Learn the Truth About Pilling
In a survey conducted by The Association for Contract Textiles (ACT) for fabric durability, the most cited customer complaint was pilling. So, what causes this issue? Visit a search engine and type in “causes of pilling on upholstery”. Dozens of sites will come up and tell you that pilling is a result of abrasion and/or friction on the surface of the material. But, the surprising part is that most will also call pilling ‘unsightly’ but fail to mention it is perfectly normal and should be expected on any material. When it does occur, they advise to use a sweater stone or electric shaver to remove the pills, then, voilà – good as new!
While this temporary fix may be suitable for some, it may not be an acceptable answer for many clients. Imagine – a designer spent thousands on a custom sofa for their A-list client, just to find out it’s pilling. On a larger scale, hotels purchase multiples of products that need to be durable for the many customers they serve. Pilling is defined as “bunches or balls of tangled fibers held to the surface of a fabric by one or more fibers”. However, it is typically the result of using short staple1 and/or low twist yarns2 in the construction of the fabric. Often, one cannot look at the fabric and see this with the naked eye.
How to Test Pilling
ACT recognizes two tests for pilling on the upholstery – ASTM D3511 Brush Pilling Test and ASTM D4970 Martindale Pilling Test. Both test methods illustrate a material’s propensity to pill and are measured on the same scale.
ASTM D3511 Brush Pilling Test
The specimens mounted on holders then placed face down against a nylon brush. The brush, which moves in an elliptical motion, brushes the surface to loosen fibers for four minutes. To simulate the actions that cause pilling, two specimens placed face to face to rub against one another (again, in an elliptical motion) for two minutes in normal conditions.
ASTM D4970 Martindale Pilling Test
Comparatively, the Martindale test starts as the brush test ends. Mounted in the Martindale Abrasion and rubbed face to face using a Lissajous (elliptical, see figure) motion for a set number of cycles – typically 1,000 cycles. After the specimens are objected to either method, they are graded against a visual chart and rated for the degree of pilling of 1 (very severe pilling) to 5 (no pilling). Additionally, other notes include fuzzing, color change, and color loss, but don’t affect the overall rating.
Interpreting Test Results
While pilling may be unavoidable in some constructions, testing will give the foresight to know which patterns could have issues. In turn, this will help you make more informed decisions on what products to offer to your clients
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1 having relatively short fibers
2 Yarn untwisted from its original state.