If you look over my list of finished objects in the sidebar, you'll notice something that I admit came as quite a surprise to me. Well before my skill level justified it, I began to rebel against published patterns. Not that they weren't useful, and often appealing. It's just that the initial urge–"Hey, I want to make that!"–is usually followed closely by another–"Hey! I want to change that!"
When I started to experiment with color knitting and lace, I realized drawing up charts was a skill I ought to acquire so as not to waste time and yarn. I invested in a giant pad of graph paper and found I quite enjoyed the process...provided the patterns were relatively small.
Sketching by hand was no trouble for smallish motifs, covering perhaps 25 stitches square or fewer. But when I started dreaming in lace and decided I wanted to mix an array of Shetland stitch patterns into a single piece, my troubles began.
It's one thing to painstakingly map out part of a stole that's 200 stitches wide and 100 stitches tall. It can be an exhilirating contemplative experience, and a wonderful exercise in concentration.
It's quite another thing to knit from your chart, realize you want to shuffle the motifs a bit here or there in order to improve the piece, and then contemplate redrawing the entire...freaking... chart...
And for me, the impulse to tear out my hair is doubly frustrating as nature long ago anticipated me in that area.
I knew charting software was available, but when I began to hunt for it none of the well-known applications supported Macs (a situation that has since changed). I bleated about this in a blog entry, and got a message from the dear lady at the helm of the Knit Foundry. Fear not, she said, help is on the way.
And so it was.
For the past several months I've had the pleasure of working with Knit Visualizer. It's the first and only charting software I've ever used, so I can't offer you a comparative review. However, by happy chance one is available from my comrade Marilyn, who knows from software.
What I can tell you is that I was able to use Knit Visualizer out of the box with little initial reference to the documentation–and the documentation, when needed, is excellent. As Marilyn points out, this software is what you get when a knitter and a developer inhabit the same body.
I'll give you the two limitations I've found, and they're minor. First: the software does not allow the creation of color charts...yet. The next upgrade, I am told, will take care of that. Second, there seems to be no simple way to substitute one stitch for another. For example, if you've used the diamond symbol to represent "red" in your chart and wish to change all instances of the diamond to another symbol, so far as I've been able to find this isn't possible.
On the other hand, the ease of use is admirable. A stupendously broad and deep palette of symbols is provided for the user, with everything from the most common symbols for purl and k2tog, to a cavalcade of cables and esoteric increases and decreases. Quite complicated charts can be put together with surprising ease.
I agree with Marilyn that the stand-out feature is the pattern text parser, which allows you to type pattern instructions into the software and watch, amazed, as the finished chart appears before you. The parser is optimized to work with patterns as written in Barbara Walker's famous Treasuries, and to date I've used it countless times to do up charts for lace patterns I've needed to swatch.
This is no small boon. I'm hard at work on the christening shawl for Phil and Susan's baby, a piece I hope will become an heirloom. Less time drawing dots in little boxes means more time knitting, and I estimate conservatively that I've probably saved six to eight hours thanks to Knit Visualizer.
I also used it to chart the donkey for the Littlest Democrat sweater. I could probably have done it by hand, but using the computer freed me up to tinker and manipulate until I was absolutely satisfied with what I'd done.
The slick, flexible print interface means I can share the chart with you quite easily. Ive turned it sideways so that I could make it bigger. I've tested it to make sure it should come out legibly on any decent printer.
(Republicans, I'm afraid I just don't have time for an elephant, as I'm busy knitting helmet liners for 21,500 under-equipped soldiers who are being sent to Iraq. Je suis désolé.)
In Other News
I had a wonderful, wonderful weekend. Those responsible know who they are, and I thank them. Select details in the next entry. Or, you know, when I get around to it. It's going to be another week of 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. This, too, shall pass.
I hope everyone's week is off to a beautiful start.