Moths? Freeze them.

I was giving a lecture last night about the historical use of felt in fashion and was asked about how to care for felt. As felt is made of animal fibres, moths are potentially the worst problem and so I explained my environmentally-friendly, sure-fire method of moth prevention. I discovered how effective this method was in February 1994 when I was moving between two apartments in Toronto in the middle of the coldest winter in decades (even colder than this past winter.)

I usually make sure I keep new acquisitions out of the storage room until I am sure they are pest free, however, something I acquired (I think it was a Canadian Women’s Army uniform) slipped in under the radar and within a few weeks the collection was all ‘a flutter’. As I went through the racks it was interesting to note that the moths preferred soft wools like cashmere over hard spun woolen twills, and gravitated to fur instead of wool, and were drawn to light coloured fur over dark coloured fur. The worst infestations were in a rabbit and ermine fur coat from the 1920s and two white fox stoles. Those items were too riddled to save and were thrown out. However, the rest of the collection was largely spared but needed treatment.

I had heard of the freezer method and as I was moving in a few days and the weather was in the negative double digits, I used the cold to my advantage by putting the collection into the truck the night before our move. The quick freezing didn’t give time for the moths to acclimatize and effectively killed the worms and adult moths. After a thorough vacuuming and inspection a 1950s cashmere blend suit had to join the fox stoles and ermine coat, but everything else was fine.

I should have posted this blog during the last few months when there was still plenty of cold weather around, but when its not below freezing outside, I use the freezer compartment of the fridge, but do it twice to be sure (freeze for 24 hours, thaw for 12 and freeze for 12) and I swear by this method. I even use it as a part of the standard acquisition process for all furs entering the collection.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in Textiles, Vintage Cleaning tips, Vintage clothing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Moths? Freeze them.

  1. Zoé says:

    I love your blog!

    It is interesting how they prefer certain colours. Carpet beetles devoured *all* the pale sky blue shapes on a family heirloom antique wool carpet I have from my grandmother & left some of the other colours/shapes in pristine condition. (Rust & caramel & amber yellow shades). It was the prettiest/most rare colour on the carpet also – so sad. Especially after it survived two world wars & the German revolution & the decimating allied bombings in Berlin & the long refugee journey to the States aboard a ship; only to be taken down by tiny beetles!

    I think it was dyed w/ older vegetable dyes. These surprise insect guests are particular – lol – how rude. Not even a taste of anything else at the banquet. (Then again w/ some of these insects it is only in the infant stage that they feed. So too young for manners).

    Next to that carpet was a Baluchi saddlebag of wool – almost blue black indigo w/ a tiny bit of scarlet – which they left *completely* alone. (Thank God). I read that true indigo is toxic to those who work w/ it; so perhaps it is poisonous & that’s why they left it alone.

    The other thing beside freezing is to air things in baking sun (when & where possible). That is what Bedouin did/do (& some other Arabs like moi ici… the other half of my fabric loving dna…). But come to think of it my German mum & Oma used to lay our feather pillows & eiderdowns/featherbeds in the open windows in the cold air when they made our beds in the morning; so perhaps this freezing thing used to be really routine.

    Although the freezing works great; when I had to do a lot of things (don’t ask – what a nightmare!) some of the things had that defrosted fridge freezer scent after I took them out & they’d warmed up. Hence I fell out of love w/ that method.

    I wash everything that can get wet by hand. *Everything*. (No drycleaning & no machine). And re. the aforementioned insect visitation; I found it is not at all necessary to use hot water over a certain temp as one reads everywhere must be done. These insects cannot live under water. I think the hot water suggestion is only required because so many people use a machine now & don’t even know how to wash by hand & machines just swish things around briefly. I basically drown them; by immersing them in a basin of cool water & soap for at least three hours. (And I hope I’m forgiven for that).

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. I worked in fashion in NYC for years. First as a fine handwork seamstress & then as a goldsmith. Happy New Year! xx

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for your first hand experience in pest control! My experience with carpet beetles is minimal (knock on wood), but I have acquired things with carpet beetle damage, and I find they definitely gravitate towards pure white cotton, whenever possible, so I wonder if the light blue in the carpet was because it was the closest to white? Or perhaps, as you suggested, certain colours are poisonous, while others are tastier! All good things to keep in mind. Thanks for your input.

  2. Margot says:

    Yes. Great. Technology is not a strength. Could not remember where I had put the post?! Thanks. Cheers M

    • Jonathan says:

      I would love to get it for the collection as we only have one example. You could send it to: Fashion History Museum, PO Box 848, Cambridge, ON, N5R1X5.

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