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How to Make Natural Moth & Silverfish Repellent

How to make natural silverfish and moth repellent

Hey guys, Naomi here! So I have a little confession to make to you today…I have lots (and lots) of fabric in my stash. Don’t judge me! I just love natural fibres. Wool, cotton, linen, silk- they’re breathable, beautiful, biodegradable, and I can’t explain it, but they just make me happy! Unfortunately though, it’s not just me who loves them. Some of the things that make them wonderful for us, are the things which make them most attractive to those with a lot more legs, and lot less regard for your fabric stash. Yep, I’m talking about moths & silverfish. When they see that gorgeous silk you’ve been saving for something special, they don’t see a lovely bias cut skirt, they see lunch.

The thought of these critters finding their way into my embarrassingly large fabric stash has been haunting me lately… *cut to an image of me crying inconsolably on the floor of my sewing room, cradling the remains of my silk as baffled family members look on*… It’s not a good look. So as a little iso project, I decided to take action! And by action, I mean a google deep dive into all things moth and silverfish related. By the time I surfaced from that rabbit hole, I had realised four things:

  1. I didn’t want to use moth balls or other hardcore chemicals to protect my fabric. Not only do they leave a strong “just climbed out of my nanna’s attic” smell, but they can be pretty toxic to humans as well as the bugs they target.
  2. All hope was not lost! There were heaps of lovely smelling natural things, as well as cleaning & storage methods that could drastically reduce my chances of being visited by the fabric murderers.
  3. I’m probably not the only one who’s thought about this! and it might be a good idea to write up a blog post on everything I’d learned and on how to make wonderful natural moth & silverfish repellent.
  4. I needed to extract myself from my doona cave to find my credit card, because some online herb shopping was about to occur….

Before we get to the fun, making part of this blog post though, you first need to know a few things about what you’re up against, as well as get a few jobs done around the house. I know what you’re thinking – ugh, I didn’t come here for an entomology lesson and for you to tell me to clean my house – but trust me, if it means you can rest easy at night with sweet dreams of safe fabric, it’s worth it!

So, firstly – Who are these guys and what do they want with your fabric?

  • Silverfish are little light grey wingless insects that can grow to just under 1.5cm in length and who have a crustacean-like look to them. They feed off starch, sugar and protein which means linen, cotton, viscose, rayon and silk are all on their little fishy menus.
  • Moths are a flying insect similar to butterflies, who’s eggs hatch into hungry larvae that spend their days eating before forming a cocoon and completing their life cycle. They love keratin, so they can’t get enough of animal fibres such as silk, wool, cashmere and angora, but they’ll also happily have a go at other natural fibres like cotton & linen too.
  • These critters are also attracted to anything which has traces of perspiration, perfume and body oils on it. This isn’t usually an issue for a fabric stash which is yet to be worn, but it is more relevant for clothing! So it’s important to wash all of your precious woollen garments before putting them away during the summer, and making sure that your nice party dress is lovely and clean before it goes back in the wardrobe.

Secondly – What kind of conditions do these bugs like? (i.e what you should avoid)

Putting it simply: dark, dusty, humid & damp. That means a decent spring clean is in order, even if it’s not spring. So open everything up, give your fabric and clothing a good airing out and vacuum your space thoroughly (including all the hard to reach places and under all the furniture!). Doing this relatively regularly is a great first step in keeping your space free of bugs, and it also means that if *stifled sob* you were ever to get an infestation, you’ll notice sooner and might be able to catch it early and limit the damage.

Which brings me to my next point. What if, alas, this advice has come too late and there have already been casualties in our epic war against bugs? Firstly, my deepest condolences. As I write this, I’m having a minute silence in respect for all fabric and clothing that has been lost to these tiny legged deviants… They will always be remembered. Now let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again! And that’s going to start with making sure that every last bug is gone.

Apart from the thorough cleaning we’ve already done, and exposing everything to as much sunlight as possible, everything needs to be checked over for eggs or larvae that have nestled their way in. Even if something hasn’t been attacked yet, it’s best to cover your bases and treat everything as if it had. A hot wash and a hot iron do a great job of getting rid of these unhatched bugs, but freezing also works really well, and is a good alternative for delicate fabrics which aren’t up to a heat treatment. Just put the pieces in an airtight bag and into the freezer for a week or two, then give them a normal fabric appropriate wash before putting them back into your stash. When you’re assessing what’s been damaged, do your best to salvage what you can and see the potential in what’s left! Maybe there are holes you can darn, or maybe you can cut up the fabric around the holes and reassemble it into a patchwork fabric. There are always ways to turn it around, reduce waste and make something new!

So we’ve cleaned, we’ve frozen, we’ve aired out, now we can get to the nice smelling part! Making our bug repellent sachets!

What you’ll need:

(makes 8 bags)

  • Around 0.35m of fine, lightweight fabric such as voile or muslin.
  • 1 1/3 cup (40g) of lavender
  • ½ cup (40g) of Rosemary
  • 1/3 cup (30g) of whole cloves
  • ½ cup (20g) of lemon balm
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon quills
  • Lavender oil (for extra potency!)

(check out my resources list at the end of the post for info on where I got my materials)

Just a note – The amounts & ratios I’ve used are just suggestions. Feel free to freestyle your measurements – this isn’t a cake so if you use more or less of some, or none of another, they will still work out perfectly fine! And if you don’t have all of the herbs & spices I’ve used, don’t stress! If I could only pick one, it would be lavender, but at the end of the day using whatever you can get your hands on is better than nothing at all. There’s also heaps of other lovely natural ingredients which will work great that you can add in or substitute others for such as; mint, thyme, peppercorns, cedar chips, eucalyptus, ginseng & more!

Cutting Out

Below are the measurements I used for my bags, but these sachets could also be a great opportunity to use up fabric scraps, so feel free to work with what you’ve got! They’re also going to be politely hidden at the back of your cupboard, so if they turn out to be lots of wonderful, wonky shapes and sizes, only you will know ;)

Each bag – 11cm x 32cm ( 4 3/8” x 12 5/8”)
Each tie – 4cm x 22cm (1 5/8” x 5 5/8”)

(Tip: if you’re making multiple ties, just cut a long 4cm wide strip the width of your fabric and sew it in one go before cutting it into the 22cm lengths that each bag needs).

Sewing your bags

Take your first bag piece, fold it in half so the short edges are touching, and sew up your side seams using a seam allowance of 1.5cm (5/8”) on each side. I am a sucker for a French seam, but a straight stitch and a zig-zig or overlock finish works perfectly well too!

Then you’ll need to finish the top edge of the bag. Turn the raw edge down by 1cm (3/8”) and press, before turning down another centimetre (3/8”) to fully enclose the raw edges. Stitch close to the folded edge around the opening of the bag to secure.

Tip: Before turning down the top edge, trim a little off the corners of your seam allowances so they angle down slightly. This keeps them out of the way for that first turn.

Ties

Note: Alternatively, you could omit the tie, and once you have filled your bags, simply sew them up using a long stitch length, which you can easily unpick when you need to refresh the contents.

Fold your 4cm (1 5/8″) wide strip in half along the long edge and give it a quick press to keep it from sliding around while you’re sewing. Stitch the length of the strip, just under 1cm (3/8”) from the raw edge, to form a tube. Using a rouleau turner or safety pin, turn your tube the right side out, and give it another quick press to help it sit flat. If you’ve made a tube long enough for multiple ties, measure and chop it into your 22cm long ties now. I finished the ends of my ties by simply tying a knot.

Then just attach the ties to your bags, lining up the halfway point of each tie with the side seam of the bag, and sewing a few stitches back and forth to secure it. Seeing as we are using quite fine fabric, it’s a good idea to do the stitches slightly to the side of the seam, on whichever side the seam allowance has been pressed to on the inside of the bag. That way there are a couple of extra layers of fabric to add stability. We’re now ready to add the filling!

Filling your bags

Measure out your lavender, rosemary, cloves, lemon balm, or whichever herbs you have chosen to use, in a bowl and give them a good stir to blend them all together. If you like, you can put in a couple of drops of lavender oil into the mix for extra potency. You should be feeling lovely and relaxed now with all of those herby aromas!

Use a spoon to scoop your herb mix into your bags, putting approximately 1/3 cup in each bag. Then add the finishing touches with a couple of bay leaves and a cinnamon quill into each sachet. Tie them up with a good tight knot, and they’re ready for use!

Just a few final notes:

  • It is the sweet aroma of our sachets which the bugs don’t like, but over time the strength of the herb mix’s smell will fade. When this starts to happen, giving the sachets a squeeze and a crunch can help to revitalise them for a while longer, but eventually the mixture will need to be replaced.
  • Cedar blocks and rings like in the picture above, as well as cedar hangers, are great accompaniments to your sachets, as moths and silverfish don’t like their smell either. Like the sachets though, their potency decreases over time, so to ensure they stay nice & smelly, give the wood a sand with sandpaper every 6 months or so.
  • Be careful putting your sachets and cedar blocks in direct contact with delicate fabrics, as it’s possible their natural oils could be transferred and leave marks.

And now it’s time to sit back & relax, knowing your fabric and clothing is safe!

Resources:

Unfortunately my lack of gardening skills mean I don’t have a gorgeous garden overflowing with lavender and rosemary, so I had to turn to others sources for my herbs and other bits. Here’s what I used:

About Author

Naomi is the Design Assistant here at Megan Nielsen Patterns, and our resident helping hand. She stays busy assisting Meg with pattern development leg work, getting super excited about good instructional diagrams and making green coloured fabric suggestions for every sample we make. She’s a problem solver, a fabric addict, a serial tea-forgetter and a passionate maker.

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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
1 year ago

Common wormwood, artemisia absinthium, also works wonders. It’s a perennial easily grown in the garden. Just cut and dry.

Mariette
11 months ago

Hi, I am really quite excited about this blog. Since we’ve moved into our house 11 years ago, we’ve had problems with fish moths and the little buggers that goes into your flower. I have tried lavender and even the poisonous stuff you buy to put in the cupboards, but my clothing almost always have tiny little holes in them and always on the stomach and/or shoulder area. Have no idea why. I hope this helps. Thank you for your beautiful blog with pictures and everything.