The Knitter’s Guide to Mass-Transit Delays

With the increased popularity of knitting among urban residents, the sight of a knitter on a public bus, subway, or commuter train is a now a common occurrence. Knitters are uniquely prepared to deal with the headaches that come with commuting by means of public transportation, as they regularly practice an activity that is both enjoyable and stress-reducing. However, transit debacles like the recent MTA strikes in New York City and last week’s spectacular failures of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System can pose challenges to even the best-prepared knitter. Here are a few simple rules that will help turn your local mass-transit delay into the best knitting experience possible.

Only knit items that you can work on while standing.

Just how did those people get those seats? Never mind, because there’s no way you’re getting one, unless you’re elderly or disabled (and not even then, if you live in New York), so if you want to knit, you better be able to knit standing up. That means no sweaters, no blankets, and no scarves that are past the first two feet. Yes, it’s finally time to learn how to knit socks. Or take the opportunity to knit those . . .um, potholders you’ve always wanted to knit.

Use only circular needles.

In that shoulder-to-shoulder, sweat-soaked subway car that hasn’t moved in over thirty minutes, anything that unnecessarily touches anyone else is considered a capital offense. The rhythm of your straight needles might be relaxing and hypnotic to you, but they’re tapping that guy next to you on his elbow, and he doesn’t think they’re hypnotic or relaxing. He thinks they’re f%#*ing annoying. Double-pointed needles? Even worse. At least your straight needles have caps on the end. Besides, the more needles you’re holding, the more needles you have to lose when the doors of the train finally open and everyone behind you pushes forward all at the same time.

Learn the Magic Loop.

This isn’t that new light rail system you’ve been hearing about for years that was supposed to be completed sometime during the last decade and solve all of your city’s traffic problems. Nor is it the shiny monorail that only goes to “nice” places and is only used by tourists. The Magic Loop is a method for knitting in the round on only one circular needle. The socks in the picture to the right are being knit on the Magic Loop. The completed sock was knit almost entirely during commute hours, and the final three inches, including the toe, were knit during Wednesday’s BART metldown. It’s the best way to knit in a standing-room-only situation, and it’s the only way to knit socks. Learn it, use it, celebrate it. The Loop Rules.

Decide early whether you want to speak to anybody.

There are two kinds of delayed-commuter crowds; the friendly “we’re all in this together” type, and the “I’m going to kill the next person who breathes on me” variety. Your knitting is going to attract attention in both crowds, and you need to be prepared. Even if you’re lucky enough to be in the former kind (ie. you don’t live in New York), you still may not want anyone talking to you. If this is the case, then do not speak to anyone under any circumstances. Put on your sunglasses, put in those iPod earphones (actual iPod not required), because once you’ve started a conversation with that freak next to you who “always wanted to learn how to knit, but never had the patience,” and keeps asking you “whether it’s hard or not,” you are trapped. For. The. Duration. Of. The. Delay.

And if you’re in the other type of crowd? Read the first three rules again. Take them to heart. Break them, and neither you nor your knitting will survive the trip home. Assuming the train actually starts moving again.


  • Adam says:

    Man your blog post makes me wish that we had public transportation in Albuquerque. Right now, my commute to work is around 30 minutes, without considering traffic, and that’s all time that I sit in the car when I could be knitting. I mean, I suppose we don’t really deal with transit strikes or the like here in the desert, but it’d sure be nice not to have to drive all the time…

  • dan says:

    Excellent tips for mass transit knitting. My commute to work involves two buses, the first of which I am able to get a seat since it’s closer to the beginning of the route (but still only 30 minutes from downtown). I am finding more and more that I will have the seat next to me stay vacant up until all of the last seats are taken. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’m a male knitting; since I don’t make alarming noises, I shower daily, and am dressed in non-threatening office clothes (I even have my headphones on so there’s no worry of having to talk to that strange knitting guy). It sure as hell beats driving myself to work, though, and my sweater project (knitting the individual pieces on circulars) is getting to the point that I need to leave it at home and bring another smaller project.

  • Kevin says:

    Now that you have mastered the Magic Loop you need to try two socks at once on it! That way they are even. LOL

    I will be returning to DART (Dallas Area Rapid Tranist)this month due to the “right arm & left nut” price of gas these days.

    In the past I have done the small project for trip knitting. Brainless things like hats, wash cloths, socks, modular knit and have had great sucess with them. I also do the head phone thing with my MP3 player doing the knitting podcasts I download and of course at least a gig of music.


  • anne says:

    You make me envious . . . it’s all driving, all the time, out here in the sticks. I do knit at stop lights and in stopped traffic, and in the car line at school. Yesterday I seriously considered knitting while driving — heck, when the steering wheel is frozen I drive with my knees anyway, so my hands are free. But in a rare fit of sense, I decided not to.

  • Safranit says:

    Thanks for the tips…I just learned how to do DPNs so I’ve been doing that on the busses….very very stupid (almost lost a needle on the first day)

    Back to circs…although I think I like small circumference on DPNs better than magic loop…although it might just be that I don’t do the magic loop well!

    So far only one person made me crazy with questions…mostly because she is a knitter, and my style is very slow…”I knit much quicker than that” was the basic gist of her comment.


  • Sandy says:

    Love your post! I have been thinking about starting a project that I only work on in my car. While sitting at stoplights, waiting in parking lots for my kids to come out from school, etc…all that time I always either have to grab my bag of whaever is currently on my needles and run for the door. Usually I forget it and wind up sitting in the doc’s office with delays that make me fume unless I have something to work on, then I am usually sad they finally call our name! 🙂 Knitting is joy! Have a great day, Yarn boy!

  • Christine says:

    I just had to laugh! Last summer my Husband and I went to Chicago (first time for both of us) and of course, was told to expect lots of “free” time on the “L” …. so… I took my knitting. Oh no… Baaaaaaaaad Idea! You’re so right.

    We are going back to Chicago this summer for a wedding… I intend to bring, socks, just socks, only socks. My knitting and ipod will be the needed supplies for this trip.

    Thanks for the memories! haha.

  • john says:

    SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO funny. I can relate. You know, the whole NYC transit thing. Crochet is also good for the commute. One hook, one stitch, end of story. Go on, with your magic loop self!

  • Melissa says:

    Is there a link for magic loop instructions?

  • yarn boy says:

    Whoops! Sorry about that. The link for the the Magic Loop in the post has now been fixed (it was pointing to a New York Times article before), and is as follows:

    Sorry ’bout that!

  • Daniel says:

    True here in Seattle as well. 30 minutes each way of pure knitting time. I love my dpns, but have converted to mlp so I don’t have to worry about slipping stitches and they fit better in the bag. Now I just have to figure out an easier way to do cabling while commuting.

  • Angie Cox says:

    Thank goodness I don’t work..I love the idea of an i-pod earpiece but no actual pod to keep the weirdos talking to you ! I am trawling blogs today to try to forget the flu I have is making my ears explode .As long as my hands don’t …must try magic-loop.

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