A product review I read in the most recent issue of INKnitters (the Fall 2005 issue — the website’s a bit out of date) sparked a vague memory.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