After Friday’s post on using Microsoft Visio for graphing knitting patterns I received some questions:
Microsoft Visio is a professional level drafting/drawing program –
something I’ve co-opted into serving as a pattern development tool, not
something that was designed for that purpose. It’s main use is
technical and scientific illustration – Gantt charts, flow process
models, flowcharts, conceptual diagrams, infrastructure diagrams,
business graphics, organization charts and the like. For example,
network planners use it to lay out routing diagrams for offices, as it
not only can handle a dimensioned architectural drawing, but it can
also keep count of the networking hardware placed on the drawing,
producing a "need to buy" list as the plan progresses.
In my work life, I’m a proposal writer working in engineering and
telecommunications companies. I use Visio extensively to do?
technical illustration and project planning. Visio isn’t the sort
of thing that most people have lying around the house, but because I
have worked as a consultant I have had to buy my own copy. I use
Visio Pro. Visio Standard (the entry level version without some
of the industry-specific bells and whistles) is about $200.
What’s a stencil?? Can I use these with other programs?
One feature of Visio (both versions) is the ability to establish a
collection of standard shapes, and call that collection up when
needed. These collections are called stencils. I created a
set of stencils for Visio that contain knitting stitch and graphing
symbols. I attach the stencil to the active drawing, and then
using all of Visio’s drafting features – draw up my chart.
Visio stencils are unique to that program, and cannot be used with
others. There may be (emphasis on uncertainty here) one
other program that can import them, but I do not own that program and
have not tried it. It’s called SmartDraw, and the suite edition
that includes templates sells for just under $300. It purports to
import Visio output, but there’s nothing there that says it takes the
stencils directly. I suspect that you’d need to take the sample
Visio drawing I include in my template set, then use it to create a new
SmartDraw symbol library. As far as lower cost/hobbyist targeted
programs with the same functionality – I don’t know of any that import
Visio stencils. Please chime in if you do.
Can you do everything in Visio that dedicated programs like Aran Paint or Stitch and Motif Maker do?
No. I’m NOT using a program that knows the slightest thing about
knitting, or that is optimized for this sort of thing. There are
no limits that keep me from using impossible combos of stitches, and no
tools that let me do things like replace all the red stitches with pink
stitches everywhere in the active document. There’s no
blank canvas that can be flood filled by a background stitch.
Instead I have to build my diagrams stitch by stitch, adding my stitchs
(or groups of stitches) like a kid laying out a doll’s dance floor of
What I do have is an unlimited size and shape canvas on which to work;
and the ability to group, layer, copy/paste, rotate and reflect my
custom symbols as needed. If I’m doing colorwork, I have an
infinitude of possibilities, and even do color matching by Pantone or
other color codification system. I can make up custom symbols on
the fly, adding to my library as I go along and am not limited to the
symbols present in a knitting font package (in fact, I don’t even
bother with one). I can also export my designs to all standard
web graphics formats, or paste them into other documents as desired.
Is Visio easy to use?
While large parts of the thing would be intuitive to anyone familiar
with other drawing programs, Visio isn’t the easiest program to learn
if you’ve never used any drafting program before. There are lots
of inexpensive training courses out there, some web-based, and some at
local community colleges. Or if you’re adventurous you can do
what I did – just start monkeying around with the thing.
Can I do the same thing with other drawing programs?
I’m pretty sure you can, although not every drawing program works in
exactly the same way. ? In ages past, I co-opted Aldus Superpaint
(on my late lamented Mac) for doing stitching and knitting
diagrams. That one was a hybrid drawing/drafting program. I
set up a series of ground textures that corresponded to filled and
unfilled grid squares (some with specific symbols in them). Then
I created a paintbrush the same size as one grid square. By
selecting the background fills and using the paint brush as a stamper,
I "daubed out" my charts. This is how I did all of the charted
illustrations in The New Carolingian Modelbook.?
I also have convinced Canvas to serve as a knitting/stitching design
aide, but that was a bit more painful. The version of Canvas I
used did not have a robust stencil capability. You could make
libraries of symbols, but they weren’t as accessible as in Visio.
I ended up making one document with reference copies of my
symbols. Then in a new document I established a snap-to grid
equal to the size of a stitch square, and copied/pasted the symbols
from my library document into my new design. It worked, but it
I also know that some people use non-drawing programs for this purpose. Others have written quite extensively about creative adaptation of Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets (and even MS Word) as stitch chart creation programs.
If you’ve smacked another drawing program around for this purpose and
have some hints to share with others please feel free to add your
comments to this pile.