with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Knitting, Crocheting, and Tatting on Airplanes

doilie tatted by Lorelle VanFossen, photograph copyright by Lorelle VanFossenI love crafts and have thoroughly enjoyed tatting, sewing, crocheting, quilt-making, and doll making while traveling. My favorite has been tatting, something that is very easy to do and mindless, as my hands can be busy tatting while reading a book, watching TV or a movie, or listening to a book on tape while driving 8 hours across country.

My tatting shuttles have only been an issue once on an airplane. Having flown over a dozen times in the immediately four months after 9/11, a British Airways flight attendant decided my plastic tatting shuttle was a potential weapon worth investigating. I’d been chatting with another flight attendant during the long wait for some delayed take-off reason, and she turned to show off my tatting to her fellow flight attendant. This one got rather upset and took my shuttle and tatting for a major conference with other attendants and the pilots. They stood at the front of the plane and passed the little plastic shuttle around, poking themselves with it, determining its potential as a weapon. After much consideration and debate, it was returned to me with a request that I put it away and not tat for the rest of the flight. Amazing.

I’ve continued to tat on many flights without incident, but now I’m pushing the envelope because I’m learning to knit.

Learning to Knit

There is a lot of waiting involved in air travel today, and a lot of handwork can get done during the long waits and flights. I’ve done a lot of tatting projects on long overseas flights, especially during the 4-6 hour wait just to get through security and get on the plane. I’ve seen a lot of people knitting and crocheting to pass the time. I’ve envied the knitters. I wanted to learn.

My mothers cat, Brother, poses with my knitted scarf, aka caterpillarI asked a lot of people, and even picked up a few books. Unfortunately, the drawn fingers and threads are really confusing and I needed someone to actually show me. I’ve had many people say they will, but follow through and our travel schedule makes it difficult.

So I was thrilled when my mother, on a recent long trip with me, offered to teach me how to knit. We picked up a kit at a small yarn store along our path and she had me knitting within a few minutes.

I’m not good yet. I’m making a lot of mistakes. I knitted my first scarf with hairy yarn called “fur” or “eyelash” and it had a lot of problems. It started out looking like a chia pet. Then a caterpillar. Now it’s finished and it’s a caterpillar on steroids. I like it, though it is not the thin scarf I had planned. It’s stretched really wide and is very heavy. Not suitable for the extreme heat conditions I tend to live in lately.

My second project was with more “normal” yarn and after two days of poking at it, getting a good length on the fold-over hat pattern, I realized that this hat would fit Humpty Dumpty better than me. Around his waist not his head! So I got to do my first total unraveling. Lesson learned.

With another long flight ahead of me, I want to fly, knitting needles in hand, so I can take advantage of the long waits to practice my new craft. So I have to learn how to take my knitting needles on the airplane and through airport security.

Knitting, Crocheting, and Tatting on Airplanes

After September 11, 2001, the airline industry changed, and not all was for the good. Instantly, a long list of items not allowed on airplanes was released, growing and changing over the next five years as things were added and other taken off the list.

Knitting yarns and needles, photograph copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossenFirst hit were razors, nail clippers, scissors, metal nail files, and knitting needles, among other metal and sharp objects to be snatched from airport security lines. Boxes and boxes filled up with tiny metal sharp and pointy things.

Then the debate over what was acceptable and what was potentially a terrorist weapon started changing, jumping around from item to item. Batteries in your luggage were banned in some countries, but it was okay to carry them onto the plane. Then that was taken off the list. Metal nail files went on and off and on again, and I have no clue where they stand today as it might change tomorrow. Go for an emery board. Lighters went onto the list, then came off as collectors and lighter manufacturing industry (and smokers) fought to change the ruling. Eventually crochet hooks and knitting needles were permitted onboard the plane, and knitting and crocheting enthusiasts were thrilled.

I want to take my new knitting-in-training skills and knit on the plane. Knowing airport security and airplane flight attendants as well as I do, unpredictable behavior is the norm when it comes to deciding what is a security risk and what isn’t. As horrible as Israeli airport security is, it was predictable and consistent. I knew I would be harassed within an inch of my life every time, so when I wasn’t, I was shocked. My tatting shuttles never became an issue.

US airport security, unfortunately, can’t make up their minds which way to go on a lot of rulings, and sometimes even they aren’t up with the changes in the rules. Sometimes I can get through with fold over scissors and another time I can’t get through with microscopic teasers.

According to the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – Transporting Knitting Needles and Needlepoint:

Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage. However, there is a possibility that the needles can be perceived as a possible weapon by the TSA screener. TSA Screeners have the authority to determine if an item could be used as a weapon and may not allow said item to pass through security. TSA recommends the following when bring knitting needles on an airplane:

* Circular knitting needles are recommended to be less than 31 inches in total length
* We recommend that the needles be made of bamboo or plastic (Not Metal)
* Scissors must have blunt points
* In case the screener does not allow your knitting tools through security it is recommended that you carry a self addressed envelope so that you can mail your tools back to yourself as opposed to surrendering them at the security check point.
* As a precautionary measure it is recommended that you carry a crochet hook with yarn to save the work you have already done in case your knitting tools are surrendered at the checkpoint.

I did some research and here are some tips for the traveler who wants to knit, crochet, or tat.

To begin with, I highly recommend you visit the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – Transporting Knitting Needles and Needlepoint web page, print it out, and carry it with your knitting, crocheting, tatting, or needlepoint kit, ready to show them if clarification is needed. We do this with our film and it has saved us when clarification with the rules has been necessary.

Knitting needle points up close, photograph by Lorelle VanFossen - CopyrightKnitting
Knitting needles are permitted on US airlines and through airport security. So far, both straight needles and circular knitting needles are permitted. They can be wooden, plastic, or metal. Unfortunately, the decision is on a case by case basis, so it is recommended that you stick to wooden or plastic, dull, and not exceptionally long. If they are circular needles, make sure the connecting plastic or wire is thick and not thin. Or use a set of removable circular plastic connectors and disconnect them for the pass through security.

Stitch holders tend to look like large safety pins and can be a cause for concern for airport security. The same goes for cable needles and other sharp and pointy metal objects used in knitting. Choose plastic versions of these knitting tools to avoid problems.

If you are concerned about your knitting needles, there are two options worth considering.

  1. Bring a self-addressed, stamped envelope large enough for your knitting needles with you. If security refuses admittance, and you want to keep your knitting needles, you can put them in the envelope and mail them to yourself. You can mail them to your destination or back home, it’s up to you. Make sure to include enough postage to get them to their destination.
  2. Bring pencils with the ends painted with fingernail polish or a lacquer to cover the lead, or empty ink pens approximating knitting needles, and knit with these as your backups. The standard #2 yellow pencil is slightly smaller than a size 11 (8MM) needle.
For the most part, medium to large sized crochet hooks will pass through security without any problem. However, metal and very tiny and fine crochet hooks, often used for fine lace work, may not be permitted. If you are concerned, go with a plastic crochet hook. If your crochet hook has a sharp edge on the hook end, from the manufacturing process or because it is small, consider rounding and softening the sharpness with sandpaper, if possible. Make sure no one could be scratched with the crochet hook.
Tatting Shuttles and Thread, photograph copyright by Lorelle VanFossenTatting
Avoid bringing a metal tatting shuttle through airport security. Mainly because most people don’t know what it is. When there is doubt on something made of metal, airport security are more likely to err on the side of safety rather than common sense. Plastic, bone, or ivory are usually ignored. I personally like the small, colorful plastic shuttles by Clover. If the tip is too sharp, which usually chews up my finger, I will smooth it down a bit with an emery board or light sand paper.

If found, be ready to explain what tatting is and that the shuttle is harmless. I’ve scrapped it down the inside of my arm as proof, which is highly effective, then hid the welt that came up a bit later. ;-)

Many tatters also carry a small crochet hook to help them with tight picots. The same rules for these crochet hooks apply – go plastic. I travel with a small self-closing hook used for crochet, knitting, and sewing that catches and grabs stray threads and pulls them back into alignment. It is smaller than a tatting shuttle, and often comes with a protective cap, and can hang around your neck or from a keyring.

Clover circular cutter, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenScissors
You mess with threads and yarn, you have to do some cutting. Scissors are very likely to be confiscated, even child-scissors with the rounded noses and dull blades. Clover makes a round medallion that looks more like a pendant than what it really is: a circular thread cutter. If you slide your thread down the “teeth”, it catches the razor blade inside and cuts the thread.

You can hang it around your neck like a necklace. I’ve worn mine through many flights with no notice. There is no way it can be used to cut someone as there are no accessible blades. The best threat you can offer is to cut someone’s hair. It will cut all types of thread, yarn, and string. It is about the size of a half dollar or Euro.

Needles for sewing and needlepoint are permitted, unless they are considered a potential weapon due to size, shape, or sharpness, and the mood of your security screener. It is recommended that you keep your needles in a small kit and not in needlepoint material as you go through security. Airport security tends to ignore it in a small kit rather than loose in the fabric. Needles in a small sewing kit will also pass through more easily than a needle just stuck in anywhere that looks suspicious. Also, consider using plastic needles if available for the type of needlework you are doing.

As for knitting, crocheting, tatting, and doing any needlework on the airplane itself, it is permitted, though not recommended during take-off and landing for safety reasons. That is until someone protests.

If you find yourself next to someone uncomfortable with your knitting needles, and they tell you or act suspicious, ask the attendant to move you to another seat where the people will not be bothered by your knitting.

Usually you can smile and tell them about the fun history of your knitting, crocheting, or tatting, and they will relax. You can even confide that you are relieved to be able to once again carry your knitting needles, crochet hooks, and shuttles on long flights as it gives you something to do to pass the time on long, boring flights. It makes you feel productive. Be kind and understanding of their fear and they will usually agree and let it go. If they don’t, move, and keep on working, if possible.

The attendants themselves may inspect your knitting needles, tatting shuttles, and crochet hooks for security purposes, but answer yes when they ask if security permitted you through with the tools, and they usually leave you alone. If they do have concerns, they may take the knitting needles and return them to you after the flight (remember to ask), or ask you to put them away and not use them on the flight. It’s annoying, but press them to reconsider without getting angry, and if they don’t, then do as they instruct without making a scene. Then write some nasty letters to the airlines afterwards. Name names. Point fingers. This will make things better for others traveling in the future.

With my luck, my knitting needles will create an international incident, but I’m going to give it a go as I will have 10-20 hours in airports and airplanes just to get from Seattle to Mobile, Alabama, on my next flight.


  • jenni
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 22:13 | Permalink

    Hi, Wondering what this tool is that you mention please??
    (I travel with a small self-closing hook used for crochet, knitting, and sewing that catches and grabs stray threads and pulls them back into alignment. It is smaller than a tatting shuttle, and often comes with a protective cap, and can hang around your neck or from a keyring.)

    I travel for work and would love to tat but need my hook.
    Thanks, Jenni

  • Posted December 29, 2006 at 22:27 | Permalink

    Which tool? The self-closing hook? It’s the same as you mentioned, though I have also sawed off a crochet hook (I was in the Middle East where the “hang around your neck” fashionable kind weren’t available) to make it only 2 inches long and glued on decorative thread wrapped around the end to create the same “hang around your neck” fashionable looking kind.

    I have also had success thread pullers, the thin loop wire on the end of a plastic handle or small metal needle threader. I can sometimes use that to push it through a picot and pull the thread through. I double the thread that I pull through the picot so it loops over and pulls through. However, these won’t hold up when trying to push them through very tight knots or tiny picots.

    When I’m tatting without the typical gadgets, my tatting style changes and I take these things into consideration and anticipate finding other alternatives like tatting a little looser or being careful not to make mistakes.

    Crochet hooks are allowed on planes now, so you don’t have to worry like we did in the beginning of all this silliness.

    And stay tuned, I will be having more information on this site soon on taking your crafts on airplanes and while traveling.

  • Posted January 22, 2007 at 19:44 | Permalink

    My wife has been looking for a supply source for what she calls a ‘thread-puller’ which is a small hand tool used to pull loose threads back into place on a piece of clothing when a thread has been snagged and is visible to the eye.
    I would like to surprise her with a couple of these tools since she’s starting to do more handiwork with her wardrobe, and, I know she’d really like to have this tool to use on those occasions when she has a loose thread in one, or more of her various pieces of clothing, etc.
    As I understand it, these units are relatively inexpensive, selling for maybe a couple bucks each, plus S&H…
    Any help I can get from anyone reading this ‘plea for help’ will be appreciated!
    Thank you all for any information you can give me in this regard.

  • Posted January 22, 2007 at 22:56 | Permalink

    A “thread puller” comes in different shapes and sizes. If she wants a “good one” and not a little silver thingy included with most travel sewing kits or in a small package of 6-10, then just head to JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, or the nearest fabric or crafts store. Go to the sewing or knitting section and look for fake antique looking gadgets. They have what you are looking for there.

    They aren’t cheap, even for antique knock-offs, but they are pretty and do the job.

    I like the ones that come on chains or ribbons to hang around my neck or off my sewing machine for easy access.

    I hope that helps.

  • Posted August 9, 2007 at 4:40 | Permalink

    British Airways have a simple policy on knitting and sewing. Simply Not Allowed. No discussion. No ifs and buts. You can’t.

    Quite unacceptable IMHO. What a waste of a long and boring flight!!

  • Posted August 15, 2007 at 21:06 | Permalink

    I’ve knitted and tatted on British Airways, but not within the last year or so. They may have changed their policies since I last flew with them.

  • Posted April 27, 2008 at 8:46 | Permalink

    I’ve had my knitting confiscated on one Qantas flight and had the flight attendants lining up to have a go on another (I had three of them knitting with me by the end). . .

    I’m flying with some “work in progress” on Etihad (who do not allow knitting needles on board) for the first time and have decided to make some alterations to a set of bamboo circular needles, not so much to work on board (though I’d love to but can’t risk my work being confiscated again) but so I can get some done during the layover in Abu Dhabi.

    Wish me luck.


  • Marilyn
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 2:28 | Permalink

    You have given me some ideas about travelling. I have had to pack away my stuff for plane journeys but I might try again. I have the thread cutter pendant I jsu need to work on the crochet hook, see if I can away with a plastic hook. Thanks again. I was stopped by Qantas but I fly with other airlones so perhaps I will try with them

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