Button Moths

It’s that time of year again, time to rotate the summer stuff to the back of the closet and bring the woolies, fuzzies, and “what-dress-with-snowboots” to the front, replace missing or loose buttons, and put the white dress shoes away rather than just moving them around. Every year I rediscover a few salient facts. 1) Winter stuff takes up more room than summer stuff for the same number of items (sweaters vs. tank tops, for example). 2) I’m actually more colorful in winter than in summer, i.e. tan and chambrey are replaced by teal, purple, bright green and other colors. 3) No matter how many mothballs I put in the box, button moths and seam nibblers find ways to get in.

Button moths, you ask? They are a sub-species of the common cloths moth. Instead of feasting on wool like their better known cousins, button moths sup upon the strands of cotton, silk, wool, or nylon that hold buttons in place. In extreme cases they have been known to devour buttons, be they made of shell, wood, plastic, or metal. No, I have never seen one, but their traces are quite evident.

You open a box with stored clothes in it, or dig something out of the back of a drawer, or find it hiding on the floor in the back of the closet. You look it over after saying “so that’s where that went!” or something similar if appropriate. And you discover that one or two buttons are hanging loose. Or are on the floor. These fasteners were snugly stitched on the last time you wore the garment. Obviously, the button moths found you. So you stitch the button back on and go about your business. I promise, the next time you get the shirt/dress/vest/jacket out of the closet? Another dangling button. Or one will be flat missing. The more unusual the buttons, the greater the odds that button moths will sample them. German sweater buttons seem especially delicious, and I ended up buying a set of staghorn buttons on Ebay ™ to keep as spares for that very reason.

Button moths have a close relative, or possibly a larval form, that nibbles on fabric. But only on seams. How can you tell? Easy. Try on a pair of pants that you have not worn in six months or so. Have the waistband and thigh grown tight? Does the collar or upper arm of a shirt seem too snug? Or the buttons in the pectoral region show definite strains? Yup, the seam nibblers have struck, taking up inches from your garments while your back was turned. That has to be the reason cloths get tight when you don’t wear them daily. There can’t be any other possible explanation.

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