is considered one of the warmest and best natural shields against the cold … but be prepared for pilling.Credit:Karleen Minney

In fact, what is sometimes perceived as allergies to the yarn may be a reaction "to dyes in the fabric as well as preservatives or fragrances used in the creation of clothing", Dr Sebaratnam says.

He says it's also worth checking the ingredients in washing powders and detergents before apportioning blame to the fabric itself.

"Some washing powders and detergents contain antimicrobial products such as benzalkonium chloride which can cause irritation and allergy. People wash their clothing thinking they're helping to keep it clean, but then they add more of these products to their clothes which then gets released on the skin with wear."

Another major trend in knitwear is a growing demand for sustainable sourcing of yarn, something new label Wolfgang Scout has in its DNA.

Co-founder Carla Woidt said that because Wolfgang Scout's knits don't use any chemicals to remove the bits of grass and seed that invariably find their way into the yarn, "you might find some little bits of paddock in the pieces".

"We call these ‘little bits of love’, it reminds us where our product has come from," she says.

Wood's best tip for laundering wool? Don't – just air it out.

"Wash as little as possible and spray it with a fabric refresher spray to extend between washes," she says. "Our wool will pill, as will anything that is this soft and lofty. We all need to care for our products, so we suggest de-pilling as needed. A little love goes a long way."

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