The environmental choice

A machine shop in Wisconsin is retooling its business to include high-end aluminum knitting needles. The needles will feature polished steel caps (no circs then, I guess) and anodized finishes, and be made entirely in the U.S. with a price point that appears to be something like 3 or 4 times the typical cost for similar needles.

Reading between the lines, the cost of the product is the consequence of keeping the manufacturing in the U.S., rather than exporting the labour to another country where the cost is cheaper and environmental standards aren’t so strict:

As it turned out, the manufacturing process was the bigger challenge, even for the owner of a job shop.

For example, the jewel tones she wanted for the needles couldn’t be applied in Wisconsin, because the state’s environmental laws forbid it. So she found a shop just over the border in Illinois that could do it.

Oh. Uh… good for Illinois. I don’t know much about aluminum, and despite its accessibility I’m probably not trying it at home anytime soon. The Aluminum Anodizers Council states that anodizing is environmentally friendly, explaining that it is used on cookware. That’s not my definition of environmentally friendly, but then the Council’s FAQ goes on to say that it is not “difficult” for anodizers to comply with state and federal environmental regulations. Assuming this is the case, then either it’s about the waste from anodizing in colour, the Wisconsin source for anodizing doesn’t want to handle these orders for some reason, or it’s not difficult to comply with Illinois state requirements because they’re too lax. I have no idea.

I started out wondering about the competition in this market (both Boye and Knit Stix are definitely cheaper and are also coloured anodized aluminum, although it’s unclear to me where they’re made)… but then I looked at the photographs of the needles. Although I use circs nearly exclusively, I almost want a pair of the stiletto points to hurt people with. At that price point, though, I’d probably just spend more and get something forged just for me.

I think the opportunity for anodized aluminum knitting accessories is in needles coloured to match iPods. And in small, vaguely iPod-shaped cases for carrying coordinating stitch markers, yarn needles, and a little pair of snips.

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7 Responses to The environmental choice

  1. Janey says:

    Although I quite like the looks of the needles from Signature Needle Arts, I am quite leery about the words in its president’s blog.
    A different topic (canning of home-grown food) was used as an analogy to her invitation for knitters to showcase their efforts on the Signature Needle website.

    Background to what I am referring to:
    “I am reminded of my wonderful grandmother who would can hundreds of jars of food she had grown. When the jars were done they were placed on a clean towel on a small worktable in her kitchen to sit for a day or so before going into the cellar for winter storage.”

    But Cathy goes on to state:
    “I know now that she wanted to have some time to just look at the product of all her hard work.”

    Surely the reason was more prosaic than that?

    The day or two of sitting in the kitchen was to allow for the jars to seal … with a little “pop” when the tops bcame indented.
    Those jars that didn’t “pop”, would have to be thrown out – OR used right away – because they weren’t sealed in a sterile manner.

    It is merely an economy of effort: Her grandmother would not expend the energy to take the jars to the cellar before she knew they were properly sealed.


  2. jenn says:

    The problem is that the color can wear or scratch off pretty easily (at least for chain maile), so I would have a hard time spending a lot for needles that I don’t think are very earth friendly and are likely to scratch.

  3. Even anodized aluminum in cookware leaches a small amount of aluminum into foods, particularly acidic ones. While this amount is much smaller than the amount of aluminum in, say, an antacid or an aspirin, some studies show that alzheimer’s disease patients show a significant build-up of aluminum in their brains, and it’s not known whether or not things like aluminum pans make some small contribution to that. …Would this keep me from knitting with anodized aluminum needles? I doubt it, given that I’m not planning to eat them or stick them in my mouth, but I did want to point out that aluminum is not necessarily perfectly safe even if anodized.

    …As for environmental friendliness, aluminum can be recycled, but beyond that it’s a PITA from an environmental standpoint – once it’s in the environment it cannot be destroyed. If your needles make it into a landfill, the aluminum in them can dissolve in lakes, streams, and rivers, and can be taken up by some plants from soil.

    Bamboo is probably the only truly renewable needle material I know of. And as for the cables on circs? As far as I know they’re all pure petroleum product. Et tu, Addi?

  4. Hello–I am from Signature Needle Arts, the maker of the needles mentioned above and wanted to clarify a few things. First, thank you for mentioning the needles. The article ran before our site is complete (the paper wouldn’t wait)but we should be open June 21. If anyone wants to order they can call our toll free 888.656.1113 between 8 and 4 Central. I know that knitters are as passionate about their needles as they are about politics or religion and that metal needles might not appeal to all, but those of us who like them have never had a quality product available. We only could get the cheap ones in big box stores. Our new needles have the opportunity to be custom made–you pick the length, the point profile, and the decorative end cap.

    Wisconsin does allow for anodizing (coloring) but not the vibrant colors I wanted. IL, Michigan, and Minnesots do. All anodizers in the US have to be environmentally friendly with their products and wastes, but the folks in China have no such rules.

    The needles are all made right here in the US even though I could buy from China at a fraction of the cost. I know the machinists and their families and want them to have the “American Dream” available to them. The quality is beyond what is readily apparent in the newspaper pictures. Even the photographer from the paper said, ” I don’t know anything about knitting but these sure are beautiful.”

    I can tell you that of the polished tips has been inspected by me personally so I can be sure that each and every stitch will give you an “ahh” moment. The example I used in my test groups was to show a $3.50 K Mart ladle–plastic handle, riveted metal scoop and a $30 Williams-Sonoma ladle. They both get soup to the bowl but one makes you feel good about what you have made. My needles do the same.

    A couple of other things: the polished “silver” ends are great for showing up stitches on dark yarn and the Stiletto points are sure to save the frustration when working with fuzzy yarns. We have a 7″ needle which works well for small projects like scarves or baby things and are fabulous for knitting next to someone and not poking them.

    The Latin was not to annoy you but only to “hold the space” until the site is done. By the way– I learned about your blog entry from someone who said you are VERY influential in the knitting world. Cathy

  5. Kelly says:

    Not to mention that aluminum mining and manufacturing aren’t exactly environmentally friendly processes either. And let’s face it, neither metals nor plastics are great. Needles made out of recycled metals would be better, but most recycled metals get used in the construction industry, I believe. I think it behooves us as consumers to look at these issues and choose our products with care. Natural needles like bamboo or hardwood make some sense but again there are the environmental costs of shipping and hardwoods can deplete some of the forests (not that I think that knitting needles will do this by themselves but it does encourage use of exotics). The idea of only buying what I need is what I am trying to move toward. I have limited success (especially with my stash but I’m trying to move in that direction there too). These are difficult times – would that we could have a definitive calculator that tells each one of us what the best environmental choice for all of our purchases after we’ve determined that we truly need the object in question…

  6. j. says:

    Ha, ha. Hmm. I don’t think it was this Latin generator.

  7. Carol says:

    Did you know that if you go to the Signature Needle site and click on newsletter, the newsletter is all in Latin? (I think it’s Latin.) That was kind of a mind f*ck.