When Stash Goes Wrong, or, A Tale of Three Horrors

Ginny's tale of three horrors with her yarn stash.

Ginny’s tale of three horrors with her yarn stash.

A Halloween horror story about Ginny’s stash… if only it were mere fiction. Warning, it’s not for the faint of heart. Read Ginny’s tale of three horrors… if you dare.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that autumn is the season for fibre crafts. We’ve finally shrugged off summer’s heat and welcomed the sweater weather that fall brings. The colours of the season inspire us to seek out our wooly treasures once again, to quicken our hands with new projects, and to bundle ourselves in our handmades. In the fall, I think more on the others who have spun yarn and knitted socks for themselves and their loved ones against the oncoming winter.

But me? My electric lights and central heating dazzle away the cold and the dark. Even as Halloween approaches, it is easy to scoff at the spectres my ancestors feared; the wendigo, the Tarasque, the banshee. Today’s real terrors of infection, disease, and pestilence are barely concerns for me. Surely my modern life keeps such fears from being realized. Surely my stash is safe within my four walls. Surely…

Grace, Felicia, and Liisa have generously shared with us their methods for organizing their fibre stashes. They’ve keenly pointed out how to protect your stash, both fibre and yarn, from moths. Their bags and boxes of fibre are clean, neat, and tidy. Their photos give the impression of a crafting life that has always been stylish and organized.

Alas, dear reader, I cannot claim such serenity on the part of my stash. Rather than showing you a stash to be aspired to, let me tell you of three stashes to be avoided; the Bed Bug Cursed, the Moldy, and the Mouse Infested.

A Tale of Bed Bugs

Exhibit A: the victim. Two ply superwash merino handspun on a drop spindle.

Exhibit A: the victim. Two ply superwash merino handspun on a drop spindle.

In the past seven and a half years, I have moved my earthly belongings (that is to say, my yarn and fibre collections) fourteen times. Much of this is because living in university residence required a complete packing and unpacking of my belongings at least twice a year and up to five times a year for three years! Living in various dormitory buildings has also meant sharing housing with a lot of people who are also frequently move their belongings, all with limited and expensive access to laundry facilities. And I learned, dear reader, that this is the perfect recipe for bed bugs.

I have dealt with only one bed bug infestation and every day I am glad that I was able to get it under control in less than two months. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of, especially if you have to share storage and living space with many people — some of whom might not be as fastidious as you are. Unfortunately I spent a semester in a dormitory with a bed bug infestation.

Exhibit B: the cuteness of this basket does not protect it from bed bugs, mold or mice.

Exhibit B: the cuteness of this basket does not protect it from bed bugs, mold or mice.

If you have a bed bug infestation in your living space, you will probably need to call a professional pest control specialist. Bed bugs are not limited to beds. They can jump several feet and can live in clothing, carpeting, upholstery, the bindings of books, and many unexpectedly creative places.

If your stash is in airtight, sealed containers, it will probably not get bed bugs in it even if your living space is infested. However, ziploc bags or plastic bedding bags are NOT enough to keep bed bugs out unless the zip on all the bags were been securely closed or the bedding bag was vacuum sealed before the infestation began. Believe me, it is too easy to have only partially closed the bags and not realize it.

Anything exposed and thus potentially infested with bed bugs needs to be treated with the right pesticide, brought up to a certain temperature, or brought down to a certain temperature. 10 – 20 minutes in a hot (ideally 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 49 degrees Celsius) clothing dryer is enough to kill bed bugs and their eggs on most textiles. This is understandably not ideal for some fibre and yarn or for books. If you have access to a deep freeze, material left for several days at temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or -18 degrees Celsius is effective. A regular freezer in a refrigerator/freezer combo does not get cold enough to kill bed bugs in less than two weeks.

Do NOT microwave materials in an attempt to kill bed bugs. You never know what contains metal (such as RFID tags inside of library books) and without associated water, clothing and fibre will ignite in your microwave.

Bedbugs take about a week to hatch, so it is necessary to reheat or refreeze material once a week until the bed bug infestation is fully eradicated.

My solution for bed bugs was to pack up all my yarn, fibre, and clothing and take it home to Calgary for the Christmas break. I left all my luggage outside in the shed and stripped as soon as I got inside and quarantined my travel clothes. I left all my clothing and yarn outside in -20 to -30 degree Celsius weather (about -5 to -25 F) for two weeks while I wore what clothing I had left at my parents’. No more bedbugs!

Though icky, bedbugs are not known to spread any diseases and while many people have mild allergic reactions to their bites, few people are seriously allergic to them. There are two other infestations that can happen to your stash that do have potentially serious health repercussions.

A Tale of Mold

Since living in residence I have lived in two other suites in the Vancouver area. The first was a relatively new condo with no infestation issues. My current living situation is a basement suite in a house built in the 1940s. Within my first month of moving here, I learned a very important lesson regarding fibre stash storage.

When I bought my used spinning wheel, the seller generously included two fleeces with the wheel. One was in a black garbage bag and the other was in a large paper bag sealed with tape. Since the paper bag had information about the fleece written on it, I opted to keep it in the paper bag rather than transferring it to another container. I also failed to place it in any sort of plastic covering.

The garbage bag and the paper bag went into the bottom of a coat closet as that was the only space I had for them. Some readers are likely already cringing in anticipation of the ensuing chain of events. It rains in Vancouver. One wears a raincoat in the rain. The raincoat gets wet and one’s person does not. One hangs said raincoat in the closet after coming in from the rain. Paper bags are not waterproof.

Exhibit C: not bed bug-, water-, mold-, or mice-proof.

Exhibit C: not bed bug-, water-, mold-, or mice-proof.

About a month after moving into my new place I noticed an odd dark spot on the paper bag… yup. Mold. Mold all the way into the bag and the fleece. There is no real way to deal with this. With something like a book, it is possible to allow the pages to fully dry in the sun and then leave it in a freezer for a week or so to 1) fully remove all moisture and 2) attempt to kill the remaining mold spores and deal with the mildewy smell. With fibre, it is simply too difficult to thoroughly wash out the mold spores without destroying/felting it. Into the garbage it went.

Mold is a serious issue and you should consult a professional as soon as you notice it in any part of your home. Luckily my closet was tiled and we did not find any mold on the walls or on anything else in the closet. This is also why it’s important to allow your wet coats and umbrellas to fully air dry before collapsing them or folding them up.

Also? Never store anything in an opaque, black garbage bag that you aren’t willing to part with forever if it gets accidentally thrown in the garbage. Even if it’s labelled. Even if it’s stored in another container. The best idea is to just get some clear plastic garbage bags.

Bed bugs and mold are notoriously difficult to get rid of. My most recent infestation encounter was admittedly easier to control than the first two, but it is the one I found the most personally disturbing and invasive.

A Tale of Mice

Exhibit D: water and bed bug proof when properly sealed. Not mouse-proof.

Exhibit D: water and bed bug proof when properly sealed. Not mouse-proof.

It usually starts with a few flakes of mouse feces. A bag of pasta has a corner split open. Rice grains spill out unexpectedly on the floor. Then, out of the corner of your eye, a grey dumpling-shaped creature flashes from one corner of the room to the other. You grumble and transfer food to sealable containers and sanitize the kitchen over and over again. You argue with your housemates about the most humane ways to deal with the mice and try to explain that your cat allergy is not a mild allergy and not all cats are guaranteed mousers, anyway.

But then. You go to your stash, and open a delicious squishy ziploc of yarn, and you find… mouse poop. Mouse poop and mouse urine in your yarn — your handspun no less! In fact, the first skein of handspun that you ever managed to evenly spin and ply!

The first step is to take a deep breath, but not too deep a breath. The most serious health risks come from airborne particles from mouse feces, and the older the feces the dustier it becomes and the more likely you are to inhale something nasty. Ideally you should clean up mouse feces while wearing gloves and a dust mask over your mouth and nose.

Go through your stash and figure out which containers have had mice enter them. Mice will happily chew through plastic bags, paper bags, and plastic containers as thick as a yoghurt container. All food and fibre should be kept in fully sealed containers at least as thick as a sturdy Tupperware container. Mice can also climb up surfaces that only Spiderman should be able to scale, so don’t assume things stored on upper shelves are safe.

Exhibit E: water- and bed bug-proof when properly sealed. Not mouse-proof.

Exhibit E: water- and bed bug-proof when properly sealed. Not mouse-proof.

If it is in a bag or container that has any evidence of gnawing (mice can fit through very small holes) or any little piece of mouse poop, take it outside into the open air. Carefully untwist skeins, unbraid fibre and unfold clothing, and use tweezers (dedicated to the purpose or thoroughly sterilized later) to pick out any mouse feces. Any feces that gets washed with your fibre/yarn will get mushy and work its way further into the fibre. Place the picked over material into a clean container to keep aside for washing and toss any plastic bags involved. Containers that have been gnawed on are obviously not mouse-proof and, if reused, should be cleaned with a bleach solution and not used to store anything that mice could damage.

Thoroughly wash the picked-over material. Use soap and keep the water as hot as the material can survive without felting and separating undyed and dyed materials. Yes, felting is a risk; however, mouse feces mostly spreads disease through airborne particles and removing the individual pieces of feces does not remove all these particles. Technically one wash in hot water with soap should be enough… but it’s totally understandable if you opt to wash it two or three times for the sake of your sanity.

Exhibit F: The safe zone. When tightly closed, it is water-, bed bug-, and mouse-proof.

Exhibit F: The safe zone. When tightly closed, it is water-, bed bug-, and mouse-proof.

Make sure everything is completely dry before storing it again. Plastic ziplocs and paper bags are perfectly okay (and easy to label) as long as they are in another mouse-proof, waterproof, sealable container!

Obviously not all stashes are susceptible to the three nightmares I encountered. A lot of the factors are to do with the climate and type of housing you live in. There’s no need to be afraid of displaying some of your lovely stash in baskets or using wicker boxes to organize your supplies. Just be aware that your plastic bags need to have their ziplocs fully sealed or be vacuum sealed in order to be waterproof and bedbug-proof, and that mice have zero qualms about chewing through plastic to get to your fibre and yarn. It’s important to take time to go over your stash about once a month and check for any potential infestations.

Hopefully I haven’t spooked you too much with my horror stories. Sweet dreams and happy crafting!

Ginny started working as a studio assistant at SweetGeorgia Yarns last year and began dyeing at the studio this past spring. Her background in funerary archaeology and human osteology has allowed her to excavate archaic necropoli, handle human remains, visit many cemeteries and funeral homes, and engage with lots of dead stuff in general. The scariest and most disturbing moment of her life remains the day she found mouse poop in her handspun.

Felicia edited to add: These stories scared the crap out of me this morning… just reminds me to stay ever vigilant about keeping the stash clean. Even check out the Yarn Harlot’s practice of the “bi-annual stash tossing” in which she goes through all her stash twice a year to clean, tidy, and check for horrible things. Happy Halloween!

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