Have loom, will travel OR love notes from TSA

So you're headed for a week-long vacation in the sun and you decide to pack your little pipe loom for some beach-side weaving. Then moments before you head out the door, you pull the loom out, afraid TSA will think it is a bomb... 

Have you been there?

I have flown a lot in the US and have never had weaving equipment taken away from me. I have, however, had my bags searched repeatedly. I get love notes from TSA almost every trip. I chalk it up to the combination of metal looms and electronics. And for the record, I am glad they are checking. Aren't you?

Yesterday's TSA love note.

Packing tips for small-loom tapestry weavers (if you're bringing your Regina along, you're on your own):

Remember that luggage gets slammed around and those forces can affect your loom. If you have a warped copper pipe loom in your bag, it'll most likely be fine. The warp will keep the loom stable. I have started using hard-sided suitcases both because of a rain incident and because it protects my equipment better. 

Metal pipes. Looms are often made of metal pipes of some kind. I often have a couple looms in the same bag along with various other bits of metal for teaching (scissors, needles, pins, loom parts, tools) and this undoubtedly looks strange on x-ray. I sometime include a photo of the loom warped with a brief statement about what it is. But mostly I think they open your bag to check for explosives. They have chemical means to do this and once the bag is open, they'll check whether you put a note in there or not.

Wooden looms. I almost always have at least one small wooden loom in my checked bag, often a Hokett. Sometimes I have many of them for students to use. These don't seem to result in searches nearly as often as the metal looms do, even if I have many of them in there.

Adventures in the security line:

I very often have my carry-ons searched also. We don't see agents searching our checked luggage, but to avoid delays and embarrassment in the security line, I'll share some of the things that I've been searched for. 

  • An intermediate size Hokett loom made of very hard wood. In all fairness, I was in a line that had a screener who was being trained. I doubt she had seen anything like this before and she tagged the bag. Once they pull your bag aside, they'll check the whole thing including the explosive-search thing. But it doesn't take long. (Hint: if you are carrying on anything rather unmentionable, make sure to put it in an opaque bag and be quick to tell the agent what it is right up front. Better that than have people around you witness your specialness. This goes for clothing items or other things you don't really want someone pawing through. If I am carrying clothing--extra underwear or something--in my carry-on, I'll put it in a clear zip-lock just so the agent won't be touching everything. That creeps me out.)
  • A cone of cotton seine twine. This one really worried this particular agent. He seemed quite relieved when he pulled it out and said, "oh, it is yarn!" He then told me that it looked like a very dense liquid on the screen. Since then, all warp has gone into the checked bags (and may be another reason my bags get checked frequently).
  • I have had my bag pulled frequently for electronics. I pull my laptop out, but sometimes also travel with a projector, video camera, regular camera, and microphone all in one bag. I talked to a TSA agent about this once and he recommended taking the projector out of the bag for security. Since I started doing this, my bag hasn't been pulled for this reason.
  • My security line tips? Put your laptop in a plastic bag so it doesn't go in the bins where everyone's shoes ride (gross!). Make sure you aren't taking liquids through and of course put any you have in the little quart zip-locks. Don't forget to take them out of your bag--they'll pull the bag if you don't. I saw a guy recently with surgical shoe covers over his socks in the TSA line. I completely sympathized with him. I do make sure I have a pair of footie socks if I am wearing sandals. I don't want to walk where millions of people have walked before me in bare feet. Call me freakish, but it doesn't seem healthy.
  • And TSA Pre-Check is an option. Before you all tell me to get it, I know, I know, I should get it. Though yesterday the lines were longer in Pre-check than the regular side. My excuse is the time it would take me to go to DIA and get signed up (a whole day). One day I will. I don't think pre-check will help with any of the above-sited problems. They'll still pull my bag.

Knitting:

Those of us who rely on knitting to calm our nervous systems when we're in close quarters for hours on end, are very concerned about this.

I have never had my bag pulled for knitting. I have heard stories about this happening, but TSA says you can bring knitting on the plane. I do always use circular needles which are much shorter than standard straight needles and are perhaps deemed less dangerous. I think knitting is always a gamble, but on long flights it is necessary. 

A word about scissors:

When stuck in airports for days at a time, not having scissors is one of my biggest frustrations. In my regular life I always have a tiny pocket knife with scissors with me (yes, I've lost a few of those when I forgot to put them in my checked luggage--TSA always finds them). So how do you cut your yarn when you're in the airport? Those little rotary cutters are apparently illegal. I did finally find a pair of scissors that is made entirely of metal and folds up. I was in Asheville, N.C. and there was a Michaels right by the airport. I ran in in the hopes of finding something TSA approved and Fiskars came through for me. Thus far I have remembered to fold them and have made it through security 7 times with them in my carry-on. They have been worth the $7 I paid for them.

It is almost impossible to do any weaving in the airport without scissors of some kind. Knitting yarn you can usually break, but the weaving yarns I don't want to stretch and I'm using a lot of short pieces. Problem solved for now. Eventually, someone will confiscate them and I'll buy another pair. I anticipate this happening the day I forget to fold them up before going through security.

Mirrix tips for travel:

Mirrix Lani loom to the left with wooden clips turned in line with the loom. This is safer for the clips.

  • I have had two Mirrix looms break in checked luggage. The weak point is the front of the wooden clips (if you have plastic clips you're home free). If you pack the loom warped WITH the heddles on, the shedding bar can sustain some rotational forces which will pop the front of that wooden clip apart. (If that happens, you can get a new clip from Mirrix, but I have successfully glued both of mine.) So pack your Mirrix without the shedding bar attached. You can add the heddles again at your destination. I remove the shedding device any time the loom is going in luggage as the extra time to put the heddles back on is worth it so my equipment doesn't break.
  • An alternative might be to just take the shedding bar out of the clips and rest it on the loom, heddles still attached. Just pack carefully around it to keep the warp from getting distorted by the unsupported bar.
  • The newer Mirrix looms have a feature where the wooden clips can easily rotate so they are in line with the rest of the loom. The little plastic knobs that tighten the clips turn sideways so that you can turn the clips even if the loom is warped the full width.
  • Carry your loom in two pieces. I most often do this. An un-warped loom takes up far less room in your bag. The down-side is you have to make time to warp it at your destination. If you're going to a conference, have a warping party with other people in your class the night you arrive... though libations while warping might make your results less than accurate.
  • The largest Mirrix loom I can get in a suitcase is the 16-inch Big Sister. I have a 22-inch loom that I have tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to fit in my biggest bag. It doesn't fit even taken apart into two pieces. I believe you can take a Mirrix completely apart into component parts, but I don't recommend doing that for travel unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Mirrix looms are fantastic for workshops. I recommend a 12-inch Little Guy or a 16-inch Big Sister as your workshop loom. I prefer the Big Sister because the distance between the shedding device and the fell line is bigger and the tension on the warp is more even when the shedding device is engaged. But the Little Guy definitely fits into a suitcase better. I often add 6 inch warp extenders to my Little Guy and am perfectly happy with it. If you're doing a class on small format work and working at less than 5 inches wide, the 8-inch Lani loom is adorable and works very well for tiny things.

This is a 12-inch Little Guy Mirrix pulled into two pieces. Notice the clips are turned sideways. The other half was in some other part of the bag. I like to pack the looms with yarn whenever possible. You can see a warp extender peeking out below the loom.

This is the weak point of the wooden clips. This is an older clip and I think the newer ones have a little more wood up front. If you have a newer loom you may never have this problem. If it does break, some superglue works quite well.

Does anyone have travel experience in other parts of the world with security and looms or weaving equipment? Please share in the comments!