That sweater looked so great when you brought it home. The fabric was bright and smooth; it went with everything, life was perfect.
Then after a few months, you noticed that the sweater, along with your life, was unraveling. Or more specifically, it was "pilling." That's the technical term for that phenomenon when little "pills" of fabric collect in a few spots, making the clothing look old, worn and frumpy.
Pilling can affect nearly any fabric, but it's most often seen on wool and cotton sweaters, as well as knits. While it's possible to get rid of the offending pills, the best course of action may be to prevent them from occurring.
"In knits, you want to make sure they're being washed correctly," says Cindy Jones of Pendleton Sport Shop in Laguna Hills. "They're generally machine washed in the gentle cycle and hung up to dry. Use cold or warm water, and make sure it stays out of the dryer. The hot air breaks down the fibers."
Pilling most often develops between the legs of the garment and under the arms, a result of friction from the fabric rubbing against itself.
"A lot of people go on long trips and come home to find their best sweaters pilled," says clothing buyer Bill Rigioni of Huntington Beach. "What happens is, they're wearing this sweater three or four times a week, and it's wearing out."
Adds Stephanie Grani of Stephania in San Juan Capistrano: "It can also occur on acrylic sweaters, and it happens when the sweater you're wearing is too tight."
Of course, as in nearly every clothing problem, the better quality the fabric, the less of a problem you're likely to have. "That's especially true with acrylics. A cheaper fabric will break down faster," Grani says.
"I've noticed women's wool suit jackets have this problem more often than men's jackets," Jones says. "It may be because men often hang up their jacket when they get to the office, while women keep theirs on."
Getting rid of the pills isn't difficult. Most fabric stores stock a pill shaver, which one rubs lightly on the fabric to get rid of those annoying little balls. "They work, but lightly is the key word. Don't push down on the fabric too hard," Rigioni says.
There's also a sweater "stone" with a rough surface that picks off pills, and some people prefer a small pair of nippers to trim their clothing. "It's best to try and prevent pilling in the first place," Rigioni says. "We're all too busy to get our hair trimmed; why should we be spending time trimming our clothing?"