Travel trade-offs

With several trips in my near future that involve airplanes, I’ve been thinking ahead toward knitting. I need something that packs a lot of activity into a small space and won’t catch the protective attention of any TSA screeners. TSA people are apparently least likely to be alarmed by needles made of bamboo or plastic, and by circular needles that don’t exceed 31 inches.

The work also needs to be interesting but not demanding. Vast quantities of stockinette don’t provide enough diversion to make airports less boring. I need to be able to pick up the work and put it down again at a moment’s notice—or stuff it into a bag in mid-row without risking disaster. Although travel is the perfect time for either knit-without-pattern work (like socks) or for enjoying someone else’s design, it isn’t the time to experience Sharon Winsauer’s dragon shawl.

Many knitters find that socks constitute the ideal travel project. Socks usually don’t work for me. I knit loosely. On bamboo or plastic needles, which are manufactured down to 2 mm (size 0), I can make hiking socks. To make finer socks that fit inside my everyday shoes, I need smaller needles, which are inevitably steel. Right now I have enough heavyweight socks. I need lighter-weight socks, but I’ll have to make them when I’m not flying.

Sweaters tend to be bulky. First there’s the yarn (and I always have to take all the yarn, because I might need it). Then, as the yarn supply diminishes, there’s the growing garment.

Scarves . . . maybe. Even when the knitting’s intriguing, though, I find scarves boring.

Afghans . . . even partially knitted, an afghan can be handy for napping on a plane or in a terminal, if a flight’s delayed, but an afghan requires a dedicated carry-on bag. On these work-related trips, where I have to carry other essentials, I can’t devote a whole bag to knitting.

There are lots of other options, but what I’m coming down to here is a shawl. If it’s lace, I can work on larger needles than I’d use for the same yarn in another type of pattern.

I do sometimes break down and buy yarn for a travel project, but I try to invent travel work from what’s already on hand.

The ideal for this trip would be the two-ply alpaca lace-weight that I have three balls of—enough for a generous shawl. If this worked out, it would provide lots of knitting in a tiny package—just over 5 ounces (150 g). I had a bamboo circular needle of the right size and length. This yarn, combined with one of Gene Beugler’s patterns, was my first choice to explore. I briefly met Gene many years ago at an Interweave event in Denver and have been admiring his designs for a very long time.  I like to use my knitting to make virtual connections between years and across miles. This qualifies.

When I started to swatch, I ran into several problems in the match between yarn and needles. The swatch never achieved a comfortable flow between my hands. I also had a sense that, especially with the lack of fluidity between yarn and needles, the pattern I’d chosen would be a bit too complicated for the planned context. If my stress levels were going up at home, the situation would be worse on the road and would produce results directly opposed to my intentions.

So I put the lace-weight yarn away for when I can test out one or another of the new, fine-pointed lace circulars (which are metal) under circumstances that will let me have access to more brain cells.


Next I took a quick look at the fingering-weight hand-dyed alpaca I picked up a couple of weeks ago at Serendipity Yarn. There are three skeins, or 24 ounces (685 g), which is more than I want to carry. I also intend to design my own pattern for this yarn, and I see a lot of swatching in my future to make that happen.

So I retrieved a fingering-weight alpaca. (After all of the Norsk Strikkedesign-inspired wool worsted , I detect a pattern. I seem to be drawn toward the sleek feel and sinuous drape of alpaca.) This yarn’s a soft natural brown and just heavy enough to give me many choices in needles. I have two 8-ounce skeins, for a total of 16 ounces (456 g).

I swatched with the 3.25 mm bamboo needles that were in the needle binder. Webneedlesimg_0187
That’s a size 3—a size that can be obtained in several types of both plastic and bamboo. The initial combination felt good enough, but not great. Because I’m not leaving for a while, I had the luxury of refining my tools and approach. (Blue binder: needles up to 3.75 mm. White binder: 4.00 mm and up. It’s significant which one is reinforced with tape.)

The trade-off here is that the yarn quantity is sufficient to make a great big shawl, while this plan will also require lots more space and will contribute more weight than the balls of skinny yarn.

Ah, well. At least it’s fingering-weight and not sport or worsted.

I chose a shawl pattern by Evelyn Clark that’s intriguing enough to keep me awake and amused. It’s also not so challenging that I’ll go nuts if I need to stuff it quickly into a bag. Although I don’t think I’ve met Evelyn (if so, I didn’t have the chance to talk with her long enough to remember . . . one of the hazards of editing a magazine and meeting waaaay more people each year than one brain can sort out), she’s a friend of several friends and we’ve had peripheral contact over the years. I like the way she thinks about lace, as demonstrated in the patterns of hers I’ve read. So this knitting connects (not a requirement, but a big plus).

Now the trick is to get the work far enough along to be good travel knitting, although not so far so that it’s nearly finished before I leave. Because the pattern is published by FiberTrends, purveyors of unusually fine designs, I need to knit to past the part that’s printed on dark paper. I find the black-on-dark portions of the patterns hard to read . . . better to do at home, where it’s calm and I can control the lighting.

So I ripped back my needles-and-yarn test and began a shawl-start swatch . . . which has turned into the actual start of a shawl.

I knitted far enough to know that, although the charts are very clear, I wanted to redraw them in the symbols that I find easiest to read and to chart the half-shift of the repeat (the pattern includes a complete, correct, but space-saving version) so I’ll find it easy to memorize the sequence while I’m en route. I certainly don’t need to memorize it before I go. I just need to get ready. I’ve done those two things.


Because I have the luxury of prep time, I’ve also tested several needles with this yarn and this pattern: two types of bamboo and a new Bryspun circular. I like the feel of the Bryspun, although the join between the needle and the cable results in a bit of drag with this yarn in this pattern. While both of the bamboo needles have swivel joins that don’t impede the movement of the stitches into ready position, one of the needles swivels more annoyingly on this project than the other—and the one with the more compatible swivel is also the one with the smoother points. For another project (probably not lace, so a heavier yarn), the other bamboos might win the competition.

The combination of yarn, pattern, and needles can make an incredible difference in the pleasure that I take in a knitting project. Although I could work with whatever’s at hand, and often do, I am also grateful in this case to have a wealth of choices and the time to determine the best alternatives.


And now, so I won’t get too far on the shawl, I’m going back to that pair of socks-in-progress on steel 1.5 mm (size 000) needles, at a gauge that most people would achieve on a nice, normal size 0. I’m not about to tighten up my knitting just to make my passages through security easier . . . and I want easy transitions through security. I’d rather keep my knitting relaxed in my hands by changing projects for the duration.


P.S. Here’s just outside the frame in my “photo studio” on the living room floor. Having been neglected in previous lives, Tussah does not like to be far from any human who might have a moment free to pat her.



4 thoughts on “Travel trade-offs”

  1. those new addi turbos made it through 7 or 8 security checks in 4 countries, despite being metal. I think it was mostly because I stuffed ’em in the little bag you gave me, and so no one ever spotted them, and it never occurred to me to declare them as “sharp.”


  2. Thanks all. . . . I *do* usually fly with my 000s (and a stamped, padded, self-addressed envelope, just in case). I have a feeling about this set of trips, though . . . perhaps stirred by the story of Stephanie ( being told she couldn’t knit on her recent flight.

  3. I’ve had good luck thus far with the Addi Turbos as well, though I try to knit the last row before travel onto bamboo or a stitch holder, until I know I’m not going to have to give up a metal tool — this in order to avoid frantically cramming a lifeline in at the last minute, or something… and you know, I swear, I have almost the exact same thought process about picking travel projects, and it’s how shawls end up happening more often than not.

    I did once have to give up my yarn needles, which filled me with all sorts of ire, but for the most part it’s been a non-issue. I have had to demonstrate the drop spindle in the security line before, however, and they used to routinely insist that my father knit, as a man with knitting needles tended to be perceived as unlikely.

    The thing that bothers me, I guess, is that it’s all screener whimsy now, with less reliability and predictability than what the third world offered in the old days, even. So I no longer fly with anything I’m not willing to lose.

  4. My friend Rae knit the dragon shawl. She enjoyed it, I’d go nuts… but it’s beautiful and totally her style.

    My friend Laurie did the fibertrends shawl in a thicker weight yarn, solid purple. It is infinitely useful on cold days, and avoids the “girlie” look so much lace has… good for others but not for me. She enjoyed knitting it, and recommended it to me.

    Personally I’m all about socks on bamboo needles but then again I knit tight and I like fat-yarn socks a lot anyway. I usually let myself play with colorwork when I travel, it’s one of the few times I have where I knit and look at the knitting for a long while.

    In Ethiopia I knit socks in four colors, and a few rows had three colors per row in order to make them look like the basket patterns which inspired them. It was SO much fun to knit whatever I wanted and not worry if someone would want the pattern later.

    The pics of my cool Ethiopian socks is here: (we’ll see if I get kicked out for moderation now that I’ve posted a link in the text of this comment…


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