Friday, January 30, 2015

Traveling with Needlework

It feels like I am becoming rather an expert on taking my projects with me around the world, and as I'm flying out tomorrow for my second trip of 2015 it seemed appropriate that I share some of what I've learned in my travels. This past year I've taken cross stitch, embroidery, hand sewing and even leather embroidery on planes, trains and automobiles. I've been mostly successful, but that's come from planning ahead. So here are some tips on taking your needlework projects with you.

These are general tips for most needlework and most methods of travel. I’ll be doing a post later specifically about flying with needlework as there is a little more involved to it, but these general principles still apply.



1) Pick the right project

Not all needlework projects travel well. Picking the right project to travel with makes a big difference in both how successful and enjoyable your travel will be. Cross stitch (in fact most counted projects), Hardanger, and crewel I've had good experiences taking across the globe with me. Projects heavy on the satin stitching, or projects that shouldn't be taken on/off their frames/hoops tend to travel worse. Goldwork, beading, and stumpwork, with their small bits and pieces, has never really worked for me. Large projects don’t fit well into the small, slightly less than comfortable personal space you will be allotted if you’re on public buses, trains or planes. You may need that Goldwork piece done by the time you return, but I assure you, it will not be as easy to travel with and you'll get less done than you expect if you take a project like that.


2) Frame it right.

Travel and frames don't always go well together. You want something small enough for easy transport, and easy enough to break down. Hoops are superior for travel-ability IMO, even though I can't get the same kind of tension, because of how easy they are to set up/break down and move around the project. They also take up relatively little space in your bags.


3) Only bring what's necessary.

Sure, it would be handy to have your whole floss collection and those extra tools, but resist the urge. Take just what you need:
  • your project, 
  • threads, 
  • needles, 
  • pattern, 
  • hoop/frame, 
  • and a thread-cutting tool (check your method of travel for specific restrictions on this). 
The only exception to this rule is needles. Bring extra needles, because if they go missing you won't be doing anything. I also suggest packing your spares in multiple places so that if some go missing, you still have other options.

Consider what you will realistically get done and what you actually need in both the space and time your trip will take. If you know you will only make a small amount of progress you can consider leaving some of your thread or even pattern at home.


4) Keep it together and protected

This could also be advice for general packing and piece of mind, but it's key to a good stitching experience. Keep all your necessary bits in one place. Even if you would normally use a project bag with various pockets with all the tools you could need, when traveling it is far better to keep it all in one place. Rummaging in various bags and pockets on the go is more hassle than its worth, and if you lose something you won’t find out until you’re inevitably too far away to retrieve it. If your project is so large that you cannot keep it all in one place consider if you need all of it and if you’ll have space for it if you’re traveling on public transport.

Secondly, your packing method should also keep them safe. I used to travel with cloth or mesh bags, but I’ve stopped after having too many leaks/spills that soaked through or other damage happening. For some projects I’ve used boxes, but mostly I now favor the plastic pockets you’ll find in many offices (see photo above). Not only are they cheap, but they protect it from all the other stuff in my bags. I prefer the clear ones as then I can see exactly what my hands are on and that I haven’t lost anything.


5) Be prepared for things to go wrong

It will happen. You won’t know when or how, but a spot of something will get on your project. Or maybe you’ll lose a needle. Or your light will be too bad to work. Or you’ll find the road/turbulence is too bumpy. Or your liquids will leak, getting shampoo and shower gel all over your project. Or you’ll realise you get motion sick while stitching. Or you’ll be stuck with a neighbor who takes up all your breathing space. Or or or…

The list is endless, but the bottom line is that at some point, something will go wrong. If your project is too precious for that to happen to, consider whether it is worth taking at all or whether something else might be more appropriate.


6) You will never get as much done as you hope

This goes along with number 5, but the fact is, you have less time to just sit and stitch than you think. You might catch up if your travel then involves sitting beside a pool doing nothing but stitching, but during the travel part you will inevitably work slower, be regularly distracted, and find other reasons will crop up for your lack of progress.

Add to that the fact that, while you may travel for 2 hours the first and last 10 minutes of that will be you getting set up/re-packed. You should always pack up well before you think you will be getting off/landing/finishing your trip. On planes, I pack up before we land. On buses I pack up at least 3 stops ahead of the one I will need to get off at. The last thing you need is to have to try to keep project, threads, needles, as well as your luggage together while you move through the crush of humanity. Something will go missing, guaranteed.


7) If it is public transportation, people will ask you questions

Let’s face it. Needlework, no matter what type, is not the most popular of past times, and there is inevitable curiosity when people see you do something that they don’t know about. If you prefer silence while you work, stitching during travel is unlikely to be your cup of tea. I’ve had flight attendants, small children, elderly women, and all other sorts ask what you’re doing. Its like your hobby is an open invitation for them to learn something new, and since they are all trapped on the same piece of transport with likely not enough entertainment, you may end up being that entertainment.



All this being said, I’ve found traveling with needlework to be rather fulfilling. It makes me feel productive during otherwise non-productive time period. It gives me a way of relaxing, even when the situation is not.

I hope these tips help those contemplating traveling with needlework. For those who want to fly with their projects, I'll be doing another of these posts in the future dedicated to just that. Stay tuned.

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