Why Does Fabric Pill?

17.02.2011 § Leave a comment

Pilling is when small balls of fiber are formed on the surface of the fabric when the fabric is subjected to an abrasive force. For instance, the hip pockets of men’s pants, especially where the wallet is carried, exhibit a high degree of pilling tendencies. The small balls disturb the surface look and neatness of the fabric and the abrasion slowly destroys the fabric in the abraded area.

People usually think pilling is a sign of weakening of the fabric. I once had customer complain: why is the weartest listed so high on the tag but then it does not wear well? It turns out her complaint about wearing is due to pilling. Actually, fibers with greater strength form pills which are difficult to break off the fabric and remain to disturb the appearance of the fabric. Weaker fibers will pill and then break off much easier and will maintain a neater appearance in the abraded area for a longer period of time. For instance, polyester fibers are stronger than cotton fibers, and when abraded they tend to be hard to remove. The weaker cotton fibers will pill and will tend to break off easily with continued abrasion.

Yarn hairiness also affects the tendency to pill. Hairiness is a term which refers to the amount of fiber which does not get locked into the fiber bundle well and some fiber ends are projecting off the surface of the yarn. The hairs tend to make the yarn appear to be bulkier and fuller looking while yielding a softer feeling yarn. But, the hairiness can lend itself to less resistance to pilling than the other less hairy yarns.

To make yarns pill less, we then try to make the yarn more tightly twisted. The amount of yarn twist in the yarn in a given fabric will influence the tendency of that fabric to pill. Yarns with more twist turns per inch in the yarn resist the force of abrasion and will have the fibers bound more tightly in the yarn making the fibers less likely to form pills. However, tightly spun yarns are more expansive and tend to be hard to the touch so it is a constant balance between the resist of pilling and a soft hand when designing fabrics. I one time tried to produce a tightly woven rayon yarn that has great wearability and a clean surface but I had to give it up because its hand was too rough. On another occasion, I had to give up another project because although it had a very lovely soft hand, the fabric did not perform well in abrasion and also pilled excessively.

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