How to Travel with Your Sewing Machine
My family and I like to travel. We like to travel internationally. Well, when I say we like to travel, we like to visit places. We don't necessarily like the packing, getting on and off planes (especially with little people in tow) and jet leg. But we do like to go to a variety of places and see a variety of cultures and people groups.
One thing not conducive to traveling... quilting. I mean I guess it is technically if you really want to haul stuff around the globe. But when we travel we are there to sight see. I am not there to quilt. I am in the culture to find inspiration and enjoy the culture I am currently in. For this reason I do not take my sewing machine with me on most of my travels.
However, every time we go back to the United States (where I am from) I do take my sewing machines with me to be serviced and to be used while I am visiting. Usually our visits are for a couple months, this visit has been for two years (thanks Covid). Needless to say, I am so glad I brought my machines back with me this trip.
Traveling with my sewing machines is not exactly fun. We have four kids to begin with. So by nature we seem to travel with a ton of stuff including car seats and strollers. We usually get lots of stares in the airport and some unpleasant comments from strangers. So adding in two sewing machines isn't something I take lightly. First, let me tell you about my machines, that helps understand why I travel with them the way I do.
I have two Janome sewing machines. One is a Memory Craft Janome which is a larger, heavier machine from their professional series. It has a larger throat which is good for quilting. This machine was quite an investment for me. But I knew that I wouldn't be able to send my quilts out to be quilted when I lived overseas so I wanted a sturdy, high quality machine that would be good for quilting my own quilts. This machine is harder to travel with because of it's size.
My second machine is a small Janome. I have this one as a backup, for piecing and also in case I do want to take it with us on a trip. I have used it in a pinch for quilting and it does a great straight stitch. This machine is much easier to travel with because of it's size and weight. For this reason I carry it with me on the plane as a carry on.
The first time I traveled back to Asia with my small machine I bought a sewing machine travel case (see above) on Amazon that had wheels and an extendable handle to pull it along. All these features were important for me so that I could easily get it through the airport and into the over head compartments without any problems, while pushing a stroller and having a baby strapped to my front.
If you have a small sewing machine, I would suggest keeping it with you when you travel on an airplane. Here are a couple tips I've learned:
- Buy a travel sewing machine case with wheels (make sure it matches the carry on requirements for airlines).
- Do pack extra fabric, batting, rulers, clothes or padding around the machine so it doesn't move around.
- Do weight the bag before going to the airport to make sure it meets airline carry on weight requirements.
- Take out the sewing machine needle and any other sharp looking objects what could look dangerous, especially if traveling overseas where there could be a language barrier.
- Give yourself extra time going through security in case you need to fill out paperwork (which I have had to do) or talk to supervisors (which I have also had to do).
- Stay calm if security has issues with the sewing machine, but also firmly insist you are not leaving it behind.
- Pack needles, scissors and rotary cutters in checked baggage.
- Keep the machine with you at all times and place it vertical in the overhead bin above your seat.
So far I have not found a travel case I absolutely love for carrying the machine onto the airplane. I'll keep you posted if I do.
Traveling with my Memory Craft Janome is a whole different ball game folks. There is no way I can carry this machine on with me. And it makes me nervous every time I part with it at the airport. But the only way I get to travel with it is to check it as a bag. If you have the originally packaging from your sewing machine, packing it in this would be the most cost effective way for travel. However, my packing was pretty beat up. Plus, it is very frequent when our boxes finally make it all the way to our tiny city in India, they are only held together by the layers of plastic wrap and packing tape we wrapped them in. We have actually seen, at our baggage claim, squished boxes on the belt with loose items waiting for pickup. Yikes!
Anyway, enough horror stories. I did not want to mess around with my Memory Craft. I went to several shops that sell machines and cases asking if they had any suggestions and they showed me soft cases or really didn't have any good ideas. Enter the Pelican Box. My husband first told me about these boxes because he used them to keep his camera gear safe when traveling. These boxes are virtually indestructible. I measured my machine and invested in a Pelican Box (by the way, this is not an add, just what I do). A couple things about traveling with larger sewing machines:
- Pelican Cases (or similar brands) are not cheap, so it really is an investment in keeping your investment safe
- I do not carry mine on the plane with me. I check this machine as a bag and pay a baggage fee
- Pelican Cases come with tons of foam sheets to break apart and create the shapes you need to secure your machine so it doesn't move
- I have my kids put stickers and decorate the outside of my case so I can easily spot it on a conveyor belt and it is less likely to get lost
- Make sure that the box fits airplane checked bag requirements, especially weight
- Place a label with your information side the box and outside
- Ask the airline where to pick the case up, sometimes they put these boxes in a special pick up area
It does make me a bit nervous to check such a valuable item, especially when it is part of how I earn my income. But this is the safest way to get my machine across the world in one piece. So far I have traveled several times and my machine has been on a dozen airplanes in the Pelican Case and I have had no issues.
Since writing this post we have traveled back across the world. And my machine back all in one piece. It's not a great picture above, but this is what it looks like when I open my box. I wrap the machine in a thick plastic bag and tightly wedge it in between the foam inserts. I place the pedal and some fabric (the whole box must weigh 50 lbs. or below) in the middle.