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.

knitting in an airplaneFor 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.

knitting on an airplane

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.

knitting on an airplane

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.

knitting on an airplane

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.

United States of America’s Carry-on Restrictions

United Kingdom’s Carry-on Restrictions

Australia’s Carry-on Restrictions

Canada’s Carry-on Restrictions

Mexico’s Carry-on Restrictions

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.

Happy knitting,

Sarah
Assistant Editor, Interweave Knitting Titles


Need some fast project inspiration? Check out these brilliant kits.

14 Comments

  1. Dina D at 8:31 am November 20, 2017

    I am so with you on the “One Bag” container for knitting/crocheting, it keeps it separated from the other carrying on items I end up having in my bag. I don’t usually carry a hooded jacket, so I just use the bag that I have my knitting in- recently I’ve used a gallon size zip lock bag- it works great! (and it’s cheap), and zipping it partially closed helps. I can tell you one time about having a ball of yarn escape- I have had it roll down the isle a few feet away from me, luckily a nice man caught it before it went any further! It’s happens.

    I can honestly say I have never had any problems flying in the US with any of my knitting needles, and the suggested scissors- smaller and plastic is better it perfect.
    Thanks for all your tips and interesting posts.

  2. Jill T at 8:33 am November 20, 2017

    Fabulous article! I’ve never had a problem knitting on a flight whether domestic or international but have 2 more suggestions… Pack an extra set of needles in your checked baggage just in case they decide you shouldn’t have them on the plane. And, thread a lifeline in your last row… again, just in case they take your working needle from you.

  3. Aunrey B at 8:41 am November 20, 2017

    Brilliant ! I love the hooded sweatshirt tip. I’ve had many yarn balls roll down the aisle behind me.

  4. Francine D at 8:42 am November 20, 2017

    I love all your tips. Thank you! I also take the wood circle needles. However, I detach the needles and place them in my cosmetic case with my lipstick and lip liner which is in my handbag. I gently knot the wires and it stays until I get through the checkpoints. I have travelled to Mexico many times and also to Europe.

  5. barbara e at 8:43 am November 20, 2017

    The first time I flew with wooden circulars in my carry on, the scanner picked up the tiny screws where the needle joins to the cable as bullets. Even though I said it was probably the needles, my entire carry on was unpacked. All items were placed in 5 bins and re scanned. The agent did not like me making any suggestions. Now I put my knitting in a project bag and put it in a bin along with my little bag of liquids. No problems!

  6. Betsy M at 8:56 am November 20, 2017

    Surely you can use fingernail clippers in place of snips? I use a large prescription bottle to corral it all.

    • Marlyn W at 3:01 pm November 20, 2017

      Great article. I have carried wooden circular needles, plastic tapestry needles and fingernail clippers on all plane trips. I stopped carrying scissors after 9/11.

  7. Janet G at 11:16 am November 20, 2017

    All good ideas. I copy & reduce my pattern (or transcribe) to fit on 3×5 card. The I bring some colored highlighter tape to both mark my place & affix the card to the seat in front of me so I’m not looking down and full size paper pattern doesn’t slide off my lap. I also bring rubber needle tip protectors. If I have to quickly stash my project in the middle of a row, I can write exactly where I’m at on the highlighter tape. I use a U.S. dollar bill as a tape measure cuz it’s 6″ long.

  8. Janet G at 11:20 am November 20, 2017

    Oh, and once I brought sticky back Velcro and used it to attach my plastic mechanical row counter to the seat ahead of. I had no problem removing it at the end of the flight.

  9. Clara R at 12:40 pm November 20, 2017

    I have been knitting on planes for years – even after 9/11 no one challenged me. I use wooden circular needles (Clover brand that are one continuous piece, in all sizes), have plastic T pins and a plastic sewing needle, as well as a small plastic scissor and a plastic crochet hook. I carry it all in a small pouch that fits into my large purse and put the extra balls of yarn in the suitcase. I make small items such as baby sweaters and caps(for charity knitting for hospitals and veterans) and can use the same colors in different ways so that no sweater looks the same. I can finish a sweater in the time that it takes to sit waiting for the plane, and the actual flight time. And the flight attendants are always so nice when they learn what I am doing and for what purpose.

  10. Stephanie D at 1:03 pm November 20, 2017

    I’ve done a lot of flying with needles and have thankfully never had them questioned – including (amazingly) multiple trips with my metal 8″ long size 4 DPNs. Scissors are another story – the UK security measured my blades the last time I went through, though I did meet the standards. If you are cabling, bring an extra cable hook – I lost one mid-trip last year and that was a huge headache.

    I love the suggestion to minimize the yarn packing so you can buy more on the trip 🙂

  11. Frances H at 6:07 pm November 20, 2017

    I have never had a problem with the TSA and any of my needles and notions, even my very sharp Kollage Square double points, but just in case I always have knitting ON the needles when I go through security. That way they know immediately that what they are seeing is just knitting. I prefer the cubic type needles anyway, but an extra plus is they don’t roll! I have my pattern in Knit Companion on my phone. So, there is no fussing with paper and I have a IRing on it, so it will stand up on the tray table for easy reading. Last year I bought a Yarnit. It’s a plastic yarn holder from which the yarn is dispensed. The design allows me to open it and remove the yarn without cutting it from my project and the base stays put wherever I place it. It works great on the floor or on the tray table. The rubber base can be removed and then the Yarnit will fit in a cup holder. I’ve used it on trains, planes and cars.

  12. Brenda G at 9:17 pm November 20, 2017

    One of the great pleasures of travel is knit time. As a frequent cross-the-ponder I offer a couple of extra ideas.
    1. I keep my yarn and project in a drawstring pouch. That was I can hang it on the tray table latch and out of my lap.
    2. I use a mini iPad and the wonderful Knit Companion app into which I preload PDF’s of my patterns and progress. I also run my audio books on the same pad. Many long haul planes now have USB Plus at each seat but just in case, carry a rechargeable mini battery pack or two.
    3. I’ve been traveling extensively, often with a full compliment of addi turbos and Signature dpns and have never had a problem. I do agree, however, that magic loop or two short circulars are better than 5 slippery double points while in the air!

  13. Carleneruns at 8:48 am November 21, 2017

    I prefer to use a draw string project bag. I also bring a document/binder clip and use the clip to attach the bag to the pocket on the seat in front of me. This way my yarn is off my lap and out of the way. I always start my project at home so that when I’m on the plane I’m not facing any surprises.

    Like some of the other said, I remove my project bag from my carry on and put it in the TSA bins separately. This saves time if they want to double check my tiny scissors (or whatever) because they are not unpacking my whole bag.

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