Knitting needles are simple tools. They’re basically a long shaft with a point at one end. And double-pointed needles (DPNs) have, as the name suggests, a point at each end. The circumference of the needle shaft determines the size of each stitch. The shape of the tip determines the ease with which you can manipulate your stitches. And the shaft material determines how the yarn will slide and how the needle will feel in your hand.
And yet, as is the case with most tools, something this extremely simple can also be extremely sophisticated. The Signature Needle Arts needles are a perfect example. These needles are made in Wisconsin by a high-precision custom metal component manufacturer. The company also makes things like surgical tool components and implants, hydraulic valves, and crime analysis equipment—things for which absolute precision and accuracy really could be a matter of life and death.
Cathryn Bothe, the company’s current owner and granddaughter of the founder, happens to be an avid knitter. Frustrated by the tips on some knitting needles she was using a few years ago, she realized she had all the skills, material, and equipment at her disposal to make her own knitting needles. So she did—and she was so enchanted by the results that she decided to start manufacturing and marketing these needles on a wider scale. Thus was born Signature Needle Arts.
The company’s first product was single-pointed straight knitting needles, which I reviewed in April 2008. Soon afterwards they began work on a DPN option, which I’m reviewing today.
The Signature Tip
Some needles are notoriously pointy, while others can have a more blunt tip—and not all types of tips can be found in all types of needle materials. Here’s where the Signature Needle Arts needles offer something different: you can choose what kind of tip you want your needles to have.
Like them nice and pointy? You’ve got two options: Middy, which has a relatively short taper and sharp tip; or Stiletto, which has a longer taper and equally sharp tip. Not so fond of hypodermic knitting needles? Then go for Blunt. It’s, well, blunt.
That’s how the standard Signature single-pointed straight needles work. But the DPNs are a little different. For starters, there is currently no Middy tip option—only Stiletto. And Blunt, sort of.
The 5″, 6″ and 8″ needles are only available with Stiletto tips. But the 4″ needles have been created with a Stiletto tip on one end and a Blunt tip on the other. I assumed this was for creative reasons, so you could choose the type of tip best suited to your project. But no, this was actually done because the super-short 4″ needles tend to poke into the palm of your hand as you hold them. This could quickly prove bothersome (if not downright injurious) to the knitter, so they put a blunt tip on the other side of the needle. (I should note that this only works if you notice the different tips, which I didn’t at first, and if you remember always to work with the extra-pointy end.)
Just like the single-pointed straights, the DPN tips have a shiny silver-colored finish, while the shaft comes in different colors depending on the needle size. But don’t be fooled like I was initially—there is absolutely no join between tip and shaft. These needles are made from one solid piece of aluminum. This means your knitting slides effortlessly from tip to shaft to tip and back off again.
Ribbed for Her Pleasure
Speaking of sliding, the DPNs have been given a slightly different surface treatment than the super-slick, single-pointed straight needles. Instead, the DPNs have a microscopic ribbed patterning along the needle shaft. You can only feel it if you run your fingernail along the surface, close your eyes, and concentrate really hard—it is not at all distracting.
The added texture on the needle serves a very clear and necessary purpose: It holds the yarn in place so that your needles don’t slide out as you work. There’s a perfect science to making DPNs slippery enough for speedy knitting, but not so slippery that they routinely fall out of your knitting. This texturing achieves that balance perfectly without intruding upon your knitting experience.
Useful Tool or Luxury Toy?
Signature DPNs have been called the Ferrari of knitting needles. Both items are considered high-end, high-precision toys that deliver an enhanced experience to a passionate user base.
One just happens to cost $300,000, require frequent oil changes and new tires and insurance and repair of all its tiny moving parts, and depreciate by about $3.77 for each mile you drive. The Signature DPNs cost $47 for a set of 4, or $57 for a set of 5. (Prices updated in 2016.) They require no maintenance or insurance, have no fragile moving parts, and will last forever.
But here’s what gets me: The same people who dream of owning a Ferrari (or perhaps pricey golf gadgets, special fishing lure, or designer Tango shoes) may likely scoff at the notion of spending $47 on something as plebeian as knitting needles. But our passion is just as worthy as theirs, and our investment is actually a much more sound one. These needles will never wear out.
Justifying the Price
Here’s how Signature Needle Arts explains its higher-than-average prices on its Web site: “Each needle is constructed from aircraft quality aluminum and each point is precision turned and hand polished allowing stitches to glide effortlessly. Our needles are made 100% in the United States and meet all state and federal environmental regulations. Our commitment to having the product made here in the United States ensures you will receive a safe high quality product. It also eliminates the concern of lead poisoning and improper waste disposal. We are also concerned with the treatment of workers in foreign factories.” I don’t know a knitter who’d argue for more lead in his or her needles.
It’s up to You
And yet, at a time of public outrage over excess—with AIG execs being surrounded by angry mobs and and ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff facing a potential 140-year prison sentence—I understand that it may seem inappropriate if not downright obscene to talk about a pair of DPNs that cost $47, when you could make do just fine with that set of Boye or Knit Picks DPNs for about three bucks.
I don’t have an answer here except that these tools are special, an exception to the everyday, an enduring validation of your passion, made with quality materials and a concern for both the environment and welfare of workers. In Real World numbers, the cost of these needles averages out to approximately 15 lattes, 23 gallons of unleaded gas, or 106 yards of qiviut.
From a physical and technical standpoint, these are very good tools. Not only are they perhaps the most accurately sized needles on the market, but they feel good in your hands and they perform their task with smoothness, grace, and efficiency. Getting a set of these needles is, as wrote Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, “like a car person getting a Ferrari, or a cook investing in a set of Henckels knives.” She also noted, “When I’m knitting with these, I feel like I’m taking what I do seriously, and I can’t say enough about the vibe.” Exactly.
Are you any less of a knitter if you can’t afford these needles? Nope. Are you any more of a knitter if you can? Again, nope. And what if you simply don’t like them? That’s fine too. These are a luxury that, depending on your fiscal philosophy and knitting tastes, are either appropriate or not. I’m a fan of trial runs before passing judgment, so I encourage you to try a pair for yourself. See if anybody at your knitting group has a pair, or seek out the Signature folks at the next Stitches show.
And yes, you are worth it.
Signature Needle Arts
Needles marked in US and mm sizes.
US 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
2mm, 2.25mm, 2.75mm, 3.25mm, 3.5mm, 3.75mm, 4mm
(each size has a different color)
Tip style also marked on needle
Lengths 4″, 5″, 6″, and 8″—note that not all lengths are available in all needle sizes.
Average retail price
Set of 4 $47
Set of 5 $57
Single needle $11.75
Where to buy online
Signature Needle Arts
Source of review needles
Signature Needle Arts