I’m often asked “What special software packages do you use to create your knitting pattern PDFs?” and the apparently surprising answer is “Nothing special, really!” Ninety-nine percent of my work is done in Microsoft Excel (for charts) and Word (for text). (I’m using the 2010 versions of each, with Windows 7.) If you’re already familiar with the basics of using Word for your documents and Excel for your spreadsheets, follow along and you’ll soon see that you really have some of the best “knitting software” possible, right at your fingertips.
Shrink your Excel column widths to about “2” and format your cell borders with a solid line and you’ve got instant graph paper (“How to” notes, at the end of this post).
Fill in your cells with the colors &/or symbols that represent your swatches; then copy, cut and paste to your heart’s content.
If you do lace, cables or twisted stitches, I do suggest adding a knitting font package to your Excel setup, so that you can seamlessly add knitting symbols to your charts, just as easily as inserting any other symbols from the pull-downs in Excel. Now that’s gonna set you back some… a whole $6! Well worth it! (No affiliation, but I’m very happy with it.) ETA: Actually, this knitting font set is nice, too, and it’s free (to individuals), too!
I used to use PhotoShop, to hide my inept photography skills and my crimes against Aestheticism. Still do, once in a blue moon. But, if you have Microsoft Office 2010 running, you already have some great, built-in utilities at your fingertips for refining digital images for use in patterns.
PDFs, or “portable document format” files, have become the standard vehicle for transmitting knitting patterns, and countless other documents, on-line so that they remain unchanged. Prior to updating to the 2010 version of Word, I did use a separate utility for converting my Word document files into fixed, final pdf format. You can find such utilities for free on-line. However, it’s far nicer – and way easier – to avoid the unnecessary uploading and download required for having a 3rd party format your PDFs. If you’ve updated to Microsoft Word 2010, I think you’ll be very pleased to find that converting a Word document to a PDF is as simple as saving your file. This will work beautifully, not only for creating knitting pattern PDFs, but for saving any sort of document that can be shared but must stay unchanged – everything from recipes, where you really don’t want that “1 tsp salt” to inadvertently become “10 tsp salt”, to financial and legal documents. Here are all the details you’ll need for converting your Word files into fixed and transmittable PDFs:
Rather than the standard “Save” command, use the “Save As” command. Click on the arrow at the far right of the “Save as type” bar near the bottom (the bar will default to “Word Document”, but you’ll be changing that option) and scroll down to “PDF”; click on PDF and you’ll see that the file type has changed from “Word Document” to “PDF”. Now, just click “Save” and you’re all done!
You can fiddle with that column width size, if you’d like, to get proportions equal to your knitting gauge. To set your column size, just drag your mouse across the letters at the top of the columns to highlight the area you want to format, right-click your mouse, click on “Column Width”, type in 2 and hit return (or click “OK”.) Right-click and select the “Format Cells” menu. You’ll see the “Border” tab near the top; it will get you into options for darkening the gridlines for your graph paper (be sure to select a solid line option you like and then apply it by clicking on both the “Outline” and the “Inside” little windows.) The “Fill” tab will offer you a palette of colors &/or patterns for your chartwork. Click on “More Colors” if you’d like to customize your palette further. (Someday, we’ll have to talk about all the fun you can have getting really carried away with setting up customized color themes through the “Page Layout” / “Color” options at the top left of the main menu. ) Use the Insert / symbols commands to place those knitting font symbols wherever your heart desires.
There are, of course, many more details you can get into for managing charts within Excel, but these are the basics that you’ll need to get started. Happy Charting!