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Knitting on planes

The question of “can I take my knitting on a plane” has been doing endless rounds online. The definitive answer is MAYBE.

I fly abroad three to four times each year, and have never had a problem bringing my needles with me. I work by a few rules: never ask (refusal can often offend); always take bamboo; be prepared (bring printouts of the airport/airline’s policy).

Never once has anyone asked for clarification or needed a second look. I’ve often wondered if this is because they really don’t mind, or just don’t know what they’re looking at.

So I decided to look for myself. Not having ready access to airports, the scanner I used belongs to the global headquarters of the world’s second-largest bank (not to give anything away).

Here we have the handbag (Jordana Paige Knitter’s Purse)


[click on pictures for larger image]

and the contents:


We have a notions holder pack full of illicit goodies (metal and plastic crochet hooks and cable needles, nail files, stitch holders); scissors; addi turbo baby circs (the purple yarn); plastic baby circs (red yarn); bamboo DPNs (green socks); compact umbrella and mobile phone (as well as purse and maybe a few pens).

Now this is what the security guy saw:


The metal addis are immediately identifiable. The notions holder (to the left) is a muddle. Notice the umbrella to the right, we’ll come back to this later. I can’t make out the scissors.

I sent the offensive articles through by themselves, just to make sure what everything looks like.





Once again, the addis are as clear as daylight (no surprises there). The plastic needles are fairly clear, which I find curious. I’m not sure if I can make out the bamboo DPNs – they’re possibly obscured by the edge of the box. The notions holder is obviously screaming for attention.

With so many potential hazards, how have I never been stopped? Quite simply, the rules have been changed. BA was the first to review the ‘no needles’ policy:

Tweezers, nail clippers, small nail scissors (where the blade is no longer than 3 centimetres), safety pins, sewing needles (up to 2 inches in length) and knitting needles are permitted in hand baggage.

However, the final say is up to the security people around/running the scanner. From America’s Transport Security Administration:

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.

Most of the items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside.  These items cannot be taken through a Security Checkpoint.  They must go in your checked baggage.

For once, Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world with the decree

Don't pack sharp objects such as knives, scissors, cork-screws, or knitting needles in your hand luggage.

Back to the compact umbrella. No Londoner is without one, nor should you be. Not because of rain, but rather it is the easiest way to carry your needles without rousing suspicion. See in the picture above it is just a jumple of lines. Now add some further inocuous lines in the form of bamboo needles and who could tell?

The key is to take your knitting off the needles and onto scrap yarn. Fold the needles neatly into the umbrella. Reassemble once you‘re safely on board. And if you get someone who needs to inspect everything and raises an eyebrow… explain that it’s a great place to ensure your needles don’t get broken in transit.



DON’T take your favourite needles or anything you can’t bear parting with.
DO print out your airline’s policy.
ALWAYS smile and be pleasant – more bees with honey and all that. (But do take a biro for illustrative purposes: „c’mon – you can’t tell me the needles are hurtier than this!“)
NEVER ask „Is it ok if I bring my knitting?“ If you’ve already checked the airline’s website, IT IS.

Useful links
BAA (Heathrow, Stansted and Luton)
US Transportation Security Administration downloadable Prohibited items list

Craftivism in three parts

Social craft action. Craft activism. Craftivism. Along with answering to various names, I also tend to talk about the intrinsic connection between craft and activism no matter what name it’s given.

I also believe that craftivism is about more than “craft” and “activism” -- it’s about making your own creativity a force to be reckoned with. The moment you start thinking about your creative production as more than just a hobby or “women’s work,” and instead as something that has cultural, historical and social value, craft becomes something stronger than a fad or trend.

I started writing along this theme in late 2002, and have delighted in the ways that people have been empowered and enlivened by the handmade, and knitting in particular. I started a blog site called craftivism.com to pay attention to two culturally stigmatized words, ‘craft’ and ‘activism’ to better spotlight the ways in which we can use our craft production to make the world a better place to live.

And to kickstart a monthly column here at knitchicks, I decided to elaborate on the three points that I find central to not only my own work, but the craftivist spirit in general.

1. Craftivism is about using positive forces to create small joys and a better world.

It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search (try “knitting,” “charity” to start!) to see how you can use your knitting skills to help others. Soon after I began knitting and had made scarves for everyone I knew, I started to turn my attention to those who might need to keep warm but don’t have the resources. Along with warming up those dear to me with accessories each year, I also make it a point to donate a few items I’ve made to homeless shelters or charitable organizations. Why? Because I believe that handmade items created out of love can keep you just a teensy bit warmer on cold, cold nights.

2. We live in a world built of materialistic dreams, where products can be bought off the racks and from the shelves. Celebrating the handmade gets us in touch with our own consumption.

Sometimes it’s alarming at how much materialism we are presented with on a daily basis – from television advertisements to window shopping on the high street on the way to work. Even though we purchase yarn and needles to knit, we are fighting this consumer onslaught by creating garments in colors and shapes that we choose.

Instead of a wardrobe designed by someone else, our craft production lets us choose if we want long sleeves or 3/4-length, let’s refashion the streets with our own genius instead of a stranger’s. It also reminds us that items made by hand allow us to be in charge of our closets and allows us to look at the ways that clothes are marketed and how materialism and money rules instead of individualism.

3. Craftivism is about giving and realizing your place in the makeup of the world.

By becoming aware of the power of your craft, you also begin to realize how it changes you as a person. In making that sweater stitch by stitch, you see how it is possible to enjoy both the process and the outcome of an activity. As you take note of the small things and how they can quickly turn into a thing of exquisite beauty, you also begin to see how in the hustle and bustle of modernity we all too often fail to take notice of how our own lives are stitched together.

It wasn’t until I started knitting that I truly woke up to the world. As I watched garments grow on my needles from cast-on to completion, I started to take a step back and see how other things were constructed and how even the tiniest of things can become something vast and strong.

Sharing. Choosing. Noticing. These are the three most important components of craftivism. I look forward to sharing more on these themes with you in the future.

Betsy is a freelance writer, crafter and top chick. You can read her article on the state of the British wool industry in Spring's Vogue Knitting.
We miss her since she moved back to North Carolina and look forward to her return (anyone want to sponsor a craftivist?!).

Recycling and sustainability

Ecology and sustainability in textiles are issues I have been interested in for over 10 years. Researching these subjects in order to apply what I found to my work, I soon realised that there were no sources of ecological yarn easily available. I’ve now gone back to college to research the field and becoming as informed as I can about what constitutes a sustainable, eco-friendly yarn.

What makes an eco-friendly yarn? There are lots of issues including (but not limited to): where the fibres come from, how they are processed, what pollution comes from any of the processes, how far the yarn has to travel, whether it is produced locally, whether it has been fairly traded, etc.

As you can imagine, each area has a different set of problems and indeed benefits to consider and I focussing my research on just one of the areas, recycling.

A big problem that we have in the UK is the amount of rubbish we produce that goes to landfill. We are rapidly running out of available sites to bury everything. In 2007, there will be very strict government guidelines coming into force whereby manufacturers will have to 'take back' their products and will be forced to be clever in dealing with these returned items!

Currently we export most of our waste textiles to Africa where second-hand clothing, or 'Salaula' (which means rummaging), literally clothes the population. Ironically, when world banks arranged to deal with Zambia’s debts in the late 90s, part of the agreement was for the country to open its borders to international trade. This resulted in a great influx of cheap clothes, which undercut the prices the fledgling Zambian clothes companies could get for their wares. Now there is little or no indigenous textile or fashion production in Zambia and they rely heavily on our waste textiles to clothe the whole population.

However, one would hope that eventually new industry can be encouraged, and that we will begin to see our own waste textiles as a valuable resource, not a problem. The textile industry in this country suffers similarly because of competition from cheap Chinese imports, and I also believe that if we don't do something to find new markets for UK industries, we will lose them completely, just as Zambia has lost its own textile industry.

When we lose our factories, we also lose the knowledge of how to make yarn or weave fabric. We lose jobs for people who are good with their hands and don't want to do I.T. or can't find a job in the service industries. We also lose choice.

The Mayor of London (yes, Ken himself) has a programme for managing the waste in London, and part of that is a design strategy. If we can get brilliant, creative people to work with various waste products, we can add value, and stimulate new markets for the products. I have been fortunate to receive a grant to investigate ways to recycle waste textiles.

I am working with a talented spinner to combine the recycled textiles with 50% virgin wool, to produce an eco-friendly yarn which has essential strength and basic good quality. It will be a ‘natural’ colour so that knitters/crocheters can dye it themselves to suit their own needs, of course encouraging them to use natural dyes.

Eventually I hope to have the yarn dyed on a bigger scale, but dyeing systems are even more complicated than spinning systems.

You can trace my progress on my website: www.anniesherburne.co.uk where you can also fill out a questionnaire and be notified when the yarn is ready. I would be delighted to hear from any interested designers keen to work with this yarn.

I am also very interested in the creative potential of people to work with this new initiative, and to show that environmentally friendly textiles are visually inspirational, and practical as well! What will the new ecological aesthetic look like?

Annie has a shop on Columbia Road in London which sells naturally dyed yarns and wool from UK sheep.

the knitchicks story

Knitchicks was launched in September 2003 as a way for me to find other people to knit with. I was recently arrived in London and had left my crafty chicas back home.

I went to a couple of Cast Off events (still do!) and was keen to keep meeting people to knit with. So I thought I'd organise my own, and knowing few people in my area, I figured the easiest way to spread the word was on the internet.

I already had a Typepad blog, and as they give you some free space, the quickest way to get the info online was to create a new blog, especially for the knitting announcement. As the name of my blog is acechick (a nickname given to me by a friend), I decided to call this new blog knitchicks.

TWO people turned up to that first group. Turns out, they were the greatest two people I could ever meet and are now firm friends!

I would like to be able to say that 'everything took off from there', but it didn't. The first year was full of meetings and groups where only one or two people came. I trawled through message boards and blogs, emailing people and trying to make contacts.

I was just about to give up on it all when in November 2004, The Metro newspaper did an article on knitting and then it really did take off from there! Knitters came out of the woodwork and groups de-cloaked! It was really exciting to meet new people and get to knit with them.

At the same time, there seemed to be more bloggers, so in March 2005 UKnitters blogring was launched. A year later, we've over 130 members, and growing.

I'm thrilled that the UK knitting scene has taken off so successfully. In London there are now meetings every night of the week and new groups are constantly being formed. The UK has plenty of talented knitters, designers, spinners and bloggers and I'm proud to be part of this community.

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