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It’s a cruel irony of style that the better something looks, the more you wear it, and the sooner it starts to appear tired. Nowhere is that truer than with knitwear. A cosy jumper is your go-to once it gets chilly, but every time you slip it on, you see more of that dreaded ‘pilling’ – the little bobbles that make something new feel like a find from a charity shop.

Unfortunately, pilling is tough to avoid. It's caused by friction – when the fabric rubs against itself, fibres break and then roll up into small balls. And each bobble then attracts more broken fibres, which is why a few suddenly seem to erupt into thousands; the more you have, the quicker they accrue.

“Bobbled garments look unattractive,” says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. “Some things, like selvedge denim, look great with a bit of wear. But bobbles don't look vintage, the just makes pieces look uncared for. And they’re bad for your clothes, too. They can cause snags, which lead to holes, which mean you have to throw something away.” But it’s possible to remove them – and even better, prevent them appearing in the first place.

How to debobble fabric

First off, don’t pluck the balls off by hand – this tugs the fabric that’s holding them on, which only makes the problem worse. Instead, get a fabric comb, then simply brush away the bobbles by running the teeth very gently over your jumper or t-shirt when it’s pulled taut. If you don’t have a comb and need an immediate fix, a razor also works – just be very careful, or find something else to wear if the fabric is particularly expensive.

How to avoid bobbles

The biggest pilling culprit is your washing machine. As clothes rub up against each other, bobbles form, which is why they’re often a different colour to the fabric of the actual garment – your black jumper might have picked up red threads from a pair of socks. There are three key moves that will prevent pilling:

1. Don’t overload your machine. The more clothes you stuff in, the more they rub together, and the more bobbles form.

2. Separate your fabrics. Keep bobble-prone things like wool away from abrasive materials like denim.

3. Wash clothes inside out. You’ll still get bobbles, but if they’re on the inside, then no one can see them.