Attack of the Moths! (Why One Should Perform Regular Maintenance Checks On Any Collection)

“Attack” might be a strong word, considering my actual findings. Unfortunately, moths can go from 0 to 60 very, very quickly when given a fertile field in which to play. There are certainly products out there to prevent that, but many are themselves damaging to cloth and other textiles, and most are poisonous. I don’t put poison on my collection.

I went through my fezzes and other hats the other day, just to do a quick and informal count. I’m not certain if I have ever actually counted my hats, and I was curious. (Unofficial tally: 144, by the way.)

By going through and counting, one by one, I also managed a quick condition and maintenance check, throughout. Everything looked good, I moved a couple of pieces from one case to another, re-organized a bit to better fit their spaces. Dandy. Until I got to my large “Non-Masonic” case. Mind you, this is the only case I have that doesn’t have a foam seal around it, a throwback to an earlier generation of storage for my collection. Why I haven’t updated that case, I cannot say. It is the largest of my (7) cases, and the sealed models I use now don’t come in that size. Maybe it was a reluctance to have to break up that grouping into more than one case, and thereby add onto the space necessary for the whole mess. I guess. It makes no sense, actually. I have a sealed case for the Shrine hats that I generally dismiss as my “extra” Shrine fezzes; why don’t I afford the same to my far more interesting and difficult to collect “Non-Masonic” pieces?

Regardless, at the bottom of that Non=Masonic case, I found grit. Hmmm. Why is there grit in here? I swiped it up on my finger, rubbed it between my thumb and fingertip. It was kinda greasy. Ohhhhh…no. It felt like moth damage (to be precise, I guess it would be moth…errr…stool) to me. Disaster! Moth damage is pretty obvious: usually a strange, granular pellet-sized blob, usually next to or within a divot in the wool. It is actually the larvae of the moth that does the damage. A moth lays eggs on wool, the eggs hatch, and the larvae feed on the wool before cocooning and turning into new adult moths. Sometimes you will find the granular mess, occasionally the cocoon or the grub actively feasting on your hat, sweater, or rug.

Fast forward to today, when I have a day off from work and the time to address it. I took each and every hat out, looked them over closely. Weirdly, I only found one hat (my Moose Tah) that had any sign of moth activity. And that, only one small spot. Huh. Of course, MANY of my fezzes arrive to me with moth divots, some of these hats having lived even a century in an attic or old drawer. I always look, to make sure they don’t have any visible critters when they come in the mail! However, if one hat has a problem, there’s a good chance that others are getting there soon enough.

Hello, freezer. I bagged up all of the fezzes and the Tah from my Non-Masonic case, four separate bags so I could fit them in where I could, and put them in my freezer. I will crank down the temp so it bottoms out just below zero, and I will leave them there for about 5 days. That should do the trick.

As always, I cannot tell you the best thing to do with your own collection, I can only report what I do with mine. One of the up-sides of living in the desert is that we have very low humidity, so when I bag up my wool hats and throw them into the freezer (which is also a very dry environment, actually), I don’t have to worry about ice. Were I living in Louisiana, that would be a problem. The high humidity not only around the hats in the bag, but also permeating the wool, could very well condense and form microscopic ice crystals throughout the cloth. Ice is sharp. Ice destroys textiles from the inside out. And when the hats came back out, that condensed ice would melt and add liquid water to the wool, which is also bad. Were I in Louisiana, I would be well advised to somehow de-humidify my hats before I froze them. I have no idea how to do that, however, since de-humidifying is not something we often do in the desert. So I am glad, surely for that reason alone, that I do not live in Louisiana.

My little adventure, however, underscores the necessity to periodically check your collections, whatever they are. Are they safe? Are they clean? Are they properly closed? Are they out of the sun? Are they pest-free? It would be a shame to someday open your box of widgets and find a pile of moist widget-meal crawling with vermin, rather than your wonderful collection. If only you had looked in the Spring, when maybe there was only one widget weevil in residence! Woe to the widget.

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