Sunday, May 07, 2017

The moth situation.

Oh no! A hole!!!!
Moths. The fear of every knitter, weaver, spinner, fiber artist...or anyone who has wool in the house. I think nearly all of us have had these very unwelcome pests in our house at one time or another. It's almost impossible not to have them if you store wool (and alpaca and silk and other animal fibers) in your home, whether they're raw materials or finished goods. By the way, moths flying around your pantry are a different pest, unrelated and not interested in your wool, but still annoying and something you have to deal with as soon as you see them. Those buggers often hitch a ride in a packaged food item you brought into the house, so clean the pantry out and find the source. But I'm going to talk about wool moths here.

I recently found moths in some cheap merino fiber I got in Izmir, Turkey a couple years ago and wasn't using. So I didn't know there was a problem. It's possible the moths were there when I acquired the fiber. I bought the fiber from a bazaar vendor and it was intended for stuffing, not spinning, so it was not of high quality. I should have inspected it thoroughly when I brought it home, but instead I left it in the corner of my storage room in the plastic trash bag I brought it home in. Yeah, pretty stupid. The good thing was that it wasn't around any other fiber, except some non-wool fabric, which appears unaffected. It appeared that the moths were loving it where they were, with their seemingly unlimited food source, and probably didn't seek out other fibers. I thought of trying to save it...for about 10 seconds...and then threw the entire bag away. That could have been the extent of it, but it wasn't. I haven't been spinning hardly at all since I moved here but recently a knitting friend was interested in learning. When I went to retrieve my spindles I discovered I had tried out some of that lousy Izmir merino and it was still on the spindle...with moths. And to make matters worse, the basket that held the spindles also contained one unfinished fair isle mitten and the yarn for the second mitten from a kit I'd bought in Helsinki. Most of the yarn was a total loss but the mitten was too small anyway, so starting over with new yarn is probably what I was going to have to do anyway. Still, losing the yarn was a painful lesson. 

We knew there was a problem but just didn't want to face it. There had been a moth here and there in our apartment and some of my husband's woolen hats, scarves and sweaters were showing up with holes in them. Most of my woolen things had been fine - maybe because I was more fastidious about cleaning them. But then I started finding some holes in my things too. When I found the bag of merino moth-feast, I could no longer live in denial about moths in the apartment. It's quite possible the moths hadn't all come from the Izmir merino, but it didn't matter. Moths are moths and they eat wool. I had to do something. 

In my fiber studio I, not surprisingly, found more evidence of moths. One strange case was a hank of bamboo with some moth webbing on it and breaks in the yarn. I didn't think moths went after non-animal products, especially if animal products were around. The damage and loss of fiber was what I would consider minimal but after I rewound it I put the yarn into the freezer with a skein of wool I found with some damage. Cleaning up the bedroom revealed a felted wool hat of my husband's with some damage. Into the freezer it went.

From what I've read, the adult moths you see aren't the problem but they're indicators that you do have a problem. The larvae is what eats your fiber and the eggs are the next problem when they hatch into larvae. You can kill larvae by freezing but eggs will survive so you have to do it again. Unfortunately it's spring now so I can't just put everything outside on a cold night.

I was planning on sewing today but instead I spent the day continuing to battle the moth situation. I inspected some more of my stash and found more evidence in some spinning fiber. Again, nothing near as bad as the Izmir merino, but worrisome just the same. Our freezer is small so I decided to try another option - heat. One blog I read suggested using the oven but cautioned that you can catch fiber on fire that way so it has to be done with caution. I don't like fire so I won't try this. Another option is to put your stash in a hot car - apparently 120 degrees is the key temperature. Well, it's not hot enough here for that so this option is not possible right now. Laundering is good for finished items but not very easy to do for yarns or spinning fiber and of course there's the problem of shrinkage and felting. I decided to go a different route - steam heat. I have an excellent Laura Star steam iron that puts out very hot, continuous steam heat. So I blasted my spinning fiber with it and then stored it in zip lock bags. I also steamed the items that I'd previously put in the freezer. I then went through our winter scarves and hats - mostly things I'd knit or woven - and steamed those as well. I found some evidence of moths on them and have a few repairs to make. At least I found the damage early and it's good that I kept the left over bits of yarn!

Pile of things to fix. 
I know I am not done. I really will have to go through every bit of yarn and fiber and wool cloth in my stash as well as the wool sweaters in our closets. And I can't just do this once. I will need to inspect things regularly and steam them again if I see evidence of moths. Ugh. 


  1. Aarrgh! I am so sorry you are having to go through this! I once acquired clothes moths when I lived in a rental apartment. I never knew if the moths were in the wool wall-to-wall carpet or moved in from somewhere else in the building, but I lost some favorite clothes. Ever since then I have been much more careful about checking things regularly for signs of moths or damage, and making sure nothing is put away for a long time without being cleaned and placed in a sealed bag or container. I confess that I occasionally use mothballs, too, though I always wear gloves and try to minimize my time around them. I totally understand why many folks won't use them at all. I read somewhere that to kill the moth eggs by freezing, you actually have to freeze the item for a week or so, then thaw it, and then freeze it again, as this is what it takes to kill the eggs. I've done this, but only for small things like stuffed animals or other completed items that are impossible to clean. And fit in the freezer. As a result, I have become very cautious about accepting animal fiber fabric and yarn that I don't source directly from the maker/manufacturer, such as what comes from thrift shops, yard sales, passed on from others, etc., as I can't be sure where it's been (I don't spin so fleece hasn't been an issue . . . yet!) I have even found moth damage on wool at one large job-lot fabric supplier I occasionally visit, but they gave a nice discount and said it was probably from when they had problems in their old building twenty years ago. ;-) I ran that through the washing machine on the gentle cycle, just to be on the safe side, and it came out just fine. In any case, good luck!

    1. Thanks! As I'm going through my stash I'm finding some evidence of moths but nothing too bad. Well, all damage by moths is bad but it's relative I guess. I read about one blogger who had stored some fleece away for 29 years and found moths had turned it and other yarn fiber stored near it into dust! Yikes! I'm afraid to pull out my wool fabrics that I have stored away. But I have to do it.