A clothing activist's sage advice—and a hole in her logic

Mitten clap to Laura J., who sent this Guardian article, "Feed Your Moths and Hide Your Trousers: The Expert's Guide to Making Clothes Last Forever", by Hannah Mariott.

The piece profiles Orsola de Castro, fashion designer, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, an organization dedicated to the responsible acquisition and maintenance of clothes, and author of the book "Loved Clothes Last" (Penguin Books).

As Mariott writes, "She advocates 'radical keeping'... the only antidote to throwaway culture is to keep."

She has a novel approach to donation: "...before donating to thrifts (which receive more far clothes than they can sell), consider gifting them to friends or family." The idea is to adopt it out rather than pass on the problem to thrifts, who end up sending much of it to landfills.

Visible mending by Tom of Holland

I felt kinship, gratitude, admiration, and validation for wearing my decades-old cashmeres.  However, despite all her excellent strategies (be a more discerning buyer; don't over-clean; 'hide' your clothes (my version is the clothing furlough); embellish the imperfections (visible mending); don't upcycle— she has one dreadful piece of advice:

"Keep a sacrificial old jumper or ball of yarn in a fabric moths will love that can get chewed in your wardrobe while your other knits remain intact." 

This is like saying, "Throw a tulip bulb into your garden beds and the squirrels will leave your flowers and seedlings alone."

Moths do not think, "Oh, look, Marcie has left us a lovely sweater, we wouldn't dream of hitting that silk blouse she's saving for good." Larvae are hungry little opportunists (mature moths that you see flying do not feed); who knows how sentient they are, but they are not making judgement calls. 

Feeding means breeding

She says, "I feed my moths like I feed my cats." Hang on; her cats are neutered. (If not, I assume she is arranging regular adoptions.) De Castro's advice will yield more moths—and no one wants pick of the litter.  Her tactic accelerates the inevitable: a miserable, expensive infestation. Over the past 40 years I have had mothless periods, but the usual is a grim, sustained battle. Climate change has made moth problems worse, no matter where you live.

But let's not throw the baby in her sweetly-patched layette out with the bathwater. De Castro has a bold, encouraging and informative approach. I'm ordering her book and continuing to fight the fast-fashion, disposable mind-set. 

And the moths. 



Hester said…
Hester: as a former national museum curator, I'm not sure if I'm having a fit of the vapours reading about 'feeding moths', turning the air blue with profanity or just collapsing in a heap of horror. People, DO NOT FEED YOUR MOTHS. They will move on from beloved cashmere garments to your carpets, your curtain liners, your soft furnishings, every-bloody-where. In the UK, in May, spot adult carpet beetle flying up from under floor boards and skirting boards to the sunlight on window sis. Squish the bastards before they can lay another generation of textile-munching offspring. With climate change, you are looking at a rapid escalation of such house pests. It's a miserable nightmare if they become endemic chez vous.
Hester said…
Sorry, typo, window sills.
My darling granny had a priceless piece of advice re stopping moth larvae in their tracks: 'turn it out' every six weeks. That meant, empty drawers and wardrobes, and checking for the blighters every 6 weeks. Very manageable when people had far fewer clothes and a good discipline these days for keeping less clothes so one may keep a beady eye on matters pestilential.
Duchesse said…
Hester: I deeply appreciate your expert validation of my horror.

My godfather founded a luxury clothing store. Naturally their Scottish cashmeres were targets. He was like your gran; he said "Mess 'em up". The staff emptied all the drawers and shook out the pieces. Nothing was allowed to remain undisturbed from month to month. I am just as appalled by the spurious internet re advice to place a cedar block or sachet in your closet, to "kill moths". The concentration of oil is too low to do any good. Another popular myth is that drycleaning something like a cushion mothproofs it forever. As soon as you get a little body dirt or food residue on it, it's over.
Hester said…
Ah, your godfather was a wise man. There is no passive measure that truly works, 'mess 'em up' indeed. Even napthalene, the original mothball, is no failsafe deterrent. I have a drawer in my chest of drawers (yes I'm old school European, one chest of drawers to myself and an armoire I share with my husband, that's it for clothes storage save a cedar chest for heirloom textiles that are no longer worn but revered as embodied history and memory). That top drawer is for lightly worn jumpers and scarves which aren't dirty enough yet for laundering. Pristine knitwear which isn't being currently worn is in an entirely different drawer, so pest nutrition from body perspiration or undetectable-to-the-eye organic debris is not liberally spread around the entire storage environment. I am fastidious about clothes care and storage, to my children's immense amusement. Wait until they've 25 years of Brora cashmere stashed away (many colours and styles I am sure will never be repeated and I treasure them and still wear them with pleasure. Some after an occasional repair at the Johnston's of Elgin mill at Hawick, never for pest damage but usually when I've enthusiastically launched into extempore pruning in my garden and forgot that I was clad in something cashmere, not my usual Arran knit indistructable hulk of a gardening cardigan.)
Unknown said…
The German moth traps work very well. They need to be replaced every three months... Perhaps some moths are immune to pheromones. I've been urged to use American-made moth traps which don't work. With mild Vancouver winters and central heating the moths don't die out over the winter as they once might have so I am reliant on the moth traps.
Tom said…
I was going to send you that article! I am interested in the resale market...and have noticed a category I'd never heard of: "Cutter Cashmere "(or quilts or other things), bundles of distressed goods to be used for crafts. So happy to see that. I myself wear my distressed cashmere for pjs and have even found some colleagues willing to adopt some.

BTW, I've noticed a lot of sellers on resale sites listing their goods as "dark academia." Thanks for the introduction in your recent post. E
Duchesse said…
Hester: That is more or less my system but I also send them to "summer camp" in airtight boxes. it is not the best for cashmere, as iit does not breathe but I do not fill the box to more than 2/3 full and air them occasionally. Iwear Brora and Johnston's of that vintage too.

Unknown: I have written about traps. I buy mine on eBay from a UK seller, kritterkill1. His traps are very effective; I have tried 5-6 other brands including MothPrevention, which mentions using "German-engineered pheromes". Trap makers are careful to say they "alert you to the presence", not kill all of them. As I wrote, they trap ply males but not all males make it to the traps, and if they find a live, fluttering female... game over. If the traps are not fresh enough, they will not work and I found some brands better than others but all attracted some males. (There is a DIY recipe involving sticky paper and fish oil, but I haven't tried it.)

I change them every 3 months, as directed. But I still have some moths (as evidenced by the traps.) Unless someone has a •very• low level problem, traps do not eliminate moths entirely. As Hester said in her comment at 10:34, "There is no passive measure that truly works."

E.: Scrap cashmere can also be unravelled , washed and rewound into small bundles for visible mending. I have a small stash and plan to make patches for my gloves, which always wear on the thumbs. My mother used old cashmere sweaters to wrap her upper chest and neck when she had a cold. Vicks rub slathered on the throat and lung area, the cashmere over.

You can also find many DA sellers on Etsy, some attaching the label to just about anything vintage.

Mardel said…
I have just ordered the book. Seems like something I would enjoy but I am increasingly interested in the responsibility or stewardship of the things we own. I have a lovely jar filled with little balls of cashmere and other knits for repairs and mending.
Allison said…
I remember reading on another blog a comment from someone lamenting moth damage on a new cashmere sweater. Apparently during shipping many sweaters picked up some hungry pals. Another said she had been advised to put her new sweater ( in a plastic bag) into her freezer for several days to kill any larvae before bringing it into her closet. I do the same then they are stored in large zip lock bags. I rarely wear the same cashmere sweater two days in a row so I let it air over night in the bathroom then pack it into the zip lock. It’s not the best but it works. I also use Soak to wash on delicate in the washer. I think that keeping those natural fibres clean is key to discouraging moths and their children....though I knew a woman who must have felt that BO kept the moths away, owned a lot of cashmere but PU she smelled bad.. felt dry cleaning was too expensive and must have been adverse to hand washing. Anyway she wore the same sweaters for years with nary a hole. Also always store only clean items long term even if just worn once or twice previous season.
Jane in London said…
I, also, operate a zero-tolerance policy towards moths. How strange that this woman imagines moths would discriminate between garments... But the book looks interesting apart from that.

Constant vigilance is required here - and it's even worse for my sister in Paris! Frequent savage cleaning of wardrobes and cupboards is my main line of defence, plus I use those little orange balls to deter them.

Jane in London
Hester said…
Madame la Duchesse, if I may add another textile-related book recommendation for your readers, by a former, very wonderful, colleague of mine, Claire Wilcox. 'Patchwork: A life among clothes', published by Bloomsbury in 2020. It is part meditation on clothes as markers of the passage of her own personal biography and part a reverie on the many layers of story and memory encoded into the textiles Claire has worked with all her professional life.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: She has distilled much of what I have been writing about for years on this blog, but also has a background in fashion and knows more about good manufacturing practices.

Allison: Longtime readers have been subjected to my moth-battle posts, I guess I should tag those MOTHS. Freezing is great to kill anything you bring in initially, so is high heat (like a steam iron) but that is of course a no-go for fine knits. Problem is, the freezer tactic kills larvae that come in, but that item is subject to being eaten subsequently, if you already have moths or they get in. (I have never known anyone who has the discipline to keep freezing every piece often.)

Cedar chests are often recommended but if not absolutely airtight, they do nothing more than any drawer. Moths can get into miniscule cracks behind baseboards, in the crack of a table leaf... not just fabric.

I have always machine-washed cashmere in a large mesh bag, using a wool programme. Any mild soap works, I like baby shampoo. Cashmeres are softer and loftier when washed versus drycleaned.

Drycleaners have a shrieking dread of customers bringing in moths! The eggs are invisible to the eye, clear and often in seams.

Hester: Thank you so much for that book reference. There is an upsurge of interest in visible mending, I have posted about boro, the Japanese patching technique and its philosophy. See https://passagedesperles.blogspot.com/2019/09/patches-and-pieces-philosophy-and-art.html

Jane: Yes, clean like a maniac! I have to watch out that moths do not get into, and breed in, my vacuum's bag. So I change it outdoors and I have indeed seen moths in the full bag. They will eat dust.

Phoebe said…
Vacuum up a tablespoon or two of Borax and anything in the bag will die

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