Holiday travel season is coming up fast, and you might be thinking about how to pack a sewing machine for a flight. Let’s chat about the right way to pack sewing stuff for a flight, including sewing machine travel bag options, portable sewing machines, sewing tools and notions, and more.
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Holiday travel season is coming up fast, and you might be thinking about how to pack a sewing machine for a flight.

If you’re going to be out of town for a while and will have blocks of unstructured time, why not bring along your sewing machine?

The question becomes, “How do I pack a sewing machine for a flight to make sure it gets to my destination unharmed and unconfiscated?”

Let’s chat about the right way to pack sewing stuff for a flight, including sewing machine travel bag options, portable sewing machines, sewing tools and notions, and more.

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Guidelines for How to Pack a Sewing Machine for a Flight

I flipped on my journalist switch (I have a journalism B.A., dontcha know), and researched the best tips for flying with a sewing machine.

1.) Go Naked

It’s important to limit the sewing machine attachments and whatnot that can shift near your sewing machine or get lost in transit. Plus, it’s good to reduce weight at every opportunity when you’re traveling.

Strip away as much stuff from your machine as you can:

  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Bobbin
  • Presser foot (and presser foot holder, if you please)
  • All the goodies in your accessory compartment: spool caps, extra bobbins, extra needles, extra presser feet, screwdriver, tiny lint brush, etc.
  • Foot pedal/controller
  • Power cord

Then immediately — so you don’t forget! —  after you’ve undressed your sewing machine, put all these items in a box or bag and pack the bag in another part of your luggage.

You don’t want to arrive at your destination without the accessories/attachments/parts that make sewing possible.

2.) Waterproof Your Sewing Machine

Wrap your sewing machine in plastic shopping bags. You’ll probably need 2-3 bags for full coverage.

Should the bag or box carrying your machine run into a liquid accident, these bags will more than likely provide adequate protection.

Keeping water/liquids away from your machine is especially important if it’s computerized!

This may feel like overkill, but better safe than sorry, and it’s an easy precaution to execute.

3.) Use Original Packaging

Use the original box your machine came in. The packing materials included styrofoam molded for your machine to keep it from moving in the box.

If you travel with the original box, bring extra tape with you to the airport. There’s a good chance that security will want to look in the box, so you’ll have to cut any tape you’ve so carefully applied. (Or, you could wait until you’re through security to tape the box.)

If you don’t use the original box, pack the sewing machine as tightly as possible. Pad it all around with towels, fabric, etc. so that it can’t shift even if your bag is handled roughly.

Also, if you don’t have the original box, you might want to consider a sewing machine travel bag, which we’ll get to in a few minutes. HOLD TIGHT.

Carry-On or Checked Baggage for Sewing Machines: Which is Better?

Sewing machines can be placed in carry-on or checked bags.

According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), if you’re looking to carry on a sewing machine, “you should check with the airline to ensure that the item will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat of the airplane.”

I’m pretty confident my domestic sewing machine would fit in the overhead, but I don’t think it would fit under a seat.

If I had to pick, I would always choose carry-on for a sewing machine. It’s a special and expensive piece of equipment, and I wouldn’t want it yeeted as a piece of checked baggage or lost. (Ugh, I feel sick even writing that!)

What’s more, waiting for checked bags is the worst (my VERY strong opinion), and you often have to pay for checked baggage.

But, there’s always a chance that you’ll have to check your sewing machine carry-on for whatever reason — full flight, luggage dimensions are too large, etc. Flying can be unpredictable.

Because of this, you should be prepared to check your sewing machine at the last minute. Pack accordingly.

Research your airline (and aircraft, if possible, so you know cabin interior dimensions) for how to pack a sewing machine for a flight.

Can You Ship a Sewing Machine to Your Destination?

These days, you can pretty much ship anything to anyone, from anywhere to anywhere.

But, I don’t think it’s a great idea to ship your sewing machine (if you don’t have to) for three reasons.

1.) Packaging

If you don’t have the sewing machine’s original packing, with the molded styrofoam to keep your machine from bouncing around in the box, it’s going to bounce around in the box (unless you have a travel case; again, more on that later).

Think about how tightly the styrofoam and machine were packed in the box when you opened it! That’s the shipping goal; any other shipping configuration is a risk.

2.) Hassle

Here’s how I envision the process of shipping a sewing machine:

First, you research online which shipping company (U.S.P.S., FedEx, UPS, etc.) has the best options for you.

Second, you pack the machine yourself or drag it to a shipping center for packaging.

Third, you send it, which means taking your machine to a shipping center (if you packed it yourself) or scheduling a pickup.

Finally, you have to reclaim your machine when you get to your destination, which may involve coordinating with a hotel or host (who might not be keen on this plan in the first place) or going to a pickup location.

All the while it’s in transit, you’re worrying about possible damage or the machine getting lost in the mail.

Doesn’t all this seem like trouble you don’t want in your life, especially when you’re already planning other vacation details?

And then you have to ship it back!

3.) Cost

Let’s say I wanted to ship my sewing machine, a Baby Lock Elizabeth, via UPS from my home in the Milwaukee suburbs, Wisconsin, U.S.A., to my friends’ home Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A., around Christmas time.

  • I’m using the original box for my machine and dropping it at the shipping center.
  • The machine is 23 pounds (we’ll round up to 25 pounds for the whole package).
  • The box is approximately 20-by-9-by-13 inches.
  • The machine’s declared value is $500.
  • The shipment date is December 16. (This is as far out as UPS would let me schedule a shipment. After that, I suspect shipping costs will go up and fluctuate because of the holidays.)

Here is the lowest estimated cost, calculated online in October 2022:

  • Service: UPS Ground
  • Delivered: End of day December 21 (not guaranteed)
  • Cost: $45.75

If I wanted my machine one day earlier (EOD December 20, not guaranteed), the lowest-cost option is $137.36.

The lowest-cost, guaranteed-delivery-time service is $268.11. That would reunite me with my machine by EOD December 19.

Keep in mind that these costs are one way. There’s still the cost of shipping the machine home.

As much as I love to sew, I could take a sewing break for those prices. YIKES.

Can I Bring Sewing Scissors on a Plane? Questions About Carry-On Items

When you pack a sewing machine for a flight, you’re probably packing sewing supplies for your project(s) at the same time.

TSA has lots of rules about what air passengers may carry on and what they must check.

Here’s what you need to know as a sewist regarding tools and whatnot.

Scissors

  • Carry-on bags: Yes. Must be less than 4 inches from the pivot point.
  • Checked bags: Yes. As with all sharp items, make sure the scissors are sheathed or wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers.

Tweezers

  • Carry-on bags: Yes.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

(Straight) Pins

  • Carry-on bags: Yes.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Needles

  • Carry-on bags: Yes.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Rotary Cutter

  • Carry-on bags. No. According to the TSA site, “Circular thread cutters or any other cutter or needlepoint tools that contain blades must be placed in checked baggage.”
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Awl

  • Carry-on bags: No. The best equivalents I found for this answer were an ice pick and darts.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Safety Pins

  • Carry-on bags: Yes.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Seam Ripper

  • Carry-on bags: No. This is unclear, because seam rippers are not specifically called out by TSA. But, razor-type blades and knives cannot be carried on.
  • Checked bags: Yes.

Should you have additional questions about TSA regulations, you can hit them up via social media on Facebook and Twitter.

P.S. Check out my packing list from Camp Workroom Social, a sleepaway sewing camp where I worked on multiple projects, if you’d like ideas about what tools to bring on a vacation sewing adventure.


RELATED: Favorite Sewing Supplies: An Epic List from an Advanced Sewist


Sewing Machine Travel Bag Features

Not everyone has saved their sewing machine’s original box (maybe you bought it without the box), nor is everyone keen on dragging a cardboard box through an airport.

The next best thing to the original box is a sewing machine travel bag.

A sewing machine travel bag is a piece of luggage specifically designed to transport a sewing machine. Let’s get into common travel bag features (in no particular order).

Interior and Exterior Straps

Interior straps lock the sewing machine in place inside the bag so it doesn’t shift. Exterior straps tie down stackable items.

Frame

Options include steel and fiberglass.

Loading

Travel cases can be loaded from a front opening or a top opening; some cases have front AND top openings for loading a sewing machine.

Collapsible

Some bags collapse when not in use to save space.

Pockets

Interior (mesh) and exterior pockets hold tools and projects. Pay attention to how the pockets close (zipper, flap, etc.)

Travel Bag Exterior

Fabric options include ballistic nylon, soft chenille, durable PVC polyester, and canvas. There are hard-shell cases, too.

Padded Straps

Padded straps are especially important for bags without wheels.

Wheels

Consider the number of casters and what they’re made of (plastic, metal, rubber, etc.). Do they have ball bearings? Can the sewing bag move 360 degrees?

Handles and Straps

If the machine case rolls, do you pull it with a retractable/telescopic handle or wagon-style puller handle? Are there additional exterior handles and straps? How long are they?

Size and Weight

When you’re traveling, you want the lightest and sturdiest luggage possible. I think it’s better to choose a bag that’s a tight fit vs. generous fit.

Coordination

Some higher-end sewing luggage pieces have smaller coordinating bags for accessories, projects, and tools.

Warranty, Returns, and Repairs

Higher-end luggage for sewing machines may have great customer care.

Travel Sewing Machine Case Options

To give you a taste of what’s out there in terms of sewing machine cases, check out these offerings.

(Along with holiday travel comes holiday gifts… I’m asking for a travel case this year!)

Do you wonder how to pack a sewing machine for a flight? A sewing machine travel bag, such as this La Canilla sewing machine case on wheels, could be a good solution to your travel challenge.

La Canilla Sewing Machine Case on Wheels with Detachable Trolley Base

This case, which comes in three colors, has more than 250 four-and-a-half-star reviews on Amazon.

This Bluefig sewing machine travel bag features ball-bearing wheels.

Bluefig Designer Series 23-Inch Wheeled Travel Bag – Songbird

The Bluefig bag features a steel frame, ball-bearing wheels, and a tapestry fabric exterior with a sweet birdie embellishment.

A Tutto sewing machine travel bag would make a terrific high-end gift for your favorite sewist.

Tutto 20-Inch Medium Machine on Wheels

The Tutto travel case features exterior tie-down straps, front- and side-loading capabilities, and dimensions that allow it to fit into most airplane overhead bins. (Psst… if you want a *nice* travel bag, this is the brand.)

When thinking about how to pack a sewing machine for a flight, consider a this small-ish canvas bag from Singer if you have a small-ish sewing machine.

Singer 617 Soft Carrying Case

This petite canvas carrying case features an exterior pocket and plastic feet on its posterior to give it a robust base.

What to Look for in a Portable Sewing Machine

Maybe, after you take a hard look at your everyday machine, you decide that a smaller portable sewing machine would make more sense for traveling.

Here’s how I would evaluate which small sewing machine to buy.

Cost

Price would be my first filter. I would not buy a new sewing machine for less than $100. Cheap sewing machines are cheap for a reason! For a basic secondary machine, I would aim for $100-$250.

Size and Weight

Obviously I would want something smaller than my current machine, which is 23 pounds and about 20-by-9-by-13 inches. To give you context, the lowest-end Baby Lock machine, the Zest, is 13 pounds and 15.5-by-5.75-by-12.5 inches.

Features

More than likely, a non-computerized machine will be less expensive than a computerized machine. I would want something whose needle moves left and right. A locking reverse/reinforcement stitch is important, too, and of course a straight stitch, zig-zag stitch, and blind hem stitch.

TBH I wouldn’t expect a lower-grade machine to handle heavy fabrics, lots of layers, knits, and buttonholes as well as my higher-grade machine. I would choose my traveling sewing projects accordingly.

In other words, I probably wouldn’t bring a project that required wool coating, 12-ounce bull denim, or silk jersey.


RELATED: What Does Weight of Fabric Mean?


Service

I would not buy a sewing machine brand that I couldn’t easily get serviced in my city. Even a lil’ traveling machine needs TLC now and then, and I would hate to have to drive a bunch — or send it away!

Portable Sewing Machine Choices

Here are small sewing machine offerings for you to peruse. With hope these suggestions get the wheels turning about what YOU value most in a small-scale machine.

This is Baby Lock's lowest-end machine, the Zest. The small sewing machine weighs 13 pounds.

Baby Lock Zest

I’m a Baby Lock woman — I have a Baby Lock sewing machine and serger (Imagine) — and I’m very happy with the brand. Definitely would not hesitate to buy Baby Lock again. 13 pounds and 15.5-by-5.75-by-12.5 inches.

Janome's offering for a portable sewing machine includes the 2222.

Janome 2222

I sewed on a Janome machine at Camp Workroom Social and was pleased (it wasn’t this model, FYI). The 2222 has an extra-high presser foot lift, which is extremely helpful when positioning fabric under the presser foot. 13.2 pounds and 15.2-by-6-by-11.6 inches.

The Brother JX3135F small sewing machine has changeable face plates to change up its look in a flash.

Brother JX3135F

This itty-bitty machine has three colorful face plates that you can change up when the mood strikes. The machine boasts a jam-resistant bobbin. 12.125 pounds and 15-by-6-by-11.75 inches.

I cannot believe the Brother CS5055 is only 10.5 pounds. Perfectly portable for your next sewing adventure that requires a flight.

Brother CS5055

Somehow this computerized sewing machine is only 10.5 pounds! It offers 60 stitches and LED illumination. 16.26-by-6.65-by-12.2 inches.

Final Thoughts About How to Pack a Sewing Machine for a Flight

I hope you have more confidence about packing your sewing machine and taking to the skies. It absolutely can be done, and done smoothly, if you’ve done your research and prepared with the right packaging, luggage, machine, and tools.