CHARTING SOFTWARE – GRAPHIC BUT NOT VIOLENT

Some people have sent in questions about how I am charting up the patterns I intend to use in the lacy scarf. In specific, they wanted to know if I am using one of the commercially available dedicated charting program.

I’ve tried demos for almost all of them. Alsoabout four years agoI broke down and bought Garment Styler Goldand Stitch Painter. I was sorely dissapointed in the usability of themodules and the quality of support available for both of those programs. Fewer than half of GS’s features worked and repeated requests for help were answered by "Sorry. It’s your machine and not our problem," in spite of the fact that I was able to replicate the failures on five more machines running an assortment of video cards and operating system versions. On top of that, Stitch Painter was primitive at best, and interfaced very poorly with the GS main program. Both may have gotten better since then, but I didn’t want to throw good money after bad.

Since2002 I’ve beenusing Sweater Wizardfor garment design assistancewith no problems. I didn’t get the companion Stitch and Motif Maker program.AlthoughI was a beta tester for the new version of SMM, andfound theprogramto beextremely handy,it’s not a major improvement over what I’m using now.What I really want is acombo program that truly integrates both garment design and motif design, producing shaped charts based on actual garment dimensions, or can superimpose garment outlines on a larger charted piece (like in Rowan and Jaeger magazines).

I’ve also fooled around with AranPaint. It’s a shareware program that produces custom graphs of texture patterns. The registered user version is the same as the demo, but restores the ability to print. AP does a nice job of charting simple cable and twisted-stitch texture pattern repeats. It’s able to produce a visual mock-up of what the design will look like, a chart with (more or less) standard symbols, and a prose printout of the directions. It’s biggest limitation is the small number of different symbols/stitches it can represent. AP can display/chartK, P, bobble, and 2 to 6 stitch cable crossings, not including most of the more eccentric ones (biggest lack – no YO). It also has a space limitation on the area. 50×50 stitches isbig enough for most people, but not big enough for many of the things I do. If an update of this one ever comes out and it includes more stitches, I’ll cheerfully pay for an upgrade.

My interim motif/stitch solution is to use Microsoft Visio Professionalas a stand-alone charting program. I regularly useit in my real-world work – answering Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for engineering and telecom companies.Visio isnot cheap. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone run out and buy a $400+ pro-grade drafting program just for graphing up knits when Stitch and Motif Maker can be had for less than a quarter of that. ButI couldn’t justify spending more on aboutique program (no matter how good) when the big boy could be tweaked to serve the same purpose.

I’ve concocted a series of stencils that contain all of the symbols I use, plus line and stitch numbers and 10×10 and 5×5 master grids. Each symbol is a small graphic unit, and all are predicated on little squares. I assemble my graphs square by square, building them like a little kid builds a wall of alphabet blocks by dragging over the symbols I need. Here’s a screen shot:

I used this to make all my graphs, including the extremely large one that accompanies the Raiisa lacy T on wiseNeedle. The screen shot shows just the basic knitting symbol shapes on the first stencil. Additional shapes are available on the cables and increases/decreases stencils (seen at the bottom of the green column). I built each shape myself, using plain oldsquares and rectanglesand the standard Arial font. While I haven’t incorporated any rules-based properties formy stitch shapesyet, each one does have a pop-up help window that gives a how-to for that particular stitch for both right-side and wrong-side implementation.

I can create more symbols as I please, adding them to the stencils if necessary. For example, if I’m charting colorwork, I’ll create a contrast color block for each color I intend on using, then store them on a separate stencil to re-use as needed. I even use stencils to store commonly used motifs, like the quaternary star that shows up as snowflake in so many Scandinavian patterns:

Symbols can be grouped, rotated, mirrored or arranged in layers.There are limitations:

  • I can’t select all the squares of one color and change them to another unless I’ve placedor senteach color on its own drawing layer (think stacked transparencies, each bearing just one color of the design). If I’ve sorted my motifs this way into layers, I can flood-fill all of the boxes on one layer with the same new color.
  • The *.jpgs produced by Visio are very large. I need to run them through something like Macromedia Fireworks to reduce resolution and size so that they’re not unwieldy for Web placement. The star above was 552 KB, which I slimmed down to 12 kb using Fireworks.
  • There’s no "flood fill" with a chosen symbol. I can’t draw just the foreground, then flood the background with purls unless I create an all-purl layer and superimpose a layer bearing my motif upon it.

There’s no particular reason why any other drafting/drawing program with a stamp or stencil feature and layers can’t be tweaked this way. One final warning – Visio drawings and stencils in their native format are difficult to export to other drawing/drafting programs. They can be viewed by anyone using the free Visio viewer provided by Microsoft. Visio can export to many formats, including *.jpg, *.gif and several specific to various commonly used CADD platforms. But those are one-way solutions that send over images of the final product, not components that can be further manipulated. I work inside Visio, then export to *.jpgor print via Acrobat if I need to post a graph on the Web.

I’ve offered up my stencils before, but so far no one has been interested. I’ve got templates for Visio 5 and Visio 2000. The 2000 set should also work in Visio 2003. If sufficient demand is seen, I’ll postboth setson wiseNeedle in the tools section.

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