Travelling with spindles

Words by Sissel Ellevseth

“The travelling itself is part of the journey,” my dad always said when my siblings and I started complaining about being bored in the back seat. The 1000-km drive to visit my grandparents in Vesterålen almost took the joy out of the summer vacation for us. Today, I don’t think much of it and rather enjoy spending hours upon hours in the car, my husband driving and myself spinning or knitting in the passenger seat.

I’m not much of a globetrotter. I’m perfectly fine at home with my stash and my tools, and I prefer to drive if I’m going somewhere. Sometimes though, I need to go by plane either for work or holidays. Every time I start to stress, not for the journey itself, but for the possibility of packing too little wool – or worse, for bringing the wrong projects for the trip. I start test packing wool and spindles early. It must be something rather compact because I do not like to drag several pieces of luggage. My travelling spinning project should bring me joy on the journey and not be something I will struggle with. It should be something special. I usually change my mind a couple of times before I go. 

If I’m to pack for standing or walking spindling, I would choose a suspended spindle. I have a couple of already dinged up Bossies that do that duty. I know there are ways to support spindle while walking, but that is still on my list of skills to tackle later. However, for hanging around airports and for spinning on a plane, train, or bus, I prefer supported spindles. I feel I can sit and spin without constantly being watched. When sitting, I relax more with a supported spindle.

The only time I have had issues with spindles and security was in Orlando waiting in line for one of the Disney parks while spinning on a small Jenkins. The security officer in my line might very well have been a spindler herself. She spotted me early and signaled me to put my Turkish spindle away. When it was my turn, she politely told me it could be confiscated by the other security officers and advised me to bring other types to the park. I could not understand how my little Jenkins Aegean spindle could be dangerous, but of course I kept it away for the day. I had other spindles in my backpack, so I was good.

I have not been doing a lot of airplane spindling, but I always choose spindles that look the least like a weapon for vampire dealings. Nevertheless, I stand in line for security, anxious with my heart in my throat, hoping my spindles will go through without notice.  Although I have not yet had any problems with airport security and my spindles, I wanted to be sure and ready for my next trip. I headed to the computer to find out more information. If you look up hand spindle or any other relevant word to spinning on the TSA’s pages, you do not get any hits. Knitting needles are allowed, and some airlines say wood or plastic are preferred over metal, circulars over straights, but no other limitations to sticks in general are mentioned.

There are a lot of different styles of supported spindles, and most of them look like they belong in van Helsing’s tool kit, some more than others. I have successfully brought phangs and small Tibetans on planes without hassle. How would security react if I were to bring a larger, pointier version? If I were to lose one of my precious carved WW spindles, I would be devastated for sure. I thought it best to check with the authorities.

I emailed the TSA, and after a few days they got back to me with an answer that did not exactly make me want to go on a plane trip with any spindle at all. Knitting needles are allowed up to 4 inches, and no tools at all measuring more than 7 inches. That excludes almost all but circular needles and the shorter sock needles. If tools are to be shorter than 7 inches, only my 2-inch Goldings would fly, and of all my supported spindles, only my takli spindle would be allowed, which is ironic since the takli was the one I thought would never be allowed.

What scared me the most in their answer, though, was the final words stating that officers have the discretion to prohibit any item through security if they believe it poses a security threat. And that after I assured the TSA in my email that all spindlers were peaceful and responsible people..

With that answer in mind, I am not sure I will ever bring my supported spindles on a plane again because I wouldn’t want to risk having them confiscated. For all other travelling, though, they are my first choice to sit and have a relaxing trip.

I might, of course, bring something small and replaceable and be sure to have means for it to escape security, if it should be detained and denied travelling with me. A padded envelope with my home address and with postage paid should be possible to have mailed at most airports.

Remember also to pack your precious safely as you do not know when something might fall out of your bag or when a fellow traveler might step on a bag of fiber and spindles. Imagine the horror! I prefer plastic containers for safety, but I also use an extra padded spindle bag that is nice to look at and that gives a fair protection to the spindles inside. I always pack at minimum 2 supported spindles together so they can support each other on the journey. At least that’s my excuse when my husband asks why I need to bring so many spindles on a trip…

Sissel Brun Ellevseth is a self-taught spinner and fiber wizard. Eleven years ago she started her spinning adventure, spinning for lace on a 120g spindle. Sissel lives with her husband and 2 girls in Bodø, north in Norway, where she teaches spindle classes on occasion, and in the daytime she repairs airplanes to pay for her fiber addiction.

1 reply
  1. Sarah Thomas
    Sarah Thomas says:

    I’ve never had any fiber tools confiscated by TSA but I was lucky to avoid disaster when staying at a hotel with an overzealous cleaning crew. I had packed my spindle in a Pringle’s can that the cleaners thought was trash. They “cleaned it up” while cleaning the room. Lucky for me there was only a bit of fiber in the can. I had removed the spindle and left it on a table before leaving the room.


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