Signature Needle Arts Circular Needles
If Montblanc were to stop manufacturing fountain pens and turn its attention to knitting needles, I imagine the results would be similar to a set of Signature needles. Manufactured in Wisconsin, they have the heft and precision of a fine writing instrument or surgical tool (no surprise since the high-precision custom metal component manufacturer that makes Signature needles also makes things like surgical components and implants).
The first needles arrived in 2008. The single-pointed straight needles were unusual because they let you, the customer, choose what kind of finial and tip style you wanted. You could choose from "blunt," "middy," and my personal favorite, "stiletto." The next year, Signature expanded into the DPN market. At Sock Summit you couldn't swing a hank of Madelinetosh without hitting someone holding, or contemplating holding, a set of Signature DPNs.
And at the end of 2009, with half of her staff away on vacation, Signature Needle Arts owner (and avid knitter) Cathryn Bothe decided to release the first sizes of the circulars. The response was overwhelming, and she was swamped.
A Lesson Learned
Unfortunately, a few early customers reported problems with the joins. The needles were swiftly pulled off the market, and Signature spent the next several months fine-tuning the join further. In her blog, Cathryn openly admitted the problem: "What we didn't do at first—and this was complete hubris on our part—was to do enough testing."
In a guest-post her blog, Cathryn's husband Paul further compared join issues to a mattress. "If it is working properly and doing its job," he explained, "you might never notice it or think about it. However, when it is bad and giving you discomfort it seems to become the only thing you can think about and is a constant source of annoyance."
I didn't realize quite how annoying it was until I finally got my hands on a new batch at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and further tested a new set at home. I'd knit an entire lace shawl with the original circulars, adoring the perfectly precise stiletto tips but also grumbling with each row I nursed my stitches off the cable and onto the needle.
According to Paul, the difference between a bad and good join ended up being a matter of two ten-thousandths of an inch, or 1/15th of a human hair. The join on these new needles is absolutely snug, smooth, and seamless. It was a long journey, but they've nailed it.
To the Point
The needle shaft and tip are identical to the Signature single-pointed straights. You have the same smooth, seamless transition from shaft to tip, with a faintly seamed connection between the shaft and the end cap where the cord joins. There is no pause between the end cap and the cord—the transition is extremely smooth.
The cord itself is a smooth, milky-colored material of medium thickness and generous flexibility—though not so flexible that it lacks character. Likewise, the cord tends not to hold a grudge if kinked excessively.
Circular needles like to rotate in their sockets as you knit with them, and not all circulars allow you to do this. If the needles and cord can't rotate independently of one another and your cord is fully loaded with knitting, the weight of stitches can cause your cord to resist, making you work harder for each stitch. Fortunately, the Signature circular cables do rotate in their needle sockets.
Aside from the obvious, there is one big difference between Montblanc pens and Signature needles: packaging. Whereas the pen usually comes in a luxurious black velvet box, the Signature circular needles come tucked into piece of paperboard in self-sealing plastic bag.
Agreed, a $40 pair of needles is still a far cry from a $400 pen. And yes, most of us already have a case for our needles, making any special packaging wasteful. Addi Lace circular needles come in similar packaging. But those only cost $13.50 apiece, whereas Signature circulars retail for $40. This is a minor peeve in the grand scheme of things, but the Signature packaging simply doesn't convey that you're giving yourself a luxurious treat. Then again, the pleasure comes in the knitting, right?
Signature Needle Arts
Cord lengths: 20, 24, 32, 40, 47 inches or custom length for a $10 fee (available cord lengths vary depending on needle length)
Needle lengths: 4, 5, 6 inches
US: 5, 6, 7 (3.75, 4, 4.25mm)
(More sizes are to come.)
Tip style: middy or stiletto
Signature Needle Arts