Moth repair and prevention for sweaters and suits

Moth repair and prevention for sweaters and suits

Q. I have a favorite cardigan sweater from Scotland that has some holes — I imagine from moths. Can these be sewn by a tailor so my shirt does not show thru? Or will the change in pattern be too obvious?

A.  Despite the many “If’s” in my answer, moth holes can often be satisfactorily repaired by a re-weaver, by a good seamstress, or even by someone who is handy and very patient with a needle and thread. Some of the if’s are: the size of the holes, the number of them, the prominence of their location, the thickness of the yarn, and whether the sweater is solid-color or has a pattern. If the holes are small, if there are only one or two of them, and if you are really fond of the sweaterit could make sense to find someone to solve your problem.

So, let’s look at the choices of who can undertake this work:

  1. Re-weavers are skilled professionals. These days they are a very rare breed, and they charge a lot (often more than you paid for your sweater). Re-knitting is a type of re-weaving only used to repair knit garments. Yarn is taken from hidden areas and used to repair a garment. Although both charge a great deal (prices begin at $50 and go on up), their work goes beyond merely giving “good results”; it is totally invisible. Only a handful of companies in the country can accomplish this level of perfection. For decades, two of the best have been the French American Reweaving Co., 212-765-4670, and Alter Knit New York, 212-473-6363 (MEND).
  2.  Most professional tailors do not do this sort of repair. A possibility might be someone who does alterations in a quality dry-cleaning shop, or a fine seamstress. They often have the skill and the patience to do such work, especially if the holes are not in an obvious front-and-center location, and if you are not too much of a perfectionist. (It’s much easier to hide a repair on a rough-knit sweater than a smooth knit, and on a pattern than a solid color.) While their end product may be less than invisible, it often comes quite close.
  3. As an alternative, I checked with knit shops. One proprietor told me, “That’s an art, and I don’t know anyone who does that anymore.” I got similar responses from others.
  4. A person who sews well may be able make an acceptable repair by the traditional way of dealing with holes, that is, mending/darning them in the same way that your Mom might have darned your socks. But this requires patience to find the right color yarn that will disguise the holes and the skill to match the weave closely.

You are probably right that the holes were caused by moths; they are the most likely culprits. But keep in mind that the blame may actually be on other bugs, such as silverfish, crickets, or beetles. It has been my personal experience that the fabric most likely to be “attacked” is cashmere; Scottish lambswool also appeals to moths. Of course, other garments also get damaged, but it does not seem quite as common. Actually, moths eat most natural fibers found in clothing; they will eat wool, silk, cotton, and any other natural fiber they find.

NOTE: Sweaters are not the only items of clothing that can be victims of these attackers. A wool suit is a possible target. Likewise, a fine blue blazer and quality trousers can be damaged or ruined. These costly garments might justify the expense of a re-weaver.

Various expensive and complicated methods of protecting the clothes in your closet range from hiring professional pest control/exterminators to using unpleasant-smelling and toxic moth balls. Many solutions are so extensive that most of us just ignore them, but the simpler ones are:

  • Clean soiled clothes promptly; food stains particularly attract moths
  • Use something to protect your clothes that does not have the offensive odor of mothballs such as dried mint leaves in a sachet (or peppermint oil) or lavender sachets and cedar blocks.
  • Dry cleaner’s plastic bags work well.
  • Storage bags (especially those that can be vacuum sealed) not only block insects but also provide an easy way to rotate your wardrobe between seasons.
  • Plastic bins and/or drawers can also work.
  • Be sure no bugs remain in the clothes before putting them away. Just because you cannot see them, does not mean you can be confident the clothing is insect free.

Repairing moth holes is time-intensive work and, therefore, always expensive. Still, if your sweater matters enough to you, it may be worthwhile to invest the time or money to have it repaired.

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