March to End Sweater Pilling Fights Tragic Fashion Problem

WESTLAND, Mass.   Arlene Douthat used to feel, in her words, as if she was “all alone” in dealing with the difficulties she faced in life.  “There was nobody I could turn to,” she says as she opens the venetian blinds to her living room, admitting rays of sunlight from the west.  “It really wasn’t something people talked about, at least not in polite company.”

“It was awful–I felt so alone!”

But then she saw a small poster in the window of her favorite coffee shop, and her outlook on life began to improve.  “I realized that I wasn’t the only one,” she says with an audible lump in her throat.  “I saw a way out of the horrible mess I was in.”

That poster led her to join WASP, Women Against Sweater Pilling, the group that last year sponsored the first “March to End Sweater Pilling,” a walk-a-thon where Arlene met other, similarly-afflicted women.  “My mascara was a mess,” she recalls with dry eyes today.  “I thought my cable-knit cardigan was bad, until I saw Audra Phenner’s cowl-neck pullover–I bawled my eyes out!”

Sweaterscan reveals potentially malignant sweater pill in hard-to-reach spot.

“Pilling” is a phenomenon in which yarn fibers in sweaters break or loosen, exposing ends that become tangled.  “Tragically, there is no diagnostic test that can accurately predict the likelihood of pilling,” says Dr. Emil Nostrand, an professor of fiber sciences at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.  “Retailers have fought scientific research to cure this dreaded ailment because they don’t want to be left with heavily-discounted garments at the end of each season.”

Removal of metastasized sweater pill.

The only known cure for sweater pills is painful and laborious therapy using a primitive pumice stone, but fashion technologists funded by venture capitalists say dramatic breakthroughs are possible in the next few years.  “We’ve invested in an ‘A’ round for a company working on laser surgery,” says Jeffrey Kalpor of The Romulus Funds.  “The problem is finding enough terminally-ugly Christmas sweaters for clinical trials.”

Pilled sweater viewed under electron microscope.

But that hope is what has Douthat, Phenner and scads of their friends gathered together for a candlelight service following ten circuits around the town green to raise money for anti-pilling research they hope will end this fashion tragedy once and for all.  “Maybe we won’t see a cure in my lifetime,” says Natalie Haycroft, a 32-year-old mother of two young girls just starting pre-school.  “But I’d like to think when my daughters are rolling around on apartment floors with their dates twenty years from now, they won’t worry that their sweaters will look a field of hay the next morning.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “I Hear America Whining.”

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