International travel, knitting, and life-lines 2


I’m knitting a laceweight shawl/wrap. It has been both fun and challenging. The stitch pattern is easy (diagonal paired yarn-overs every 45-some stitches), but the needle is small and the yarn is very fine.  I cast on 481 stitches to start, and I am knitting with a size 3 needle and will knit something like 1,500 yards of laceweight yarn. Just based on the number of stitches – 481 * 200 rows = 96K stitches….it is an ambitious project. Even though it will be small and light, that’s about double the yarn yardage for a sweater.

whisper wrap, closeup

Whisper wrap, close up. You can see the lifelines (dental floss...!) at the top.

I started to use a lifeline in the project after I dropped stitches at the lacy/yarn-over part and could not recover. A lifeline is a thread “sewn” through the row that lets you rip back a good place and restart if things go awry. I’m using dental floss, but really any yarn would do. It’s a very handy technique. As I’ve knit this wrap, I have dutifully been moving 2 lifelines up the shawl.

I brought this project on our trip to France this fall–knitting on the plane and in the car. I had hoped to finish the wrap ahead of my trip, and I imagined looking chic at an amazing French meal with the wrap cozily around my shoulders. Well, I did not finish in time, and so I resigned myself to enjoying working on my project in France instead of wearing it in France.

I was down to the last 50-some rows, 75-80% through by the time the trip was finished. We got to the airport, and as normal, went through security. We were in the separate line for NYC- and USA-bound planes. Since soon after 9/11, I have been able to bring knitting and its needles on plane trips without incident. So, it did not occur to me that the knitting in my carry-on could cause a problem. Well, my heart dropped into my ankles when the X-Ray operator asked me what the pointy things were in my backpack. I searched for the words in French – we never learned “knitting needles” in French class. I said it was “to knit” or “tricoter”.

I pulled the needles out of my backpack, of course the needles were through something like 60K stitches of laceweight yarn and weeks of work which might unravel completely if separated. The operator did not know if they were permitted, she had to talk to her supervisor. She said that they had different rules in Nice, even if we normally were permitted to carry on the knitting in the US, it might not be allowed here. The supervisor came over, they spoke rapidly in French and I could not keep up, but I heard “aiguilles a tricoter” (knitting needles).

I imagined having to pull my needles out and hand them over to French TSA. I imagined my project fraying back to some earlier date, turning into a big knotty mess I’d need hours to triage and repair.

In the end, they said that my knitting needles were “special” and they let me keep them. Perhaps the operator recognized the delicacy of the puff of knitting attached, or perhaps knitting needles are allowed after all.

Only after the terror subsided did I realize that I had two lifelines in place so even if I had to remove the needles and hand them over, most of my knitting would be intact, the wrap would have survived.

New lessons for the paranoid knitter:

  1. don’t take anything for granted. put a lifeline in before going through security, just in case!
  2. consider bamboo over metal needles for travel, it may look less scary on an X-ray screen!
  3. knitting needles are “les aiguilles a tricoter” in French.
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