Travel Notes: Knitting on Planes, trains and automobiles and …in art galleries

There is a long history of people making whilst on the move.

The never-ending need for textiles for use in making clothing, bedding, carpets, wall coverings and string meant a never-ending need for making – out of necessity rather than pleasure.

Historical photos show men and women knitting or spinning using a drop-

faroe woman knitting at work
knitting while working and walking

spindle whilst walking, carrying peat on their backs, tending sheep, during their ‘breaks’ from farm or other labour, sitting around the fire in the evenings whilst caring for children and in more recent times, on the bus and train, at work, in the park and on planes.

Whilst nowadays, knitting is more likely to be a pleasurable and optional pursuit rather than critical to survival, for many ardent knitters, the idea of being on a long trip without their knitting or equivalent fibre obsession ranges from disquieting to intolerable. As someone who has knitted through the cracks of the day since high school when I remember knitting a cardigan (with wool I had spun and dyed) during school orchestra rehearsals, I rarely leave the house without something to do in my bag.


great yarmouth fisherwomen knitting
women knitting whilst waiting for the fishing boat to come in


peat carrying knitters
knitting while carrying peat


A couple of nights ago my husband suggested we visit the Art Gallery of NSW to see the new Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition Petersburg. I took my small knitting bag, which I specially designed for travel. It has a wide neck that rests over my arm and allows easy passage of yarn to my needles as I work. It is small and light enough

my new knitting bag in action

to be thrown into a larger backpack or handbag and big enough for a small project or even two and has a pocket for bits and pieces and at a pinch can hold a phone and wallet which is useful in an art gallery when your backpack is not allowed in. I have used it or its predecessor (which I lost in Sydney Airport a few weeks back) on many planes, trains, car rides (as a passenger) and whilst walking around cities of the world both outside and in art galleries. I’ve knitted at MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, At the National Gallery in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as galleries on Vancouver, Vienna and on previous occasions, the AGNSW and the National Gallery of Victoria. The only comments I have ever received have been positive – from fellow viewers or those poor museum guards who regarded me enviously, saying they wished they knew how to knit (and as a subtext, that they wished they could knit whilst standing all day to attention watching people watching).



knitting with family at Moma cropped copy
Knitting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (with my oldest son). You can see my knitting bag resting on my arm. 

But this time, as I was regarding the art, I was approached by a young male guard who asked, “Do you have to do that in here?” gesturing towards my knitting as if it were a disgusting habit. There were many possible responses to this. I suspected rightly that they would get me nowhere and possibly get me ejected from the gallery. I limply offered my previously unhindered international experience of safe art gallery knitting but to no avail. ‘They are sharp objects’ he said definitively.


I wondered off, knitting safely tucked away, feeling slightly humiliated, rather amused and distinctly pissed off. What, I wondered is the international incidence of knitting needle mediated art vandalism? Is there a formal ruling banning knitting needles from art galleries?

knitting on planes2
plane knitting is not new
Eleanor roosevelt knitting on plane
Eleanor Roosevelt knitting on the plane

For a while after 9/11, presumably because of the implied threat posed by sharp needles, knitting and crochet were banned on planes in Australia and some other countries, though strangely  not in most US planes. After all, everyone knows how many violent knitters are out there committing acts of textile terrorism. However, reason prevailed and after submissions to the Air Safety Councils of various nations, the powers that be perceived that perhaps knitters were less trouble with their knitting than with out. From December 2009, knitting was again permitted on all Australian flights.


There are many articles on google about knitting whilst flying and I will summarise their suggestions for a smooth in-flight (train/bus/boat/walking) knitting experience.


Guidelines for Pain-free Travel knitting.

If in doubt, check with your airline that they are ok with knitting on board and if truly obsessional, carry a print out of your airline’s guidelines that say it is OK. 

Aim for a small and simple project. You will be tired. The light will be poor and you will be uncomfortable and squashed. A scarf or socks or a beanie are ideal.

Use circular needles, preferably ones with removable tips: you can’t lose a needle and that they take up less space in your bag and you won’t poke your neighbour with them. The removable tips are for the worst case scenario that your needles are confiscated. That way you can save your knitting. Carry spare needles in your checked baggage.

knitting on the train. Long needles are potentially irritating to your neighbour. 

Plastic or wood needles are quieter and less likely to raise the concerns of an inexperienced x-ray operator, though I have only ever once had trouble with metal needles. They were confiscated in Dubai airport in 2011 and miraculously, were waiting for me in Rome when I arrived.

Contain your knitting bits and pieces in a bag that has a draw-string or can rest on your arm, like my knitting bag, to prevent the somewhat embarrassing yarn-rolling-down-the aisle during descent issue.

 Small  nail scissors with rounded ends are OK  Stitch cutters with hidden blades are apparently not welcome in the US though I have not had a problem with them in Australian planes.

If you are not a knitter, crochet or embroidery are good alternatives. I assumed until recently that sewing needles would be verboten but security didn’t blink when I tried it recently.

Knitting or other hand-work is a great way to pass long journeys and there are some knitters who look forward to long trips because of the hours of uninterrupted knitting. Not naming anyone…..

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