Knitting on an Airplane and Other Travel Tips for Makers
Traveling is stressful. You can find thousands of articles online about achieving the peak level of comfort on every kind of transportation, but do they ever really help? I know what I’m paying for—the cheapest plane ticket I can find. My seat will be cramped, the food leaning towards blah, and no matter what, the trip will seem to take an excruciatingly long time.
Now I don’t even bother to get comfortable. I accept the circumstances and try to distract myself with entertainment and knitting. Car rides are the easiest: I can zone out (when someone else drives) and watch the scenery go by. Add a podcast or audiobook and I’m good for at least 4 hours. Other forms of travel get a bit trickier, with airline travel being the hardest for me.
Since I just got back from a trip to Europe, I am very recently acquainted with hours of travel and the pains that come along with it (which was incredible, thanks for asking). I got to improve my travel plan and test out some new strategies for knitting on an airplane. In my world, planning means less stress during stressful points. The key is preparation, organization, and execution, or POE.
For this trip, I planned to make the Wayworn Cap by Meghan Huber from Interweave Knits Holiday 2017. Hats are quick to knit, not too challenging, and small, so they’re perfect for both knitting on an airplane and other travel. The lovely cable pattern will keep me intrigued when I knitted for long periods of time.
I also picked a luxurious yarn, Woolfolk Tov in a rich warm brown. This DK-weight yarn feels like cashmere without the expense, and it comes in stunning earthy colors.
Preparation: Before You Leave Home
Here is an example of my personal knitting packing list you are free to use. I also like to keep the following tips in mind during the preparation phase:
Try to consolidate the projects you’ll take along. If you want to work on more than 1 project, choose patterns that use the same size needles.
Knit your gauge swatches and do the math ahead of time. Read through the entire pattern so you understand the big picture. It might even help to cast on and knit the first few rows. These tips can help you avoid simple mistakes because someone was presenting safety instructions.
Choose projects that are interesting enough to work on for a long period of time but not so challenging that you get a headache trying to block out everything going on around you.
Consider charity knitting. If you just can’t decide what to make, Love of Knitting editor Deb Gerish gives great tips and delves into the benefits of charity knitting (something she’s embracing this year) in her article, “Yarn for the Giving: Charity Knitting and Crochet.” She also wrote a great post about knitting for people fleeing conflict who have lost everything. Interweave provides Free Knitting Patterns for Charity; you can also find lots of free patterns on the internet.
Pack all your gear in one container. You will notice I keep all my notions in a plastic envelope. This is a lifesaver as it keeps my supplies slim, uses as little room as possible in my carry-on bag, and keeps everything within reach on a cramped plane.
Organization: What to Bring
“Let’s get organized, organized!” Pare down to essentials to keep your knitting setup small, portable, and lightweight. If you pack small accessories, you’ll have more room to knit.
First, consider your needles. Skip the long, straight metal needles and DPNs and try plastic or wooden circulars. Circular needles are harder to drop or lose and much less likely to get taken away at the security checkpoint. If you’ll be working in the round on a small item, practice the Magic Loop method so you can leave the DPNs at home.
For notions, try to use plastic, as they are less likely to set off a security search. Airlines ban anything with a razor blade (except for disposable razors—go figure). So the Clover Yarn Cutter will not make it through security. Scissors are allowed but must be less than 4 inches past the pivot point; this makes folding travel scissors a great option. You can also find plastic darning needles and stitch markers. I found these adorable travel-themed stitch markers made of recycled plastic at Succaplokki.
I personally can’t travel without a tiny crochet hook to save dropped stitches. This one from Kay’s Crochet Patterns on Etsy fits on my keychain or in my notions box (a recycled mint container).
After you’ve chosen all your knitting gear, pack other essentials. Skip the liquid hand lotion and try a solid lotion bar or a balm. This stuff will keep your hands soft and hydrated, taking up minimal room in your cramped liquids bag. Most products come in scented and unscented varieties, in a range of sizes. I packed Stinging Nettle Apothecary Yarn Balm due to its small size. Love + Leche makes Lotion Bars and Anywhere Balm that comes in tins (you definitely need the tin). Just don’t check a solid bar or balm in your luggage, because it’s likely to melt all over your clothes.
Then comes entertainment. I download podcasts and audiobooks ahead of time, then listen to them as I knit. I work with a lot of book nerds and audiobook evangelists who love to recommend great listens. You can buy downloadable audiobooks online, and many local libraries let you check them out for free. Then pack some good headphones. If your budget allows, noise-canceling headphones are worth the cost. They completely drown out engine noise and muffle voices and baby screams.
Also plan for knitting breaks to rest your hands or brain. Books can take you deeper into the world of knitters and their creative processes. For instance, Clara Parkes recently published A Stash of One’s Own: Knitters on Loving, Living with, and Letting Go of Yarn, an anthology of wonderful stories that celebrate yarn and hoarding. Its short essays are perfect for small or long breaks. Or pack Clara’s Knitlandia, a New York Times bestseller on travel knitting.
Organization: Getting Through Security
Countries have different rules about carry-on contents. Always check the official government website to find out what you can pack. You don’t want to suffer the heartbreak of surrendering beloved needles halfway through your trip! Below are the links for some popular destinations; try a Google search to find websites for other places.
Execution: On the Flight
Once you’ve done all of the hard work, it’s the time to relax and enjoy. Let’s execute this plan! Set up your knitting sanctuary, start your playlist, and watch the hours tick down.
My favorite knitting hack for travel: use my hoodie as a yarn bowl. I place the jacket in my lap and fold the hood back to create a wall—imagine your ball escaping down the aisle at lightspeed. Or avoid this problem with a center-pull ball.
Pro tip: Stow your needles in a safe place during turbulence or when you leave your seat. This is a tip I learned from Nancy Obremski in her hilariously informative Ravelings story “Unravelings: A Dog, DPN, and a Liverwurst Sandwich.”
Is there anything I’ve missed? What is your perfect knitting travel plan? What about knitting on an airplane – yay or nay? Share your travel successes and disasters in the comments below.
Assistant Editor, Interweave Knitting Titles