Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Last week was not my wardrobe's week. I did a lot of switching out warm weather clothes for cold weather clothes as one does at the turn of a season, and made a couple of horrifying discoveries. On Tuesday, I discovered that the batteries in the hall closet light had leaked on an ivory linen jacket that I sewed for myself in 2014. I can't get the stains out despite having tried every remedy recommended on the internet, so the jacket is ruined.
Then on Thursday night I decided I would reorganize my dresser and chest of drawers according to a grand plan I'd come up with since Tuesday. When I opened a dresser drawer full of sweaters and began taking them out, I idly picked what I thought was a bit of lint off one... only to see the "lint" begin squirming around on my finger tip of its own volition. It was a moth larva. My original organizing plan came to an immediate, screeching halt, and I instead began to minutely examine every one of the nine handknit sweaters in that drawer, as well as all the other sweaters that had been in that dresser, as well as in my chest of drawers.
The picture above shows all the damage I found. Only two of my sweaters had holes. The plum sweater, my Mirry-Dancers Yokes Pullover, is knitted from the top down, so one hole six inches from the bottom is not going to be such a huge deal to fix (and I'm 99% certain that hole was a yarn break, not moth damage). The orange sweater, which is my Schiaparelli bowknot sweater, must be completely taken apart and reknitted, but then I'd been considering doing that for sometime anyway as I was never really happy with the way it looked, and I'm almost glad that I now have the ironclad justification for doing it. The other seven sweaters that were in that drawer were fine, thank heavens. There was a cashmere/merino cardigan and an alpaca/silk pullover, both intricately knit, with quite a bit of larvae matter on them, but there were no holes. There was a silk mohair laceweight lace cardigan that was completely untouched. Even better, I didn't see any signs at all that the larvae had gotten into the other dresser drawers, or into my chest of drawers. This moth infestation could have been so, so much worse.
I cleaned the drawer, and quarantined all nine of the sweaters that were in that drawer by putting them in plastic bags and keeping the bags in the kitchen until I could do some research into moth control. According to this New York Times article, the way to kill moth larvae and eggs in clothing is to wash the clothes in very hot water, dry clean them, or store them in the freezer for two weeks. Hot water would ruin my sweaters and I don't have the money for dry cleaning nine items, so the freezer it was. I crammed those sweaters into the freezer on Friday morning, and I am looking forward to December 10th, when I'll get not only my sweaters but half of my cold storage back.
While my sweaters chill, I looked into ways to prevent a future moth infestation. This isn't, I am sad to say, my first moth visitation. I struggled with pantry moths for several years, beginning circa 2011. I think the problem was that I had a tenant who gradually allowed his apartment to become a complete and disgusting disaster and I could never wipe out the moths completely until he departed in early 2014. A little over a year ago, in the fall of 2014, I found the moths had gotten into my hall closet and eaten holes in my qiviut hat. This was a hat knitted from a qiviut yarn kit my father had brought back from an Alaskan trip. (My mother had told me I was not allowed to ever throw the hat out because he'd paid so much for it, and she suggested that it be shadow boxed if I ever got tired of wearing it.) Fuming that the moths had to choose that particular hat rather than, say, the thrift shop wool beret in the same basket, I gave that closet the cleaning of its life. I hadn't seen any moths for over a year and thought I'd taken care of the problem, but clearly I hadn't and I needed to find ways to keep the moths from franchising.
According to my research, the unpleasant fact of the matter is that there isn't a surefire way to prevent a moth infestation. Vigilance and cleanliness are key but are not guaranteed to succeed. One option is to store woolens in airtight plastic storage cases with moth balls, replacing the moth balls every three months, but even that doesn't seem to be a guarantee against moths. When I posted about my moth infestation to this blog's Facebook page, one reader reported that she did keep her sweaters in plastic cases with moth balls, and that the moths still got in.
I have decided against the plastic containers and moth balls route. I want my sweaters and other clothes to be readily accessible. Moth balls are toxic, have a horrible smell that even dry cleaning won't remove from clothing, and there's always the danger my cat Trilby (who considers himself to be wilfully and cruelly starved and eats everything he can get his little jaws around) might ingest one. This article suggests some other methods for fighting moths, and Martha Stewart's site has quite a comprehensive guide to fighting and preventing moth infestations.
My moth prevention plan is going to be based on vigilance and cleanliness. After my clothing reorganization of last week, almost all my sweaters are in one cupboard, which will make it easy for me to keep a very close eye on them. From now on when I do the spring and fall wardrobe reshuffle, I'm going to take everything out my hall and bedroom closets, my dresser, and my chest of drawers, inspect all the items, and clean the drawers, cupboards, and closets before putting everything back. If I buy any thrift shop sweaters, I shall not only wash them but also stick them in the freezer for two weeks before I let them fraternize with any of my other sweaters. I'll also have to be careful not to put any sweaters I have worn into the cupboard with my clean sweaters.
I made a set of seven lavender sachets yesterday. Lavender repels moths, though it does not kill moth larvae or eggs. I made these bags out of fabric and ribbon I had on hand, filled them with dried lavender from my own garden, then tucked one into each shelf and drawer that holds any of my sweaters as well as in the basket of scarves and hats that sits on my hall closet shelf.
Cooks and bakers expect their handiwork to be eaten, but knitters don't, and moths in the home are never a welcome sight. Is it any wonder there are horror movies entitled The Mothman Prophecies and The Moth Diaries and that a moth figured prominently on the poster for The Silence of the Lambs?