Quilters in the sky

Kevin Kosbab
Quilters in the sky

Transportation Security Administration (TSA), be damned! Here’s how to keep your quilting alive during summer travel.

Back in the day, flying somewhere for summer vacation actually had some glamour to it. Now that we’re left with constantly canceled flights and security checkpoint stripteases, traveling has all the cachet of a bus trip in a thirdworld country. (Did you just hear a chicken squawk?) “Getting there” can be a pain in our quilterly rumps and waste a lot of time. What is a patchwork diva to do? Keep on quilting, baby! While your fellow travelers try to amuse themselves with crappy games on their cell phones, you can relax and revel in cloth. Here’s how to keep quilting when you’re on the go.

Of course, you’ve got to pack before you can get moving. Fabric weighs a lot when it’s densely packed, so show some restraint, chicas. Keep it to a minimum. Some stingy airlines have started limiting us to one 50-pound bag—with a hefty price attached to any excess poundage— but the majority of airlines will allow two 50-pound bags on domestic flights. Double check before you pack (especially for international flights) because you don’t want to abandon precious fat quarters in some dusty airport gate lounge!

Books and magazines also get super-heavy super-quick, so if you’re working from a pattern, bring photocopies of the pages you need, instead of the whole darned book. Or, if you’re traveling with a laptop, make scans of the relevant pages. And don’t forget to leave room in your luggage for all the great fabric and notions you’ll find along the way!

You’re usually allowed two carry-on bags, including a purse, laptop bag or other personal item, but there’s no limit to the number of smaller bags you can nest inside a sizable tote. Storing spools of thread and other tools in a small zippered bag keeps them from rolling down the aisle if the plane pitches, and you don’t even need to take the spool out of the bag to snip a piece off. Anything that’s not literally tied down could careen away from you in unexpected turbulence, so also hang your blunt tip scissors around your neck on a lanyard.


Generally, the fewer tools you bring the better, so pack only what you need. Don’t skimp on things like extra needles, though. You just know that if you pack only one needle, it’ll break before the jetway doors are closed! Bring a small pincushion or needle book, too. And a small appliqué iron tucked into your checked baggage is great for pressing seams and removing wrinkles when you get to the hotel (though international travelers should decide if it’s worth fiddling with electrical conversions.)

Air hysteria, I mean security, means extra packing and planning, and TSA rules can be tricky to get a handle on. The rules of what’s allowable seem to change as often as the weather. One quilting buddy of mine (OK, it was my mom) struck near panic into a departure lounge by passing the time appliquéing. Her suspicious activity? Use of scissors! She had to assure fellow passengers that even the TSA doesn’t consider most scissors weapons of mass destruction. Blunt-tipped scissors are fine, okay? And even if they’re pointy, you can carry them onboard if the blades are shorter than four inches. But keep it simple: circular thread cutters and other bladed cutting devices are out, out, out!

Pins and needles should also be fine. I mean, c’mon. . . knitters make it through with their needles, which could do a lot more damage! Do be aware, though, that the security thugs are vested with the authority to snatch away anything they consider threatening, regardless of posted regulations. (So be nice, or they might confiscate something.) The TSA very sensibly (a good idea from a bureaucracy. . . who’da thought?) recommends packing a self-addressed envelope so you can mail any disallowed tools home rather than having them confiscated.

Sewing machines in carry-on luggage are sure to arouse suspicion, so handwork is the go-to technique for on-the-go quilting! (Sorry, machine mavens!) Hand-piecing is an option, and appliqué can also be very portable when you prepare it in advance. Small blocks are especially good. If you cut out your pieces and prep your appliqué blocks in advance, you’ll be ready to stitch as soon as you’re dumped into Layover Land. And as you prep your project, remember that pins can shift and fall out while blocks are folded away in your bag. (And runaway pins can be hard to find deep in the crevices of airplane seats. . . until they stick you.) Basting glue is a more tush-friendly way to keep appliqué patches stuck down.





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