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Protecting Against Moths, Part II

Seems like every time I turn my back another beautiful skein of yarn (or ten, let’s be honest) has snuck into my home, ready for knitting…right after I finish the sweater I’m working on right now. And that hat for that guy’s birthday. Oh yeah, and that baby gift set, right! And mustn’t forget that blanket for the newlyweds. And… yeah, so there’s some yarn stashing going on, I admit it. I love working with yarn, love looking at it, I’ve even been known to decorate with it! But one thing I very much DON’T love is finding moth damage in my beloved yarn stash. Moths are a fact of life in most places, especially damp, coast-y places with warm summers like here on the Cape, so finding ways to protect both your knitwear and your yarn stash from their predation is a must. We covered how to clean and store your woolens in the previous post. Now let’s tackle protecting your yarn stash!

First, story time (hang in there, this is going somewhere!): once upon a time, Our Young Hero (let’s call her Julia, shall we?) thought it was kinda fun and adult-ish to have a bowl of chocolate-covered raisins, chocolate-covered nuts, and little peanut-butter cups out on her coffee table, for “entertaining”. One day, she discovered that she had a mouse sharing her living space, and the way she learned this was that every one of the peanut-butter cups in the bowl had little mouse-sized holes munched into the peanut-butter. So she emptied the bowl, threw out the remaining bag of peanut-butter cups and gave her cat a stern talking to. Then she refilled the “entertaining” bowl with chocolate-covered nuts and raisins. The following day, she found the chocolate-covered nuts neatly devoured by her mousy friend. She chucked the remaining chocolate-covered nuts and had a very serious conversation about Sharing Responsibilities and Chores with her cat. Then she refilled the bowl with just the chocolate-covered raisins, congratulating herself on her wisdom. To her chagrin, on the third day Julia noticed that the only thing in her Very Adult Bowl o’ Stuff for Entertaining was a bunch of odd-looking raisins, since the mouse had carefully eaten the chocolate coating, leaving the naked raisins behind. At this point, Julia wisely abandoned all hope of Adulting, threw out her “entertaining” bowl, and stopped expecting anything but the occasional hairball from the cat. Because cats are lazy bums.

Moths are similar to my, ahem, Our Young Hero’s unwanted mouse guest, in that they have specific foods that they prefer above others, but in a pinch will eat their way down the list. Their very favorites (their peanut-butter cups, if you will) are woolens with food bits, deodorant smears, and tiny flakes of skin or hair on it, especially if those worn woolens are stored undisturbed in a dark place. Clean and properly store the woolens (see previous post), and the hungry moth larvae will turn instead to their version of the chocolate-covered nuts (clean woolens or yarn in a space that has pet hair or food crumbs), or eventually the chocolate off the raisins (clean yarn lying in a dark, undisturbed space), BUT…not the raisins. So our goal is to make your yarn as unattractive to moths as those raisins were to my little mouse pal.

If you’re anything like me, at this point you glance at your yarn stash and feel despair creeping into your soul. Relax! We’re going to handle this in steps. Step 1 is diagnosis and prevention, so looking through your stash and identifying skeins that might have moth damage. Today we’ll cover how to spot potential problems, prevention, and options for storing yarn. Step 2 will be the next post, when we’ll cover ways to deal with and even salvage moth-damaged yarn.

  • First things first, time to look through your stash! Yup, every skein or ball, every abandoned project stuffed like some dirty secret into the back of a closet. Arm yourself with some gallon-size Ziploc bags, a trash bag, some good light, and dig in. Just give each skein or ball a quick once-over, looking for potential moth damage. Look for frayed yarn (signs of chewing), live or dead moths or larvae (they look like ¼ inch beige tubes) or eggs (like blue-ish or white-ish sand). Don’t panic! Just put any yarn showing these signs into the Ziploc bags (2 or three skeins or balls per bag, tops), seal them up and set aside, we’ll deal with them later. Try not to shake “sandy” skeins as you pop them into the bags, you want to avoid spreading the eggs around. If you see any signs of damage on the outside of a skein or ball, quarantine the skein right away, along with it’s nearest neighbors. Light damage, into the Ziploc, there are strategies that could well save it! Heavy damage (multiple frayed yarn ends showing, the whole skein looks bedraggled, lots of eggs or dead larvae), throw it directly in the trash bag. Once you’ve inspected the stash, congrats, that’s a huge part done! Just the act of moving the yarn and exposing skeins that might have been in the bottom of the pile for a while goes a long way toward making your yarn unappealing to moths. Toss in some new or freshly sanded cedar bits, dried lavender or eucalyptus, and we’re most of the way there!

  • Next, let’s talk about yarn and works-in-progress (WIP) storage. I’ve got Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest feeds full of yarn lying piled high in wicker or wooden baskets and bowls, like some gorgeous fiber cornucopia. So pretty!…too bad that’s an engraved invitation to the Moth All-You-Can-Destroy Yarn Buffet. Nothing wrong with putting your current favorite on display for up to a week, just avoid wicker or wooden baskets or bowls for long-term storage! On the surface, lovely yarn lying ready for petting and admiring. Underneath, the ideal environment moths look for to lay their eggs, soon to munch your pretty yarn display from underneath. Instead, use trunks, bins, closets, in combination with sealable airtight bags. Pop your yarn into a sealable bag (those gallon Ziplocs again, or the vacuum-type ones if you prefer something bigger), toss in some cedar or lavender/eucalyptus, and store a bunch of those bags in the trunk, bin, or closet. Worst case scenario, if a skein turns out to have harbored moth eggs, only the yarn in the same sealed bag is risked. The rest of your stash is protected.

  • Ok, now let’s briefly turn to those Ziploc baggies you’ve set aside, with the moth-damaged yarn inside. This is gonna sound a little nuts, but just trust me: stick the bags into the freezer, as-is. Let’em sit there for a week. (No room? don’t panic, leave the bags out in a spot where they’re in the light. Or in your car!They’ll be ok for a week, and the rest of your stash is protected) I’ll explain in the next post the whys and wherefores. For now, just congratulate yourself on a job well done! And have some peanut-butter cups to celebrate.

Next time, strategies for saving moth-damaged yarns. Happy knitting!




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