I have not spent a particularly productive lock down. I’m no more toned than I was. In fact a critical eye might spot the appearance of what is undeniably a bit of a cake baby. I have made zero progress on finishing the knitted blanket I planned to give to Ms Lamb when she went to University (she’s now 23 and graduated long ago). As for big goals like writing That Book or launching That Podcast? All so far at the drawing board stage. (I did buy an excellent microphone though, so when I do get round to doing a Podcast it will sound FANTASTIC!)
Instead I have mostly spent my time doodling around the edges of work and planning mass extermination. I have a mission – to erase a whole species from my life: Tineola bisselliella or the really ever-so C, O, double M, O, N, Clothes Moth.
Last year, this little critter had the nerve to consume my entire stair carpet, landings and all, leaving it bald and, in places – and I am aware this doesn’t reflect well on my housekeeping – wriggling. What followed was supposed to be a once and for all solution involving expensive floor board sanding, painting and staining which took a very thirsty gulp of the Mutton resources.
I don’t like to point fingers, but I blame a purchase made by my son, one sunny half term, from a market stall in Islington selling Afghan rugs with tanks and gun motifs. At the time we thought they were a moving and rather romantic momento of a traumatised nation. Turns out there are factories, and probably ones staffed by tiny children too, weaving these patterns from templates, far away from these troubled areas. Anyway, we stuck it on the wall of his room and about six months later it came alive.
Back then, I wasn’t as alarmed by the sudden twitching of an otherwise stationary piece of fabric as you might imagine. I took it outside and gave it an airing; sprayed something toxic on it and put it back, thinking I had solved the problem at source.
But these creatures don’t give up easily. Did you know that to get rid of them from your knitwear you have to stick the stuff in a freezer for TWO WEEKS? Not that two weeks is a long time in our freezer. We definitely have iced up lumps of ‘stuff’ – stock? soup? custard? – celebrating multiple anniversaries in there. But it is a long time to have a giant carrier bag full of sweaters loafing around the place, like unwelcome house guests.
Things reached crisis point last year, with carpet-gate, but there were other warning signs. There was “My goodness it’s drafty in here” crotchless cashmere jogging bottoms-gate and “I think you’ve got something on your back” giant holes in a vintage suit-gate and “Oh-my-God-not-that-Paul-Smith -cashmere-I’ll-never-be-able-to-afford-that-again” cardigan-gate. Long screams pierced the Crouch End sky as yet another cherished favourite fell prey to the ever-hungry little sods.
Unbeknownst to Mr Mutton, who doesn’t care about what he wears (and, I suspect, feels that if Nature takes a hand in slimming down my wardrobe, then so be it), I called in the experts. To have a good chance (there are no guarantees) of demothing your house, you have to be prepared to (a) move out (b) have the exterminators go under your floorboards to root out the smallest larvae and (c) be as rich as God, because that will be well over ten thousand of the Queen’s pounds, thank you very much. And, remember, there’s that thing about no guarantees.
This might have been one of those actually quite sensible investments, like those Apple shares I never got round to buying. After all chucking out all the carpets and textiles in the house, along with your cashmere sweaters, designer suits, woollen coats etc. already amounts to a large chunk of change. And even off the shelf solutions eat into your budget. In my quest for more affordable solutions, I took advice from a shrewd and thrifty friend who did home economics at school and makes her own curtains. She is moth-free – a proud boast in Crouch End, which seems to be the epicentre of the moth population – and she swears by Mottlock pheromone traps.
These sticky, cardboard boxes are to moths what Helen of Troy was to ancient Greeks. The moment you hang them up, hordes of innocent male moths turn up, noses in the air like Bisto kids, shooting their tiny cuffs and getting their groove on like mothy Barry Whites. Then, splat..aargh..gotcha! There is something both satisfying and sad about seeing so many eager, sad, sex-starved males rendered immobile and frozen. Puts me in mind of the last dance, Stonyhurst school disco, around 1975.
But even this deterrent puts barely a dent in your average moth’s shenanigans. While many of the boy moths you capture are clearly just hopeful, there are some Bad Boy moths who obviously loped along after a quickie and a post-coital cigarette. Because it turns out while man moths are leaping like lemmings onto the pheromone trap, Ms Common (as Muck) Lady Clothes Moth, has been getting it on and is now putting her feet up and preparing to knit matinée coats in your favourite sweater. So a full Mottlock trap is not a sign you’ve solved your moth problem. It just means you can be pretty certain your wardrobe is now a fully functioning moth maternity unit.
If you too are battling my winged and ravenous nemeses, you have my sympathy and my solidarity. But knowledge is power and all that, so here are my latest damage limitation strategies. Apologies in advance for the number of big A links. I always prefer to buy from local shops and small retailers and of course all these products are available elsewhere, but when your postal service is glitchy and a host of moths is massing against you, scruples be blowed.
Moth proof sweater bags
These are air tight and take a couple of thin sweaters or one chunky one. There is a lucky dip aspect to these. If what you put in is already full of moth eggs, then you may open them up in Autumn to find only ribbons remaining. Then at least you can comfort yourself that you have contained the spread. These bags have a pleasant lavender sachet inside too which creates the impression of efficacy. At the very least the moths will probably get a good night’s sleep.
Storage bags for coats etc.
These IKEA storage bags are cheap and capacious. Stuff them full of cedar balls or a nice pheromone trap if you want to be on the safe side but if your coats are basically moth-less, these will keep them that way. They are too tough to be chewed through or torn in transit. By the way, IKEA’s delivery charges seemed to me hugely expensive so I had to buy a whole patio umbrella to justify these. Whoops.
Mottlock traps may be the choice of the cognoscenti but if you are cack-handed, like me, their flimsy construction can mean you end up with more sticky moth pheromones on yourself and your clothes than on the trap, which somewhat defeats the object. Instead I use these because the diamond shape stops clothes, or me, sticking to them.
There are wonderful suit covers made out of linen, with herbal inlays, hand sewn by especially sweet-natured grannies. I didn’t buy those because the moths have eaten ALL MY MONEY! Instead I went online and got two sets of these from IKEA and crowned them with cedar rings.
Cedar clothes hanger rings
These are great and pop right over a coat hanger nicely. However, they lose their scent pretty quickly so buy some additional cedar oil to refresh them. But do cultivate the patience I lack and don’t try to re-infuse them with cedar oil whilst they’re still on your hangers, protecting your clothes. The result is an expensive trip to the dry cleaners.
Anti-moth spray (warning for the wheezy, this has something very nasty in it which makes me cough like I’m trying to turn myself inside out)
Domestic pet flea spray for fabric (someone told me that also kills larvae)
Worth a punt. It’s usually not as expensive and easier to get hold of than the moth killing stuff. (Any pet shop has it). Plus it comes in much bigger sizes. I’ve taken to using this liberally. Fortunately it doesn’t make me cough at all.
I can’t bear to say goodbye to some of my nicer munched woolies, so these are part of my salvage operation. As a stranger to the darning needle, my moth repairs have tended towards the clumpy, so my jumpers look like they’re covered in scabs.
Step forward, Twisted Twee! They provide fun little iron on moth patches to liven up a chewed pullover, and slightly larger sassy badges to cover more catastrophic damage and give you an F-U attitude. Honestly, clothes with patches! It’s like the 70’s never went away.
So, fingers crossed, I am hoping to go into Autumn with fewer holes and more disappointed moths. But, meanwhile do share any moth fighting tips. Given the state of the world, I’m keen to keep hold of as much of my remaining wardrobe as I can.