How I moth-proofed my yarn collection AND kept it pretty

July 5 | Guest post by Jessica Drue

Years ago I learned how to knit from Debbie Stoller's Stitch and Bitch. Like an army of other young women that summer, I fell in love with it. I bought plastic needles and soft acrylic yarn and knit my little heart out. As the years went on, I bought nicer needles and pricier yarn made of natural fibers and bought pretty wicker baskets to store them in.

The last year has seen a sharp decline in my knitting. We moved to our first condo, and even though one of the reasons I like it here is because there is a lot of natural light, there is an unfortunate lack of unnatural light. So once the sun goes down, it gets too dim to do anything crafty.

Then one night my husband asked me if he could borrow some yarn for the Halloween costume he was putting together. I went into my long-neglected stash to see if I could find something. As I delved in, I realized that something was wrong. All my little rolled up cakes of yarn looked rough, like something had been nibbling at them. For the last couple months we had seen tiny little brown flies around the apt. I didn't think much of them because it was summer, and bugs happen in the summer. I thought they were coming from the drains so I'd been pouring bleach down them. Could they be moths? That hadn't occurred to me before because my mental image of a moth is a large, butterfly-like insect that flutters around light bulbs. I discovered that wool-eating moths look much different when I saw a larva crawling on MY PURPLE MERINO.

Really, I was asking for it.

My yarn stash was sitting in wicker baskets or boxes on the floor. Why not just lay out a moth banquet? So, I decided to see this is an opportunity to re-do the "knitting corner" in my living room.

The husband and I took a trip to a little gem in Chicago called Nadeau that sells furniture from Indonesia for wholesale prices. We got this gorgeous cabinet for a song.

Here some of my anti-moth techniques:

  • The moths can't get in through wood and glass, so it's perfect.
  • Moths also hate any strong scent (cedar, lavender, sage, peppermint, etc) and the inside smells pine-fresh.
  • Hours of Internet research has brought up conflicting theories about plastic. I've read that moths can chew right through plastic so using a plastic storage bin is useless. I've also read from reputable sources, such as the Deptartment of Entomology for Cornell University, that storing in plastic is fine as long as it's air-tight.
  • Just to be on the safe side, I'm still storing my yarn in Ziploc bags in my cabinet, just in case one moth flew inside while I was reaching for a ball of sock yarn and found a feast. The baggies might not be the most eco-friendly of choices, but they are pliable and allow me to squeeze a lot of yarn into a small space. Because now that the stash is safe? That cabinet is gonna get filled up fast.
  • Putting something scented, such as a piece of lavender bar soap or cedar balls into each bag would also be helpful.

So a big cedar chest from a second hand shop with some lavender sachets thrown in looks nicer, smells nicer, and keeps unwanted critters out.

  1. Ziploc is totally fine for yarn. Real wool benefits a little from breathing, but it's not a huge issue. Condensation MIGHT be an issue; if you notice some, put in some of those little silica packets that come with everything these days.

    Bonus of Ziplocs: slip your knitting pattern in the bag. Or, keep the yarn in the bag while you work and feed the string through the opening, then half-zip it shut for tangle-free and rollaway-free knitting.

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  2. Those little fly-like drain moths are not the ones that eat wool… which is fortunate, because we have them too, the ugly buggers. I'm pretty sure drain moths eat nasty "organic matter" out of the drains. Wool moths are beigey, scraggly-looking creatures (google image has a bunch of pics if you're curious.) Given the damage and the larva, though, you probably have both… or possibly carpet beetles since the baskets were on the floor.

    If you haven't already, you might want to do a few freeze-thaw-freeze cycles with your bagged yarns to kill whatever larva and eggs are still hanging out in there.

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    • Thanks Alex! Yep, did the freeze-thaw-freeze thing (including nuking in the microwave for a minute as well), after throwing out most of my stash. I also re-wound the remaining balls with my trusty ball winder and swift. I mostly just have acrylics and cottons left, and will be sticking with those for quite awhile. Sad face.

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  3. It's odd that I never thought about this. I guess this is a sign that I need to haul my grandmother's cedar chest into the craft room and make some spearmint sachets. Well, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it!

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  4. This is good info to have. Thank you for sharing.
    I don't knit or crochet but received a bunch of hand-me-down wool sweaters. I've been trying to figure out the best way to store them over the summer. I ended up buying some cedar hangers, balls, and rings. The rings are meant to be put on hangers but I find them nice to sit in my drawers. The only problem is my cats like to steal the cedar balls and cedar oil is poisonous to cats

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  5. Thank you for the input! I've only recently started venturing out of cheap acrylic territory towards natural fibers. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep my wool critter free : )

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  6. I've been looking into moth-prevention too as I reckon that our spare room has a problem. However I'm too scared to tackle it right now as I know I'll be freaked out and feel all icky until I've stripped the room bare and completely blitzed those little beasts. And I don't have time for that!

    However two things I have learnt whilst researching this – Moths don't eat fibres, it's their larvae that cause the damage. The flying grown ups are looking to mate, and after that for dark places to hide and lay eggs. It's those eggs that you need to worry about!

    Also lavae don't drink, so damp surroundings suit them very nicely. And the dirtier the clothes are the more "nutrients" they have, so putting away your winter coat without getting it cleaned might be a mistake.

    *Shudder* Anyone want to come and help me clear out my spare room?…

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    • We have carpet moths. Totally ate through my wool collection and grandmother's fabric knitting bag. Kept the handles and – when I'm sure they're gone – I will make up a new bag for the rescued handles. And, given Jessica's helpful article, probably store it in a new or upcycled piece of furniture! In the meantime…

      Very icky, but we live in such a cold climate (with single glazing) that I never saw an actual moth – just the pupae husks. They look like tiny grains of rice. Not easy to see on a beige carpet, so be vigilant! Given the damage they did to my yarn collection and the carpet-under-the-sofa, they may have been with us for some time. It's not the moths, it's the larvae that do the eating.

      Steam cleaning is one option for kitty owners worried about cedar. Our problem was so extreme that regular vacuuming and lavender wasn't going to cut it. In the end my landlord opted for a chemical solution, although I was anti for environmental reasons and the hassle of cat-relocation while it was going on. Hopefully they're gone.

      Never thought I'd be someone who knew so much about moths!

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  7. I put my handknits in plastic storage boxes, and my stash in individual plastic bags in cardboard IKEA boxes (to fit in my expedit shelving) and then add liberal sprinklings of cedar balls. There have been no moth attacks yet! Another preventative measure is to not buy so much yarn that most of it goes untouched for years at a time. Easier said than done though!

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  8. There's a Nadeau in Mpls too – they have great prices on furniture. Thank you for these helpful tips!

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  9. As a novice knitter, I would have NEVER thought about this! And what a fantastic solution! The cabinet is really, really pretty with or without yarn in it. :)

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  10. Glass will only stop them, if you make sure that what you're putting in there is not infested in the first place.

    I volunteer at a museum and years back we had a problem with moths infesting the taxidermy mounts. Apparently back in the day used to paint them with a toxic chemical (I want to say arsenic) to keep the bugs off, but it was not particularly healthy for the technicians, so they stopped.

    In any case, the entire collection had to go and sit in a big freezer somewhere for months to make sure they got it all.

    Even then, shortly after them came back, I was standing under a ceiling mounted case in the bird gallery one day, and looked up to see larvae on the glass under a Great Horned Owl mount. An email to the curator, and the owl disappeared. Fortunately, it hadn't spread beyond the one.

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  11. I have just started using bay leaves as moth repellers, I haven't been using them long enough to say its worked for me, but I'm told by many that it should be effective!

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