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Knitting on the go: 6 tips and tricks for travel knitting

Apr 26, 2011

I'm about to hit the road for a little late spring/early summer traveling and that means packing. I'll figure out the clothing situation the day before I leave (I always do), but meanwhile I'm a little stressed out over what knitting projects to bring. Raise your hand if you feel me! Yeah, I knew it.

Last summer, my family and I went to London, England, for six days. Six busy, jam-packed days, as my mom wanted to see as much as she could (a theory that I do endorse from time to time, though my preferred travel style is to live like the natives and take it easy). I took three projects—a pair of socks, a hat, a crochet scarf. For six days. And you know what? I finished all of them. (Now that I think about it, I had started the socks before leaving.)

So clearly, taking a lot of projects on vacation is nothing new to me. Figuring out which knitting projects are best for traveling, and how to most easily transport them, is always a bit of a challenge though. Here are some tricks for travel knitting that I've picked up along the way.

  • Pick easy projects. "Easy" here is a relative term. I'm not suggesting that everyone knit only flat garter stitch or stockinette stitch in the round, but be honest with yourself about your skill level and choose projects that you can knit without having to give a lot of attention. I know I can knit plain stockinette socks with my eyes closed, so they're a good project for me. Projects like Izumi Ouchi's Clipper Mitts or Amy Christoffers' Shelburne Scarf from Knitscene Summer 2011 would be great on-the-go knitting.

  • Pick small-ish projects. As any one who's ever traveled anywhere and had to cram a bunch of clothes into a carry-on suitcase (paying for luggage is not high on my list of fun vacation things) understands the importance of maximizing space. The smaller the project, the more easy it will be to knit while you're traveling. Bonus points if you finish the project, because then you clearly have to buy a new skein of souvenir yarn, right? For me, this usually means socks or hats, but it doesn't have to. Mittens or scarves are great travel knitting projects, but if we look outside the suitcase, think sleeves. Sleeves can be knit in the round or flat. Amy Christoffers' Vergennes Pullover or Sarah Fama's Mayville Cardigan both have easy sleeve patterns.

  • Choose your tools wisely. As you may have noticed, I like to knit socks. I knit socks a lot. Socks are my number one project for knitting on the go. I tend to switch back and forth between using double-points and using the Magic-Loop method when I'm staying in town (say, going to knitting group), but for longer travel, I usually opt for Magic-Loop—nothing like making friends with everyone on an airplane as you attempt to chase down a dropped dpn. (Knitting Help has a great video on learning Magic-Loop, if you're not familiar with it.) Occasionally, I'll bring along the double-points, but in those instances I have to have a dpn work-in-progress holder with me. It keep my knitting needles tidy, save me from stabbing myself as I reach into my project bag, and possibly make me appear a little less threatening to the TSA folks (this last point requires more research). Note: yes, you can generally take your knitting needles on the plane if your departure point is within the United States, but be sure to check the website of the arrival destination airport, or the governing body of travel within your country (such as the TSA in the United States). Knitting needles are typically not allowed when flying out of an airport in the United Kingdom, but I had no problem with my crochet project.
  • Organize everything. Take this opportunity to break out all those work-in-progress bags you have, or just grab some gallon-sized Ziploc baggies—whatever you use, make sure it has some sort of closure at the opening. If you, like me, take multiple knitting projects with you when you travel, the last thing you want is a mess of tangled yarns and needles all jumbled together in one bag. Placing your knitting projects in bags also protects them from getting roughed up in transit.
  • Keep a notebook handy. When traveling amongst other people (on a plane, on a train, on a bus, packed in the family minivan), you will inevitably be interrupted in your knitting. Having your notebook and pen or pencil nearby ensures that you can make a quick note of your stopping point, or jot down any modifications you make on the go. I actually have two notebooks that I use (I have a notebook addiction): Franklin Habit's Work in Progress Journal and a journal from Make My Notebook (you can see one of my journals in Check It from knitscene Summer 2011, page 7). The Franklin Habit journal is half blank and half graph paper, and the Make My Notebook journal is half ruled and half graph paper.
  • Most importantly, have fun! Vacations are usually a time to relax and maybe do something you've never done before, but that doesn't mean you have to leave all of your creature comforts at home. Travel knitting has all the benefits of knitting at home with the added bonus of having something familiar and relaxing during what can occasionally be a stressful experience. Take a picture of your sock toe covering the pyramid outside the Louvre as a "pyramid cosy" (I'm not going to Paris this year, but I will probably do this one day.) Wrap an in-progress scarf around the statue of Phil Lynott off Grafton Street in Dublin (note to self: go back to Dublin).

Wherever you're going, whatever you're doing, have a fun and productive summer of knitting! Hopefully I'll make a good amount of progress in all of my travels.

Happy Knitting!

Amy

P.S.—Knitting on the go has been made even easier with the invention of laptops, tablets, and programs like Zinio that let you cart around multiple books without the weight, and knitscene Summer 2011 is now available on Zinio!


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Comments

on Jun 20, 2013 1:12 PM

Tomorrow morning, early enough to not be bright because even the sun knows better than to be awake at

on Aug 25, 2011 10:56 AM

Tips for packing crochet on your travels

on May 5, 2011 4:35 PM

Hi to all from a Dublin knitter who was delighted to see the "must return to Dublin" remark. It's consoliing to see all my own strange travel & yarn habits are shared by others. Keep it up.

whouston wrote
on May 3, 2011 5:45 PM

Great tips! As a beginner, I knitted a prayer shawl while on vacation...mostly during the 4 hour car ride!

on May 2, 2011 3:13 PM

I do a lot of traveling and find knitting much better than reading. I don't need to concentrate as much and I can still hold a conversation (or not!) with my neighbor. I am far less apt to getting motion sickness. I always have a bag ready with bamboo needles (ambivalent TSA people seem to let these pass more easily, esp with international travel) and 2-3 hour projects like hats for the local hospital. I can usually get one done on each trip!

AmyPalmer wrote
on May 2, 2011 10:46 AM

Oh man, thanks everyone for sharing your travel knitting and crocheting tips! I ended up taking a shawl and the body of a sweater with me on my short trip, and I'm thinking a pair of socks and the same sweater for the longer, upcoming trip. You all rock!

Bev Moon wrote
on May 1, 2011 1:24 PM

How timely this article is--hubby and I are taking off in a few days to see the rest of the US states that we've not visited.  Of course I always take something to knit on with me--he drives and I knit!!  We'll be gone 3-4 weeks and I hope to get several WIP's finished while gone.

oldancer wrote
on May 1, 2011 5:57 AM

I always do socks and take the supplies in a zipper bag that used to hold sheer curtains (or maybe it was pillow cases).  There's even a little pocket inside that's perfect for holding a darning needle on a scrap of yarn.  

jaclack wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 10:05 PM

I travel every year between California and London, sometimes then hopping on to Paris.  I always take socks - on bamboo double pointed needles as they don't show on the x-ray machine (although occasionally some aluminum-like english needles get in the bag) - and the only time i have ever been questioned was the time I tried to take a childs wooden bow ( without arrows, don't ask!) on the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  They did eventualy let me!

levelin wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 9:40 PM

I always stress more over what projects to bring, I almost always over bring anything. Three, four projects for a craft/night afternoon, I tend to bring larger gauge projects that are easier for me to see.

I have an Ott  Light and Mag-eyes for those smaller harder to see projects, but those projects are going back in the carry around knitting bag with the nice bright sunshine. Back to Boston's Public Garden for nice weather knitting, I turned on a couple long time locals to knitting there.

earthychild wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 8:29 PM

Hi,

Often I take knitting on planes.  I have knit in the round on circular needles many times throughout Canada and the US. It was when I was coming back from Puerto Vallarta that they cut off my needles, but left my project on the connecting cable.  I was very glad that at least they left me with that, so I could at least keep all my stitches.  I now try for plastic or at least an inexpensive set of needles, should this happen again.

wildiris wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 4:27 PM

When you are grabbing that zip bag for the project make it one of the perforated bags sold for veggies and salad.  They collapse to the project size when stuffed in a purse or carry-on.  They are great for wool which likes to breathe.

Dianam47 wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 3:30 PM

I recently went to England, took my #3 needles, a ball of yarn and a sock pattern - yarn turned out to be too thin for those needles, so went to a yarn store in York, bought some yarn.  Started my first toe up sock, got to the ribbing around the leg, yarn didn't have any "stretch", so figured the sock would be very slouchy.  Went to the pound store (like our dollar store) bought more yarn so I could knit on the plane coming home.  Flight was so turbulent I couldn't knit (afraid of sickness).  But I have plenty of new yarn!

Carole@5 wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 3:03 PM

I travel by motor home.  I tend to take several projects and magazines in case I get bored with what I am working on.  On occasion I have been "forced" to find a local yarn shop to buy a different circular needle or crochet hook for a new project.  My husband usually goes along with this better than he would if I just said "I want to check out the local yarn shop."  You meet such nice people in the shops.

Jacklou wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 2:36 PM

I crochet in the car (get motion sick so looking at knitting doesn't always work) when we are traveling.  Mostly I make mile-a-minute afghans.  So far I have 11 of them made for my grandchildren when they get married, etc.  I'm way ahead of the game for a present!

horselove wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 12:40 PM

I've never been on a plane befor, but I've knitted and crocheted several shawls on long car trips, and they do really well for me. They also help to pass the time on the highways when there's nothing to really look at outside the car. I just have to remember to take my motion sickness pills so I don't get car sick!

rblakeney wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 9:38 AM

Yes, tablets are great! My boyfriend gave me an iPad and wasn't surprised when the first (and main) thing I loaded onto it was knitting patterns and books.

Smartphones are ideal too — an easy way to refer to a pattern rather than carrying around a photocopy. PDFs can be big files, so sometimes I even just type the basics of whatever I'm working on and save it in a Note on my phone.

For those with iPhones or iPads, iTunes has some great knitting apps! They can be great references when you're on-the-go.

analizabetW wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 8:27 AM

I have taken knitting projects into and out of the UK and Spain with no problems whatever with one exception.  I bought a set of steel DPNs in England on one trip and the customs people in Phoenix AZ looked askance when we arrived.  I keep a lot of my tools in eyeglass cases - the metal snap-shut kind - and since I wear glasses I have never had any inspection or xray problems.  Just looks like another set of eyeglasses!  I mostly use bamboo needles, maybe they are less threatening.  

SusanD@51 wrote
on Apr 30, 2011 8:17 AM

I always have a pair of socks to knit on my needles for traveling.  They're fun, easy to transport, colorful and at the end of the trip I have a new pair of socks!!

on Apr 28, 2011 6:30 AM

Yeah, I bring two projects with me in case in I get frustrated with one. Now I've got my crochet tunic nearly done..plus an Interweave Knits top that I can cast on if I get truly bored out of my brain.

Knittinmama wrote
on Apr 27, 2011 8:06 PM

I found that some TSA agents are a little more flexible on allowing knitting needles.  I took a case of interchangeable needles on a trip from LA to London.  No problems at LAX but in Houston the agent asked to see them.  Even though his wife was a knitter he had never seen this type of needles.

AmyPalmer wrote
on Apr 27, 2011 11:56 AM

Oh that is a fantastic idea, Amontillada!

Amontillada wrote
on Apr 26, 2011 7:36 PM

What a great post! I, too, do a lot of travel knitting, though mostly in the passenger seat of the car while on work trips with my husband. I love knitting socks and using double pointed needles, but I've dropped at least one too many DPs. So I'd recommend either the Magic Loop or two-circular-needle methods.

If you're not working on something appropriately simple for travel knitting, take this as a call to knit a project for charity or public service. Two years ago, I knit mats for animals at the SPCA all the way from Virginia to upper Pennsylvania and back. Or make caps for premature babies, or winter mittens and scarves for needy people. If there's no such local project in your area, look online.