Perfect Plane Projects – Beading at 30,000 Feet

My hometown of Detroit is three time zones away and I’m often asked to do custom work or repairs while I’m home, so I fly pretty frequently with my beads. After six years of lugging my beads around through countless U.S. airports and security checkpoints, I have a pretty decent grasp by now on what you’re allowed to bring onboard with you as far as beading supplies go! I recently flew down to Fort Knox to meet up with my family for Easter, so I brought along my camera and some easy airplane beading projects. Hopefully this gives you travelling beaders some ideas on projects to bring on the plane with you this summer!

The Disclaimer:

The regulations quoted below are for U.S. domestic flights only. International flights may have stricter regulations, so check with your airline or your destination airport for additional policies. Security regulations have changed quite a bit over the years, but you can find up-to-date information regarding prohibited items on U.S. domestic flights by checking TSA’s website. As these regulations are subject to change, we unfortunately cannot guarantee that the information listed here will always remain completely current past the writing of this entry. We would recommend checking with TSA before choosing the tools and supplies that you will bring with you.

Choosing Your Tools and Supplies:

You can bring scissors with blades shorter than four inches in your carry-on, like our beading scissors and thread snips. Another great option for traveling beaders is our Needle Threader with Cutter. This compact cutter will cut FireLine and other beading threads with ease and won’t take up much space in your bag. I’ve brought my Thread Burner along in my carry-on before, but I would not recommend using it on an airplane due to the smoke it generates from the burning thread. If you need to transport your Thread Burner, remove the battery prior to packing so that it doesn’t accidentally get turned on in transit.

You can also bring pliers and tools seven inches or less in length in your carry-on, so if your project requires chain nose pliers, round nose pliers, wire cutters or a crimping tool, you should be perfectly fine to bring your tools aboard. Just make sure to measure your tools at home first to verify that they’re of the correct length before bringing them to the airport!

A bead board is an essential tool for the travelling beader! It will lay flat on your tray table and has several compartments for pouring beads out. Our Bead Board with Folder Organizer is a handy storage device to protect your bead board that can also store several tools inside. Flip top boxes are an excellent way of transporting your loose beads so you don’t misplace a stray bag of beads in transit. The storage case I brought with me has 24 flip top boxes inside, but we also carry 12 box and 36 box versions and individual flip top boxes without the storage case.

If you’re a seed beader, a Magnetized Needle Case is a must for bringing your needles with you! It not only stores your needles safely, but the magnet on the case is incredibly useful if you need to put your needle down. Take it from me: if you drop your needle on the plane, it’s gone. You can get on your hands and knees and look but you will never find it. Airplane carpet is the Bermuda Triangle of flooring surfaces. Stick your needle onto the magnet and breathe easy knowing that you won’t have to crawl around in the aisle!

I also brought along a tube of Hypo Cement for my projects, but I did not use it on board the airplane. The fumes can affect people with extreme chemical sensitivities, so as a courtesy to your fellow passengers, I would recommend waiting until you land and applying the adhesive in the terminal. I’ve never been asked to put my Hypo Cement in a plastic bag while going through the security checkpoint, but you may want to bring a bag just in case, especially if the cement has been removed from the box.

I also recommend packing your beading supplies (especially sharp objects) carefully in case a security officer will need to check your carry-on. No one wants to get jabbed in the hand by errant needles or sharp tools.

Choosing Your Project:

When flying, you’ll want to bring with you a project that isn’t too intensive. Choose a project that will be easy to put up fairly quickly if you need to stow your tray table, or that will be easy to pick up and move if you need to stand up for a moment.

Be realistic about the sense of space that you’ll have on the plane. You’re stuck in a giant winged hamster tube with a million other people and no worktables in sight. Unless you’re travelling with a large group and you’re all sitting together, you don’t know who your seat partner will be or how much room they’re going to take up. You might need a little extra room for your beading, but the mother with a newborn next to you or the guy who’s going to fall asleep on your shoulder for the entire flight may need extra room as well.

For my trip, I focused on beadweaving and took three projects with me: a wrapped cord bracelet, a Peyote Ruffle Bracelet kit and embellished ladder stitch earrings. Each of the projects required only a few supplies and are very easy to complete in an airplane’s limited space. Prior to arriving at the airport, I poured all my beads (including those from the kit) into the flip top boxes in my storage case for easy access.

Helpful Tips:

Stand up and stretch! It’s really easy to get all cramped up and hunched over while you’re beading on a plane, so be mindful about your body’s limits and give it a courtesy rest every so often.

If you are bringing along beads of similar colors, separate them out in advance before packing them up. The crystal mix that I used for my wrapped cord bracelet features both Khaki and Olivine, and those two colors look pretty much identical under airplane lighting. I separated out the Khaki bicones in advance and slipped a little reminder note into the flip top box with the color name so that I would pick the right beads for my color pattern.

If you bring a beadweaving project with you and will be choosing an aisle seat, make sure you think about which side of the airplane you sit on. I’m right-handed, so I choose aisle seats on the left side of the plane (facing forward). That way, when I’m pulling the needle through my piece, I can direct my arm towards the open aisle and not my neighbor’s face.

If you’re working on a wrapped cord bracelet, you can leave your clipboard at home and use a large binder clip to clip your bracelet onto the tab that holds your stowed tray table in place.

Don’t spill out too many beads at once. If you empty out your entire flip top box of seed beads, it will be very difficult to get them all cleaned up in a hurry if you hit turbulence and have to put your tray table up. Spill out a small amount, work with what you have, and pour a little more out when the first pile gets low.

If you need to take pictures of your projects, you may want to wait until you land. Lighting on the plane isn’t all that great for photography, and there can be a lot of glare. There was so much glare while I was taking these pictures that I had to literally climb on my seat for a decent shot while the extremely helpful and amused flight attendants held me steady. (For comparison purposes, this last picture of the finished pieces was taken in the terminal.)

Beading while travelling is a wonderful way to pass the time in the air, and you can even get a beautiful new piece to wear on your vacation out of it! Start beading on an airplane, and you are practically guaranteed to catch the attention of flight attendants and passengers wandering the aisles as well. People will stop to watch or ask a million questions, and even if you’re not thrilled about how your piece is turning out, the compliments from passersby will put a huge smile on your face!

Bon voyage and happy beading! –Gabby, the beader in Seat 32D

10 comments to Perfect Plane Projects – Beading at 30,000 Feet

  • i spent a wonderful week on a cruise a couple of years back and was so happy to be able to bring along some of my beads, a little bit of silver wire and a miniture set of tools. a cutter, round nose and flat nose pliars. i made sweet little blue and silver necklaces while soaking up the week in pure relaxation.

  • Briana

    Super helpful! More so even than the airlines themselves, frankly.

  • Suzanne

    I’m so happy I came across your article! I’ve never traveled on a plane with my Jewelry/Beading tools and have worried my mind into a frazzle trying to figure out how. Thanks for the Wonderful travel solutions as well as great product suggestions. Many happy travels :-)

  • Donna Geurin

    You are so organized and great article. I would like to mention that I flew to Disney World with my son in April and I checked the updated airline lists of what one can bring and cannot. Nothing flammable, which includes GS Hypo, E6000 and many more. When I ran across that I started checking all my adhesives and they say flammable. My son was attending a medical conference and I knew I had time to bead. So I was careful what I took in that respect. I put all mine in my checked luggage.

  • Linda German

    I have to say I agree with the previous posts, you really are well organized. I live in Canada, we have one more item that we cannot bring, small Swiss Army Knives. The have a blade under 2″ long, however Transport Canada will not allow them, or scissors on board as carry on luggage. They are essential for bead weaving, as cutting Fireline with your teeth does not make for nice clean ends, plus, it’s something your dentist would have a fit over. What I use now is an ordinary pair of nail clippers. Transport Canada will seize your Swiss Army Knife, if you pay a handling fee, plus postage, they will mail your seized item back to you! Otherwise, it joins several hundred more in a garbage can.
    Ps – It is almost cheaper to buy your husband another Swiss Army Knife, than it is to send your old one back in the mail! And, of course, he will have another little white plastic toothpick to lose! Win/win! Ask me how I know! Only took us a couple of lessons!

  • Ed

    Thank you a thousand times for this article. As a beader with toddlers, you can imagine the freedom of solo travel to bead without distraction. The advice on tools was very helpful. I did not want to have to chuck them at tsa. Brilliant!

  • Val

    I’ve taken my jewelry tools and some projects with me on the plane several times. Since I familiarized myself with TSA guidelines, I packed my small rounded edge scissors in my carryon, along with my pliers and nippers. The security official was so impressed with how well I’d followed TSA guidelines he came out from behind the x ray machine to shake my hand. I smiled, a bit confused.”You are the nicest passenger we’ve ever had,” he said. “You follow the rules, you smile and you don’t give us a hard time.” Then he leaned in close. “Could you make me a little something for my wife when you come back?” I designed her a lovely pair of cascading crystal earrings, which I promptly handed over to him when I returned home. He was delighted! I’ve had requests from flight attendants too, when they see me plugging away. Everybody wants a little bling!

  • It’s probably just me, but I think trying to bead on an airplane is asking for trouble. I picture a board full of beads suddenly going vertical during turbulence and then flying everywhere. I think I’ll stick to solid ground. :-)


    Hi Val! Oh my goodness yes! I take my beading/jewelry supplies on the plane with me too. TSA is prompt to ensure everything is up to par too. Grateful that your talent has brought joy to so many airline workers!


    Hi Janet! On a recent trip, using a mat with only a few beads on it at a time, was the best way to get around turbulence. Granted it may be a bit time consuming opening and closing the bag or tube so many times, but well worth keeping all your beads on the mat even when turbulence hits!

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