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We've all had it happen. We don a new sweater—store-bought or handknit, doesn't matter—and proudly wear it out into the world for the first time. A few hours later we happen to look down and discover, much to our dismay, that a constellation of little puffballs has begun to appear on the fabric surface.
The immediate instinct is to get those pills off as quickly as possible. We pinch and tug as many as we can, but depending on the garment and the severity of the pilling, this can quickly grow tiresome. So we pull up Google and search on "tools for removing pills."
I've had good luck with sweater shavers, which act as miniature electric razors to snip off pills at the root without disturbing nearby fibers. But others, I've heard, have accidentally cut holes in their sweaters with such devices. Which may not be the look you were after.
Many years ago I tried a "de-fuzzer" that actually distressed my fabric more than it helped. To me, it felt like rubbing a rough piece of sandpaper against my garment, forcing pills while allegedly in the process of removing them.
I was going to dismiss this tool as yet another de-fuzzer, but then I saw the marketing materials actually dare bill it as "the best natural fabric pill remover you'll ever use." Gauntlet thrown, I bought myself a Lilly Brush to see if the claim was true.
The Lilly Brush
Lilly Brush is exactly what it says it is: a brush. A long, narrow strip of black nylon bristles is embedded into a plastic wand of sorts with a handle the size of a hairbrush. A long, slender tube serves as a cap to protect the bristles when not in use. It's definitely a "grab-and-go" design intended, I imagine, to be tossed into a purse and carried anywhere.
Instructions for use are simple: "Applying moderate pressure, sweep Lilly Brush across garment in any direction to make short work of pills, pet hair, lint and light soil." The "in any direction" part intrigues me from a fabric perspective, since fibers and stitches do tend to have a specific orientation in fabric that may or may not cooperate with pill-removal tactics.
The Lilly folks are quick to warn you, this is only for natural fibers. Synthetics tend to have a longer staple length, paired with exceptional strength that makes them unwilling to come off without a fight. If you imagine pills like seedlings in the garden, these are the ones that are so firmly enmeshed that you have to snip them off, otherwise you risk disrupting all the other plants in the bed pulling it out.
I set to work. I brushed and brushed and brushed. I tried brushing horizontally, I tried brushing vertically. I tried brushing gently, and I brushed furiously. I huffed and puffed, but the big pills weren't going anywhere. The fabric itself looked nicer, a bit refreshed. And some of the tiny pills went away. But the bigger ones stayed put.
Something felt strange, the way the pills tugged and snapped when I pulled them by hand from the fabric. I flipped the sweater inside-out. Lo, there it was right on the label: 20% nylon. Even though the rest was wool and angora, that nylon kept the tool from working. The Lilly folks say it won't work on synthetics, and they mean it. In knitting terms, this means any garments made from those 80% Merino/20% nylon yarns won't be candidates for this tool. Possibly even the ones with just 10% nylon too.
The Trial: Take Two
After about eight brushings, I started to see the pills disappear. The more I brushed, the more tidy the fabric became. There was a point, however, beyond which the brushed pills started popping off the brush and landing back on the sweater. I'm guessing the accumulation of static electricity on the brush was contributing to this, not to mention the accumulation of pills.
Cleaning the brush is easy. The company suggests: "For washable fabrics the Lilly Brush can be dampened before use to eliminate static. To clean your Lilly Brush, wash with light soap, rinse, and tap briskly to remove excess water."
I just ran my fingers up and down the brush, tweaking the bristles as I went, and I could see the pills and tiny fibers pop off. After a sweater or two, I could imagine washing the brush, but for a quick pick-me-up, it's completely self-maintaining.
How refreshing to discover a product that actually lives up to the marketing hype. If pills are a problem for you, and you tend to wear 100% natural fabrics, $12.95 is a small price to pay for a pill-free future.