To save time, take the time to yadda, yadda, yadda

A product review I read in the most recent issue of INKnitters (the Fall 2005 issue — the website’s a bit out of date) sparked a vague memory.

The product in question was Knit Stix: straight knitting needles in colourful shades of anodized aluminum with 12 inches’ worth of ruler markings. The product review gushed about its why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-ness, but I thought, yes, it’s a good idea (although I probably wouldn’t avail myself of their benefits because I’m strictly a circular needle type, with the odd recourse to double points), but haven’t I seen that before? (Not in Kim’s recollection of photographs of striped DPNs circa WWII, but rather in one of my patent forages.)

And indeed, I had…


U.S. Patent No. 2,748,582, patented in 1956, entitled “Calibrated Knitting Needle.” Now that you’ve seen those drawings, there really isn’t much else to explain. And if it wasn’t obvious from the year, that patent has long since expired; it would have expired in 1973.

The patent described more features than merely a needle with inch rules. The markings could also be calibrated to match a particular yarn thickness, so that the knitter could tell at a glance how many stitches were on the needle (those finer markings in the drawings aren’t for millimetres, they’re for stitch counts). Also, the head, or whatever you prefer to call the stopper at the end opposite the point, and the needle body could be engaged by threaded means, so that you could unscrew the head and slip the stitches off the needle at that end, or even screw on an extension to make a longer needle. The screw threads are illustrated in Figure 2.

I don’t recall ever hearing of anyone owning such a needle in their vintage collection, so I don’t know if it was ever produced. Perhaps the markings wore off the old ones. Or if they didn’t wear off, perhaps the raised or engraved numbers and ridges made for dissatisfied customers. But with modern manufacturing methods, perhaps the markings can now endure the constant friction of knitting without rubbing off, and don’t annoy by catching fingertips or yarn, so the market is ripe for Knit Stix knitting needles. And fifty years from now, these needles will be on eBay when our children and grandchildren find themselves saddled with a moth-ridden bequest.

I’m happy for the women behind Knit Stix. They had a concept. They ran with it. They found a manufacturer, and they’re now selling their product. Lots of individuals have ideas, and they even consult patent attorneys about them, but only a small fraction of them manage to get past the concept stage because it doesn’t just take money, it takes time and courage for an individual to develop and sell a product they believe in.

But something is bothering me, as it always does. Not the fact that this isn’t a “new” product; as I just said above, it might only be recently that needles could be produced with indestructible yet imperceptible (to the touch) markings. In the meantime, someone without knowledge of Thomas Hadler’s invention developed the same idea, and now the needles can become a commercial success.

It’s not the fact that the Knit Stix website has a subtle little “patent pending” in the banner title. (That’s assuming that the pending trademark application for “Knit Stix” hasn’t been mistakenly described as a patent application; I believe that the businesspeople behind Knit Stix know the difference. That’s also assuming that the patent referred to isn’t a design patent, which covers unique ornamental features.) It’s not unheard of for an inventor to file a patent application, even knowing that the chances of obtaining a patent are slim; saying that you have a pending patent application lends a certain cachet in some customers’ eyes, and bargaining power with investors or buyers. Many inventors also file utility patent applications not even knowing what the likelihood of patentability is at all, because they’d rather spend their money on filing the application than on searching the prior art; or because the best protection available prior to a public inventor’s exhibition is to either have a patent in hand, or to at least have filed the application. And furthermore, for all I know the Knit Stix patent application claims exclusivity over some other aspect that isn’t readily apparent from their product description, although I can’t imagine what that could be — the printing method?

It’s not the fact that INPEX, the company that ran one of the trade shows at which Knit Stix were exhibited, stated in a press release that the product was “patented. ” Technically, it was patented once, just by someone else. And while it’s an offence to mark or advertise something as patented when it really isn’t in order to deceive the public, well, if anyone actually did that, INPEX did.

What bothers me is something that I, as a gauge preacher, cannot allow to pass without warning.

Don’t let your Knit Stix knitting needles lull you into a false sense of security about your swatching. You won’t get an accurate measure of a gauge swatch while it’s still on the needles. Measure your swatches off the needles, after laundering and blocking, or suffer the consequences you so richly deserve.

Actually, that brings to mind something that has bothered me for as long as I’ve been aware of the concept of gauge: if row gauge changes after blocking, why do some people prefer patterns that instruct them to “knit until work is 14 inches from beginning” over “knit 84 rows”? If you hold up your measuring tape or Knit Stix needle to your knitting to measure it, you’re measuring the pre-blocked length which means you have to either mentally adjust the measured number, or physically stretch your knitting as you measure. Either alternative sounds more difficult than using a row counter.

In any event, you’ve been warned, so now I can live peaceably with these knitting needles.

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5 Responses to To save time, take the time to yadda, yadda, yadda

  1. Charlotte Q says:

    I used to have several sets of those old needles with inches marked on them. The measurements were still clearly evident. I gave them away because I never use straight needles.

    While there *may* be something new under the sun, these needles AREN’T IT. Been there, done that.

  2. Aleta Frost says:

    I would like the writer of the the Knit Stix tm to know that we have a Design Patent for the
    Knit Stix tm. Contact me and I will be more then willing to give you the details!
    As for the Utility Patent we very much expect it too. I don’t know where you dug up what you posted! As for INPEX they were right to post the “Patented” Thank you for your interest, it shows our “news” is getting out to the people.
    In everything in life there are the postive and the negitive. We have a good product and have worked hard to get it out to the knitters that like things to help them.

  3. j. says:

    Wait, I thought of another trick.

    If the sweater is too big for the person you made it for, deliver it to the recipient with a pound of fudge.

  4. JoVE says:

    Some of us just do not have the attention to finicky detail gene required to religiously wash and measure swatches (or even routinely knit swatches). We aren’t patent lawyers for the same reason. But we come up with strategies that work and are often capable of making sweaters that fit well. There is a certain amount of guesswork involved. And a willingness to rip and start again. We may also be more likely not to have a good system for organizing our stuff and thus can’t always find something to measure with even when we have the inclination. So knitting needles with measurements might be pretty useful.

    That’s why we like the patterns that say things like Knit for x inches as well. Even when we check our gauge we might play fast and loose with the row gauge in particular. Of course, I have at least one knitted top that I wish I had made a bit longer but I’m blaming that on not checking the pattern measurements against my real measurements.

  5. LaurieM says:

    Gauge is evil and haunts me mercilessly. I have almost as many tricks for avoiding it as I do rules for making it work. Such as:

    - knit the thing and see who it fits
    - knit for children and men since their styles aren’t as fitted as women’s
    - knit shawls, blankets and scarves
    - use ribbing or other streachy stitches where possible
    - delclare baggy things as loungewear
    - felt it to make it smaller
    - whack it to make it bigger

    That said, I have knit myself one sweater that fits perfectly. It required two gauge swatches, both washed. The pattern? Rogue. :-)