How different yarns behave in active use

A reader asked me to write a post on how my knitwear has held up in active use. I went through my closet and dug up some examples of how different fibers have pilled or not pilled after years of wearing.

Let's start with alpaca. (Sorry the older links are in Finnish only.) In 2013 I knitted Still Light tunic by Veera Välimäki in Drops Alpaca. The yarn is 100% alpaca which is famous for it furriness and pilling.

I have wore the tunic a lot and the alpaca has pilled somewhat. Actually, I was expecting a whole lot more pilling when I dug this up from my closet but it was a positive surprise. Four years in use and most pilling and lint is found at the bottom of the pockets. Not too bad.

The next sweater has some alpaca in it as well. In the spring 2016 I knitted Joji Locatelli's Light rain sweater from Baa ram ewe Titus. The yarn is 50% Wensleydale, 20% blue faced leicester and 30% alpaca. Wensleydale is a very long fiber (and bit prickly on skin) but the BFL adds some softness to the yarn and I quite like to combo.

This sweater has quickly become one of my most used knits. And with this yarn, it shows. The loose fibers pill into big, visible lint - especially in the sides and sleeves because those parts rub against each other when I wear it. Despite, the sweater is so comfy and lovely, I don't really care that it pills easily.

Enough about alpaca. Let's take a look at different merino yarns and how they behave. I've knitted several sweaters in merino single ply yarns like Madelinetosh Merino Light and Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles. This one is Moyen Age by Hanna Maciejewska, knitted in 2015.

Merino is especially prone to pilling due to its softness. In addition, single ply yarn is more sensitive than multi-ply yarn because in single ply the short fibers of merino can easily surface and make the knit a bit furry. This sweater is showing some pilling but not nearly as much as I would have expected due to fellow knitters complaining about single ply merino yarns. The most lint can be found at the sides and sleeves that rub against each other and at the tightest point at bust height. However, the pilling is quite small and doesn't bother me much. Also, the Wrought iron sweater I designed is knitted in merino single and has held up nicely through becoming my favorite sweater.

Bulkier merino knits are represented by this Hooray cardigan by Veera Välimäki in The Uncommon Thread Merino DK. It is my go-to cardigan when it's freezing cold during the winter.

The yarn is so tightly spun that even though this is merino, there's almost no pilling. I found a bit of lint at the bottom of the right front but that's it

In addition to 100% merino, I have plenty of knitwear with silk in them. Long, long time ago in 2012 I knitted Amy Christoffers' Pomme de pin cardigan in Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend. The yarn is single ply and has 70% merino and 30% silk.

Pomme de pin is my number one cardigan. Since I finished it in 2012, it has been in almost daily use. I wrote in my project notes in 2013 that if I had to choose just one knit for the rest of my life, it would be this one. Since I've used it so much, it really shows. In addition to merino single being prone to pilling, the silk has its own quirks. The silk creates a halo at the surface of the knit even after just a few wears. The halo is a greyish, shimmering layer on top of the knit.

So the cardigan pills eagerly and is covered in the silk halo. Also, since I've used this so much, it has felted at the sleeves. That turned out to be a positive because while sewing, I accidentally cut a notch in one sleeve. I was about to burst into tears but then I saw that the felted sleeve didn't care at all. Absolutely nothing happened. I have loved this cardigan a lot and it shows. But let it show, I'll continue to wear this daily.

I've also knitted garments in 4-ply merino silk. I knitted this Laneway tunic by Veera Välimäki in the summer 2014 with The Uncommon Thread Merino Silk Fingering. Nowadays, the base is a bit different but back in those days the yarn was 50% merino and 50% silk.

You can see the silk halo in this one as well - at least if your looking at it up close and not through the computer screen. The tunic is covered in a greyish halo but there's almost no pilling. I guess it's thanks to the high percentage of silk and the multiple plies. This tunic has been such a comfy yet stylish knit that I've recently started planning to knit another one - in merino silk, of course.

What about other fibers? One of my favorite fibers is BFL, Blue Faced Leicester. It's almost as soft as merino but more durable. In 2014 spring, I knitted myself a combination of Joji Locatelli's Feathers in the wind and Veera Välimäki's Make space. The yarn I used was Kraft Hand-dyed BFL DK. It's 100% BFL.

This cardigan as well is one of my most used knits. The BFL yarn has held up nicely. It hasn't really pilled but the fiber is a bit furrier which creates a little halo on the surface of the knit. Not as clearly as with silk, though. I bet one of the reasons this hasn't pilled are the multiple plies.

At last, let's look at some wool garments. In the fall 2013 I knitted Opettajatar by Veera Välimäki in Knitlob's lair Väinämöinen. I wanted to have some structure in the garment so I chose a woolly sock yarn. Väinämöinen is 75% wool and 25% nylonia.

This cardigan has endured the test of time well and I couldn't find almost any pilling. In socks the yarn (and all other yarns as well) pill much more easily. This yarn isn't the softest yarn against skin but I knew that when starting the project. My skin deals with prickly wool quite well.

Finally, a 100% wool cardigan, Uan which I designed for Tukuwool Fingering. Tukuwool Fingering is a Finnish wool yarn. It's soft but woolly. The cardigan has been in active use and it shows quite a bit.

The yarn is spun loosely to make it soft but this also makes it prone to pilling.

I was also asked about how I tend to my knits. Wool doesn't really require washing - unless you stain it, of course. Hanging your sweaters outside for a couple of hours in the winter is enough to freshen them up. If you do wash your knits, be prepared to block them again. Reblocking might do some good every once in a while even though it's quite laborous.

Inspired by this post, I finally went and bought myself a sweater stone. I tried it on all the knits shown in this post and gathered a big pile of pilling and lint. It worked best on Drops Alpaca, Baa ram ewe Titus and Tukuwool Fingering. I can recommend it on garments that clearly pill. On the other hand, with garments that didn't really pill but had for example the halo from silk, the sweater stone tended to create pilling where the was none. If there's no pilling, it might break the surface of the yarn, so I wouldn't recommend it for those garments.


  1. LOVE this knitwear collection of sweaters - each of them is unique and so beautiful! I also wrote a post several weeks ago about how sweaters behave after long-term wear, I think it is very important to come back to old knits and let knitters know what to expect from yarns that I used, this way they can decide whether it is worth the investment of their time and money. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    1. And these are just the few I selected for this post. :D I'll have to come by to read your post, I'm always interested in how these yarns hold up.