The most distressing part of wool and other protein fibers is to shear, wash, card, spin, dye, knit, and finally achieve a beautiful finished item only to find that after a few wears it has begun to pill! How are pills created? What did we miss along the way that allowed this to happen? Here are a few steps you can take to prevent pills.
First, realize that pills are created by short fibers coming free of the yarn structure and entangling with one another. This gives us a first a-ha! moment. Skirting is everything. If you are beginning with raw fiber, be very careful to separate areas of the fleece that are short from those which are long. The center back fiber should not be added to the shoulder wool. All second cuts must be removed prior to carding, or they will become irreversibly entangled in the longer fiber.
But another culprit is that wool in the same area of the fleece may grow at different rates. We cannot examine each fiber individually, but the combing process will eliminate the shorter fibers from the longer ones. This will allow you to create a nice worsted preparation of the long fiber.
When combing the fibers, do not assume that the short fiber is destined to be wasted. I retain the short wool for teddy bear stuffing and nesting balls. If it still has enough length to it, consider spinning it as a separate woolen yarn.
To prevent pills in a yarn that is spun woolen, give the locks a quick going over with a flick card at both the tip and butt end to remove shorted fiber prior to carding with hand cards or a drum carder.
A tippy fleece can also contribute to a pilling problem. The dried and brittle tips of the fleece must be removed prior to spinning. Flick carding will remove most of the brittle tips. If they arenít removed, they can often break within the finished yarn causing the short fibers which create pills.
When purchasing a roving, do not hesitate to give the fiber a bit of a tug with both hands. This will give you an idea of the staple length within the roving. Also, with the sellers permission, tug a small amount of fiber from the end of the roving and lay it on a contrasting sheet of paper. In doing this you can see if the fibers are uniform, or if there are kemps in it. Kemps grow up to be pills if they are loosely spun. Some fiber shops will have samples on index cards with each roving which is extremely helpful.