Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Software for Knitters: Part I

Personal computers, dweeby and enormously expensive toys twenty years ago, are now, for better or worse, an intimate part of most of our lives. Their uses span a breathtaking (or alarming,depending on your point of view) range of applications. We all know about the Internet; word processing, photo editing, and Solitaire. But not much is written about personal computers and knitting. Here and there, you’ll see a review or comment about some program, but the information is generally cursory and mostly fairly dated. There are several spreadsheet templates for organizing yarn and projects floating about the Web, but aside from that, hard information is surprisingly sparse.

It follows, of course, that there’s a vacuum begging to be filled, and herewith I will endeavor to fill the void with information about knitting software and ancillary applications you might find useful and that I have actually used. This means that I won’t be doing more than mentioning programs I haven’t used, but I will give you a link, so you can go take a look yourself.

As background, let me just say that I have been reviewing personal computer software since 1981 and have written for more than a dozen computer mags. I am a contributing editor to several of them now. And my day job is a graphic designer, so I am no stranger to illustration, image editing, font creation, desktop publishing, and lunatic authors. I have written two books, both of which went into third printings. Gee, I sound pretty impressive on paper, don’t I?

Now that I have fully impressed both you and me with my credentials, let’s move on to the cool techie stuff. I want to talk in generalities first, and explain the types of knitting-oriented tasks you can do with you machine. Subsequent parts of this series will cover specific software in detail. Let’s take a look at the basic categories.


Spreadsheets and database programs are designed expressly for storing and organizing information and thus are useful for keeping (and sorting) lists of yarns, projects, books, patterns, photos, tips, and instructional material that invariably collects around every knitter.

Examples of these types of programs are Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, Knitable Desk, and SplashID.

Here’s a screen shot of the program I use for organization—Splash ID. (Note that you can click on the picture to see a useful image instead of the fuzzy thumbnails that Blogger creates.)

It’s actually supposed to be used to store passwords, but I don’t have much use for something like that. While I was reviewing the program for a magazine, of course I noticed that it was just the ticket for knitting organization. It's especially useful because it syncs to my PDA handheld and after several months of hard use, I would hate to be without it. I’ll talk more about this app in another installment. For now, just note how nicely the material is presented—stash at a glance!


These programs are useful for graphing designs—lace, colorwork, cables, and texture patterns. They fall into two main groups: font-based and graphic-based. You’ll see why I make that distinction in a second.

Excel can be considered a font-based program,. Charts are created by entering symbols via the keyboard. All fonts have the symbols / (decrease 2 right), \ (decrease 2 left), O (yarn over), - (purl), and | (knit).

With nothing more than Microsoft Office and a plain font, you can chart simple lace.

Here’s a little chart done entirely with symbols from the Wingdings font, which ships with just about every computer.

However, specialized applications are much more useful. They contain a variety of symbols for more complex maneuvers such as P3togb, cables, bobbles, and so on. I’ve designed two of them myself, and several more are available free on the Internet. I’ll talk about them in more detail later. For now, suffice it to say that with nothing more than
Microsoft Office and one of these exotic fonts, you can chart just about anything.

Here’s a rather more elaborate chart done with one of my fonts, called JKnit.

Graphic-based charting applications, such as Aran Paint, Stitch Painter, Stitch and Motif Maker, and Knit Visualizer, are designed specifically for knitters. The programs let you easily lay down yards of knits, purls, twists, and cables, and provide editing tools so you can flip, rotate, copy, and erase sections of the design. Knit Visualizer takes the concept one step further: It can translate written directions into a chart for you.

Here’s a screen capture of Knit Visualizer—handsome, isn’t it?

Garment Design

I admit that I haven’t followed a published pattern in a really, really long time. Like maybe 30 years. Sometime back then, I purchased a truly cool gadget called a Sweater Wheel. You dialed in your size, gauge, and style and this cardboard sweater slide rule would calculate all the bits and pieces for you. I never looked back. The Knitting Fool loves the Sweater Wheel too, and she sort of digitized it for the Web. This link will let you play with a virtual sweater wheel that will generate patterns for you. It’s free!

But, if you want more elaborate, customizable garment design software, you’ll have to buy a program like Knitware, Sweater Wizard, or the pricy DesignaKnit.

Sock knitters can also choose between the freebie on-line calculators like that from the Knitting Fiend (not to be confused with the Knitting Fool), and the slightly more customizable boughten software such as the Sock Wizard, and the Sole Solution.

Fortunately for you, lucky reader, I own a lot of the aforementioned software, and I’ll look at them in depth in subsequent postings.

Miscellaneous Software

This catch-all category includes image editors, drawing software, Adobe Acrobat, and programs that can be used on PDAs and other handhelds. I’ll discuss them in another installment. For now, suffice it to say that you probably own software that can be useful for knitting, but just never thought about them in that manner.

I hope to have the second installment—Charting Software— up next week sometime, so please come back and learn how you too, can produce handsome charts that will impress your friends, make your knitting life easier, bring world peace, and waste hours and hours of time because it's so much fun.


Anonymous said...

Oh, you are a GENIUS!! Thank you for sharing. x

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you for your review of the software. I'm really looking forward to your future posts. It's so nice when someone (you) has figured out how to do things and is willing to share with us less talented folk.

Lacefreak said...

Great information! Can't wait for second installment. Would like to chart a little lace so I could maybe design a shawl to post on my blog. If you have a favorite for this type of charting, please do tell!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your post, your information is priceless! We all know more or less what's out there. but in such precise specification-it's great to organize your knowledge and learn something new!

Nik said...

This information is so valuable (especially to me as I start designing) that I am going to add a permanent link to your site on my blog. You've done a great job collecting this information for us, and I'd just like to spread the word about this post.

Cindy G said...

Thanks for the shawl encouragement! I, too, really appreciate the software info. I'm especially looking forward to more about charting. Right now I'm using Stitch & Motif, but would love an in depth review of other options.