At long last the sun is shining, men across the land are mowing the lawn, and the shops are running out of charcoal in little bags. It’s finally summer in Britain. Dust off your sandals, dig out your maxi-dresses, and more importantly put your jumpers away carefully for next year.
We are all learning more about decluttering, that liberating feeling of getting rid of old stuff, and living free lives unencumbered with worldly goods. In theory. A bit. Well, you never liked some of it anyway, and it’s nice to think that getting rid of Auntie Gladys’ ugly salad bowl is actually on trend. But what about our clothes? How many of us have stuff we bought in the autumn, and still haven’t worn, either because the diet ground to a halt, or you never bought the right things to go with it, or it wasn’t quite right at the time but it was in a sale? I know this isn’t just me.
So, the important thing to do is take stock of all your winter clothing. Put everything you wore this winter in one pile, and everything you didn’t, in another. If you didn’t wear stuff all winter this year, you are really unlikely to wear it next year. Definitely bin socks that are too small, tights that have had it, and tops that went funny in the wash. Then trousers – are you going to lose the weight to fit in them again? Are you going to wear that style if you do? Try to keep only the things that make you feel good. With jumpers, separate wool from any synthetics such as acrylic, polyester, or nylon, or any of the other long names that mean the same thing. The synthetics are fine on their own, on a shelf or in a box in a cupboard. Because they are manufactured from oil, and are made of chemical mixtures, the moths cannot attempt to eat them, they are safe. Wool is special, marvellous stuff, which needs a bit more care and attention.
First things first, make sure all woollens are freshly washed and thoroughly dried before being stored for the summer. You can wash them by hand, or on a gentle wool cycle in the machine, using a mild wool-wash liquid. I find putting them through an extra rinse cycle after the wash helps get any remaining soap lines out. Before hanging up to dry, ideally for a good blow outside in the sun, roll your sweaters in a towel and squeeze the main moisture out of them. This helps them keep their shape when they are drying. Fresh air and UV rays will help get rid of unpleasant smells and bacteria that might still be tempted to hang around. For blankets, duvets, wool pillows, or other large items, the best thing is to take them to the dry cleaners, and the same goes for wool coats or jackets.
The main thing is the battle with moths. You might think that won’t happen in your house, that’s for old people, or young people in old houses, but don’t be fooled, that’s just their propaganda. The amount of wool and cashmere that we see recycled in this country is absolutely vast, and it is mainly because of moth holes. Those babies eat. Literally, the babies, the grubs, the caterpillars, they munch all summer having the time of their lives in your cupboards, before launching into adults who have all the fun of laying eggs which will hatch to eat your next year’s jumpers. They are the enemy.
Any wool or silk, clothing or fabric, which has human scents on it, or human skin cells, or oils from your skin, will attract moths. Even one item that has human traces on it can lead to them invading the whole cupboard. Washing, air drying, or dry cleaning is the first thing. Then you need to be on the offensive with fragrances they can’t tolerate.
I would advise against the traditional remedy of mothballs. Years ago, my husband and I worked for aid charities in Hong Kong and Cambodia, we were away about five or six years. My mother-in-law was an old hand at this, and helped us wrap our woollies in the loft, with camphor mothballs. Bad. Really bad. Quite apart from the fact that 25 degrees in April here felt absolutely freezing to us when we arrived back, the jumpers all stank to high heaven. We were huddled in three layers of stinky wool and our old waxed jackets, while the rest of the family were in t-shirts playing badminton on the lawn. The memory is still fresh. The jumpers were not.
These days you can get mothballs without the smell, made from some dastardly chemical or other. Or you can go the nicer route of cedar balls, or sticks, or the old favourite of lavender. Making little bags of fine cotton fabric, and harvesting lavender buds, is a lovely occupation for this time of year. If you don’t have any in your own garden, you can quite often find it in public parks. You need the lavender before the flowers bloom, while they are still budding on the stalks. Pick long stalks, tie them in bunches, and hang them upside down for a couple of weeks somewhere dry away from sunlight, ideally an airing cupboard or boiler cupboard.
At this point rub the flower buds off the stems onto a tray, and use these scented buds to fill the lavender bags. If you are not into sewing, the best idea is to use little organza favour bags, like you would buy for wedding gifts, even the pound shops sell these now, and they are ideal as they have drawstrings and are made of sheer fabric. Just fill the bags, and pull the strings to close them, before hanging them on coat hangers, or placing them in the folds of your woollies. I use my lavender wheat bag in the same way, as I’m not going to need that ‘til the autumn, and it’s made of wool itself so it’s getting the same treatment.
In terms of storage, wool or wool-blend clothing and blankets need to be folded with clean tissue paper, and popped into air-tight stackaboxes or vacuum bags for the summer. Even just putting them inside separate plastic carrier bags tightly folded over will help stop moths, which is the main goal at this point. For coats and jackets, zipping them into plastic coat bags is the way forward, and if you live in a very humid area try wrapping them in clean cotton, like old sheets for example, to reduce condensation. If nothing else, keep them in the plastic from the dry cleaners, that will help.
My mother always makes the effort to move her winter clothes to different wardrobes, and start fresh with the summer items. I’m more likely to ram jumpers to the back of a crowded cupboard, and pull t-shirts to the front. In a good year, I might put jumpers on a higher shelf out of reach, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. But however lazy or diligent you are feeling, it is really important to look after your pure wool or pure cashmere jumpers at this point. Even hats, scarves, gloves, or anything else with wool content, have to be put away in tissue to absorb any moisture, and then into plastic bags, with cedar or lavender or something extra evil that you’ve found on the internet. And don’t forget your boots and shoes, they need cleaning, stuffing with paper, and storing nicely. Otherwise you will come back to them next year to find heavy creases you can’t get out, and the same with handbags. We know this is true. We just need to do it.
So, while the sun is shining, and the smell of lighter fuel is spreading across the back gardens of suburban Britain, please do right by your winter woollies. They have served you well, and will do so next year for a tiny amount of effort now. Wash, dry, fold nicely, add lavender, put in plastic bags or boxes. You can do this. I can do this. We will feel so virtuous in October.