Protecting Your Wools


There is nothing worse than opening up your box of lovely yarn and seeing breaks in it or finding holes in your favorite knitted garments and wooly things. It’s a fear that many knitters have deep in their hearts. Thankfully there are modern and historical ways to combat these everyday pests in your home.

Tineola bisselliella, commonly known as a cloth moth.

Tineola bisselliella, commonly known as a cloth moth.

The clothes moth, or clothing moth, is a common name used for several species of moth whose larvae eat animal fibers for nutrition. They are a huge pain and can be destructive for yarn shops and clothing companies. Even Mathew had a terrible experience with them.

Mathew’s horror:

I had never dealt with a moth infestation before so I didn’t know what to look for. I just assumed that little white moths flying around an NYC apartment was part and parcel to my new life. But sadly, it was not so. I remember when they began to increase in number in the apartment and what an annoyance I thought it was. Every so often, I would go to knit and I would find a break in my yarn. I would just assume it was a spinning flaw, or that it was just old and that I could just tie in a new end and keep going. It wasn’t until I found a larva husk buried in the yarn that began to understand what was happening.

I sprayed a bit and bought some pesticide cakes that I didn’t really know how to use and they just stayed in their plastic wrappers…as though buying them was the whole solution. Pro-tip…you have to actually use them according to the directions for them to work. I was so busy working in both ballet and fashion during that part of my life, I didn’t really have much spare time to worry about the problem. Then…I moved.

I was packing up my studio and kept finding dust around the bottoms of my shelves and bins. It was an odd dust because the dust matched the color of the wools under which I found it. Slowly realizing, with horror, what was happening I opened up the pieces of fabric and found many wool larvae happily munching away. I won’t lie…I completely freaked out. I took out every piece of wool. If it didn’t have a larva on it, I sprayed the hell out of it with REALLY toxic stuff. Any yarn that had been stored near the floor or near infested skeins was tossed. In the process of the purge, I found ground zero for the infestation. It was brought into my shop in some wool that had come from an Italian mill. The wool had been used for several sweaters that I had made for a fashion brand that needed handknits for its runway show. They had purchased the yarn and shipped it to me so that I could get the work done. Little did I know that it was filled with moth eggs that would soon hatch and devour my fabric and yarn stash.

Needless to say, on the day of the purge, I discarded more than $10,000.00 worth of designer yarns and exquisite textiles that had been ruined by the insects. Wow, did I learn my lesson well. These days I’m hyper vigilant. I clean out my closets regularly. I check my yarns for husks or larvae every week or so. If it’s yarn that I’m not using, I have some large plastic bins into which I place a partially opened moth repellent/killer cake. I only partially open the package because the cakes are so strong and toxic, they can break down the plastic bins if they reach full power. In a sealed container, the cakes can last for a very long time and do their job really well.

Please, when new yarn comes into your home…if it breaks a lot, be cautious and perhaps place it in plastic and then freeze it for a week or so. Never buy new yarn and then just toss it right into your bins or stash unless you have protected bins like I do. I have a quarantine process for yarn as it enters my home and studio. I do not deviate. Each skein and ball is checked and then stored for one week in a moth-proofed bin with a fully opened cake to gas out the little buggers.

In case you can’t tell…even 10 years later, I’m still angry at nature and what her creatures did to my prize textiles and yarns. I may never forgive the species. At least my reactions are more calm and less likely to be “KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

I hope this blog post will arm you against the insect hoard that threatens your beautiful stashes. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor…

Identifying the Problem

The Tineola bisselliella in its larval state

The Tineola bisselliella in its larval state

The “case-making clothes moth,” also known as the common clothes moth can be found in North America and parts of Europe. According to the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute many bugs feed on clothing aside from clothing moths, but you might find they are easier to get rid of; these include carpet beetles, hide beetles, and harder beetles. In severe cases Silverfish, Cockroaches, and Crickets can be the culprits of an infestation.

Macrophotography of a freshly laid, non-sticky egg measuring less than 1 mm

Macrophotography of a freshly laid, non-sticky egg measuring less than 1 mm

The most obvious indicator of a fiber-eating pest problem are the holes in your clothes. You can also find eggs, cases, dust, or stains in your fibers or the boxes holding them. If you find an adult moth or beetle flying around in your home, you may already have an infestation going.

Fear not, dear knitters, there are methods to keep the cloth moth and other pests at bay.

Forms of Pest Control

Common household techniques include brushing and vacuuming affected garments and accessories, putting a garment in a freezer (adult moths can survive up to -8 Celsius but eggs can survive up to -28 Celsius) and using heat treatments with a clothing dryer or treating your home through a pest control service. Mothballs, mothcakes and insecticides are also available but will need to be out of reach (and smell) of people, children, and pets due to their toxic ingredients. A tightly sealed container or a relatively sealed container in a non-living area (like a garage or shed) are preferred spaces to place your garments and yarns while they are being treated.

For the all natural route, putting your garments in a tightly constructed red cedar box is a tried and true method, with varying degrees of success. Red cedar oil is known to be volatile to moths, but the wood dries out after a few years. The oil is commercially available so you can always reapply the oil when the box dries out.

Lavandula angustifolia, or the Common Lavender plant. Harvested for its oil or dried for its fragrance.

Lavandula angustifolia, or the Common Lavender plant. Harvested for its oil or dried for its fragrance.

Lavender oil and dried lavender are a known alternative to using insecticides, as the smell of lavender is known to drive away moths. Like cedar oil, it will need to be reapplied to clothing and clothing spaces to continue working. Spearmint plants are another alternative to naturally repelling moths, but is not as well known or as popular as lavender. Keep in mind that these herbs won’t kill the eggs or the larvae, so they are not as helpful during an infestation.

In some manufacturing industries, introducing Trichogrammatid wasps to an infestation gives results. While this is considered a radical solution to an infestation problem in a regular home, this wasp is used in other parts of the world to control moth populations that consume grain and other food products.

If you have any garments that you’ve saved but are damaged, consider repairing them yourself or taking them to a professional to have them mended. If all is lost, make peace with the damaged garment and be rid of it; moth eaten clothing and yarns can attract new moths and start the cycle anew.

Preventing Future Infestations

Prevention is the best method when it comes to protecting your yarn. When you’re purchasing new yarn, make sure to check the skeins to see any obvious signs of infestation. When searching for stores, double check the reviews to see if anyone mentions getting an infestation from their store. And always, always, always, put your incoming yarn into a separate bin before introducing it to your stash. Check your yarn often, pests hate being disturbed and won’t lay eggs in bright and commonly visited spaces.

Once the yarn is deemed ‘clean’ you can then move it into your usual yarn stash. It’s recommended that you have mothballs on hand so that you’ll have persistent, continuous pest control over the yarn no matter the season.

In the end, always do what you can to be sure that you can minimize your chances of a pest infestation whether it be moths, beetles, or silverfish.


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