Review: Melissa Leapman’s Indispensable Stitch Collection for Crocheters

Quarto Publishing provided a copy of Indispensable Stitch Collection for Crocheters free of charge. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

MLeapmanStitchCollection_coverDid you hear me squee when this came in the mail? No? You must not have been on the East Coast at the time.

There aren’t enough crochet stitch dictionaries on the market. I’m always scouring the internet for new patterns, so I was particularly happy to see Melissa’s collection. As a practicing and prolific designer, Melissa knows how important stitch collections are to designers, and she “gets” how to do one.

Stitch Dictionary Must-Haves

  • Nice sharp pictures
  • Stitch multiples clearly stated
  • Text instructions in an easy-to-read font
  • Definitions of special stitches
  • Stitch charts
  • Technique and construction notes as needed
  • A good index

delicatoThis collection hits almost all of the attributes above. The swatches were made in Cascade 220, a lovely classic wool, and the colors chosen show up the stitch patterns nicely. The stitch charts are very well done, using color in a useful but not overwhelming manner. Although I found the font a bit light for my taste, it is easy enough to read. Each page spread manages to pack a lot of information on the page, while maintaining a reasonable amount of white space. That’s always a challenge for stitch collections, as I know from personal experience!

 

texturedlatticeStitch Dictionary Nice-to-Haves

  • New and unique stitch patterns
  • Designations of reversible patterns
  • Compelling cover (if I’m going to be using it and looking at it all the time, I want Eye Candy)
  • Suggestions on how to use the stitch patterns

 

From the most basic single crochet fabric to more intricate cables and interlocking mesh colorwork, the 200 stitch patterns are arranged by chapter: simple solid patterns, shell and fan stitch patterns, openwork and lace patterns, textured patterns, colorwork patterns and edgings. I recognized quite a few patterns from other dictionaries in my library, but there are a few that were indeed new, especially among the more difficult patterns.

undulatingSome patterns are tagged as reversible, or at least as looking good on both sides. This is a particular boon to crocheters searching for a pattern for a scarf or afghan.

Unfortunately, the cover design falls somewhat flat for my taste. I’m not a graphic designer, so I can’t really say what I think is missing, other than it doesn’t compel me to open the book and yearn for the goodies inside the way it should. Personal tastes vary, however, and you may find the cover has a different effect on you. Don’t let the cover deter you from exploring the interior!

stitch dictionaries_MLeapmanBrief sections in the front and back suggest how to use the book, how to read charts, and how to do basic crochet stitches. Beginning crocheters and novice designers may need additional instruction before they can make full use of the book, but for the rest of us, it’s a tidy resource, and earns a spot on my shelf.

Other Stitch Dictionaries from Melissa

Melissa has proven she knows a thing or two about stitch dictionaries. If you are a knitter, check out these other titles:

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra disclosure: Melissa is a friend and colleague, but she hasn’t seen this review, and she didn’t tell me what to write. 😉

Mitered Knitting: Make a Pillow

MiteredKnittingPillow_Pinterest_735x1200As anyone who has done it will tell you, knitting mitered squares is addictive. It’s easy enough for beginners, yet compelling for more experienced knitters. The possibilities are endless.

My newest Creativebug class, Mitered Knitting: Make a Pillow is a perfect introduction to mitered knitting. Together we’ll work two different cast-ons and a couple of different decreases as we make a front and back for our pillow. Then, we’ll seam the pieces using mattress stitch for a tidy seam. MiteredKnittingPillow_Instagram_650x650_2

The yarn I used is one of my favorites: Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted, a 85% wool/15% mohair blend. It comes in delicious colors, so you can choose whatever works for your decor. I used some nice, happy colors for the class: Aran, Hawaiian Teal, Orange You Glad, Orchid Blush, and Lemon Drop.

Just for fun, the front and back of the pillow are different. Once you understand the technique you’ll be thinking about all the ways you can mix and match colors for your own pillow design. And mitered knitting is a great way to use up scraps. Oh, just writing about it makes my fingers itch to start another square…

About Creativebug

Creativebug also has a pretty awesome Instagram feed full of inspirational images. They also have fun ongoing series, like August’s Daily Art Journaling Challenge. Look for #creativebug and #cbdrawaday on Instagram.

If you’re new to Creativebug, this is the perfect time to give it a try. You can get a 14-day free trial, plus one class to keep forever. It’s only $4.95 for a monthly subscription and you can watch ALL the classes you can manage. That’s over 700 classes in knitting, crochet, art/paper, sewing, quilting, jewelry, kids, home/food, holiday/party through your one subscription. In other words, you can make All The Things (if you can find the time).

And if you aren’t interested in mitered knitting, I teach other classes on Creativebug, and some of them are free to all. Check them out!

In Search OfKnowledgeable crochet illustrators can create professional-looking crochet charts using vector graphics editors, as I showed in a previous post. But what about the other 99.9% of the crochet population? Are there viable alternatives that allows the average crocheter to create stitch charts? Yes and no, but mostly “not yet”.

The Challenges

Software development is a very time-consuming and complex task. It takes both in-depth knowledge of the underlying computer architecture and programming, as well as a clear understanding of end-user needs (what crochet designers need the program to do). It helps to have a great user interface to make it easy and accessible for all. Getting all these resources together takes both time AND money.

Knitting is a very binary (knits/purls) and grid-based fiber art, making it fairly easy to chart. In crochet, one stitch doesn’t always go into the next stitch in a tidy, grid-based fashion**. If it did, and if all the stitches were the same height and didn’t bend and lean, crochet stitches would be easier to diagram. Instead, crochet can be very organic, changing directions and stitch heights, bending and curving in many different ways. This offers a particular challenge to the software developer who is trying to create a program that works for all crochet stitch patterns. And don’t even think of looking for a program that automatically translates written instructions to diagrams. That’s a pipe dream at this point!

**I am specifically excluding filet and color-graphing charts from this discussion, as they are absolutely straightforwardly grid-based.

So what’s the state of crochet software today?

stitchworks-logo

Crochet Charts from Stitch Works Software

Background & Support: Crochet Charts from Stitch Works Software is a program that has been around for a few years. I worked a bit with developer Brian Milco in the very early stages of development. He was very responsive to suggestions, and he was working hard to figure out what crocheters need in order to create useful software. He got a pretty good start, but he stopped being able to work on it, and made it open source in September 2015 under the GPL v3 license.
Crochet Charts Screengrab

What “open source” means for the average user of this project is that the Version 1.2 is now free and available for download for Windows and Mac. While the website says “Mac and Linux Versions will be available shortly”, I found the following links which should work for Windows and Mac:

[Links removed for security reasons; I was told that it’s better to share the site where I found the links. That’s on Ravelry; read the first message in this thread. Sorry for the inconvenience.]

Because the open source community for this project is small and immature, the average user will find that technical support and updating is very sporadic. There is a Ravelry group for the software, as well as a downloadable manual. Join the Ravelry group for more information about the current status of the program, and for ongoing support.

What “open source” means for the programming-savvy crocheter is that you can help improve the program by working on the code.

Functionality: The program allows freeform placement of stitches, grouping, wedge lines for round charts, numerous export options (pdf, svg, jpg, png, tiff, bmp), scalable stitches, alternating row colors and other features. You can add numbers to rows/rounds, and create a stitch key. It includes 109 stitches and symbols and allows for a customizable stitch library. It will work for simple patterns worked in the round and back-and-forth in rows, and some crochet designers will find it adequate for their needs. In my opinion, it doesn’t (yet) have the features needed to be a robust choice for the professional crochet designer.

Stitch Fiddle logoStitch Fiddle

Background & Support: Sander de Bruijne, a software developer, and his crocheting girlfriend Janetta Broersma, are working on a new web-app called Stitch Fiddle. It covers knitting, cross stitching, and most importantly, freeform crochet charts. I spent about an hour talking with Sander and Janetta about the program and offering suggestions for improvement. Sander told me that the first few months after its introduction, sign-ups to the site were so overwhelming that he quit his day job to work full-time on Stitch Fiddle. As of early July, more than 100 people were signing up each day.

He tells me now has the back-end set up so that it can handle the number of users, and he is working to improve the front-end experience (what we seen on the screen). He’ll be ready to start adding additional features once that is done. They are committed to making Stitch Fiddle work, and I know we wish them success, as that will benefit all of us!

There is a Ravelry Stitch Fiddle group, which is worth following to learn about the latest updates.

Functionality: At the moment, the program is very basic. It does allow freeform placement of stitches and multiple layers, although it does not yet allow for grouping or multiple colors. I found the lack of alignments, guides and keyboard shortcuts a particular challenge. At current count it has 21 symbols, those specifically listed by the Craft Yarn Council. I don’t believe it is possible to add custom symbols at this point.

A couple of important feature that will be added are the ability to select multiple symbols and group them, so they can be moved, copied or rotated together, and the ability to choose rotation center and rotate symbols around that point. It’s too early to make a judgement on this app; only time will tell if added features and user experience improve enough to be truly useful.

StitchinCrochet and StitchinCrochet Pro

StitchinCrochetPro graphicBackground & Support: StitchinCrochet and StitchinCrochet Pro are fonts developed by Adriana Hernandez (adriprints.blogspot.com). Various licenses are available, including desktop and web applications. Costs range from $3 to $6.

Functionality: These are fonts, not software programs, and they work just like any other font you would purchase and download. You’ll have to use a software program of some sort to place and manipulate the images. The developer wrote a blog post back in 2010 about how to use the font with Adobe Illustrator, and those who know how to use Illustrator will find it quite helpful. It’s not a bad place to start, if you aren’t comfortable creating your own symbols.

Granny Square for blog post(2)Vector Graphics Editors

So we return to the vector graphics editors, like Adobe Illustrator and the open-source Inkscape. These types of programs have the ability to do absolutely everything you need to do to create the most complex charts imaginable, but they require a lot of time and energy (and money, in the case of Adobe products) to learn.

Conclusions

In short, the charting resources available to crochet designers are limited. They offer hope but have a long way to go to be functional to the average designer. If you know of additional resources, let us all know about them in the comments below.

In a future post, I’ll offer a short tutorial on creating a stitch diagram using Adobe Illustrator.

Review: The Knitting All Around Stitch Dictionary

STC Craft provided a copy of The Knitting All Around Stitch Dictionary free of charge. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

The Knitting All Around Stitch DictionaryWendy Bernard, author of The Up, Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary, follows the success of that volume with a new stitch dictionary, The Knitting All Around Stitch Dictionary. Both books include stitch pattern instructions for working back-and-forth, in-the-round, and top-down. Top-down, you say? That is different!

Most stitch dictionaries only give instructions for back-and-forth, and perhaps in-the-round, knitting, leaving knitters to translate the instructions for top-down knitting on their own. The stitch patterns presented in both these volumes are not necessarily new and earthshakingly original, but they do offer a nice variety of lovely utilitarian patterns including knit/purl, lace, cables, ribs, fancy stitches and even mosaics, a recent personal favorite.

Moss CirclesMoss Circles pageThe swatch photos are large and clear, and text and charts are given for each of the 150 stitch patterns. When a fabric is reversible, both sides are shown. There’s plenty of white space, enhancing readability. For those who prefer a physical book, the hardcover with a concealed spiral binding allows it lie open and flat, behaving just as a book should.

 

KnittingAll-AroundStitchDictionary_p273There’s an inspirational project to go with each chapter, so you can see how to use one of the stitch patterns in a design. Overall, the book looks clean, modern and appealing. It’s pretty to look at!

I’m an avid stitch-dictionary collector. I’m also a serial swatcher, so I was really happy to see that Wendy  gives plenty of gentle encouragement to do just that: swatch to learn about the stitch patterns and how they behave. Does a swatch ever lie? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

KnittingAll-AroundStitchDictionary_p008I had just a couple of minor complaints, and they are truly minor. The swatches are all made with knit-in garter stitch edges: top, bottom, and sides. While this makes for nice, tidy samples that lie flat, it doesn’t help me know ahead of time what the fabric might look like without an edge treatment. Of course, I can and will swatch for myself, but having this insight ahead of time would be nice. The sans serif font is a bit light for comfort, but that might just be these old eyes. I’ll whip out the reading glasses.

More About Wendy Bernard

Custom KnitsCustom Knits 2Custom Knits Accessories

It’s no surprise that Wendy gives us these top-down offerings, since she is known for her top-down designs. If you aren’t familiar with them, check out Custom Knits, Custom Knits 2 and Custom Knits Accessories, all of which help you “unleash your inner designer” (her words). These books are full of real-world, real-body designer how-tos that really will help you successfully design and alter top-down sweaters that fit. I was lucky enough to have a bit part in the production of Custom Knits, and I learned a lot about top-down design from that experience. Let’s put it this way: When I moved to a new house 18 months ago, I had to severely pare down my book stash, cutting it by about 80%. Wendy’s books made the cut.

You can find Wendy Bernard blogging at www.knitandtonic.com.

 

In Search of Crochet Charting Software, Part 1

Granny Square for blog post(2)Question: What software do you use to draw crochet symbol diagrams?

I’m asked this about once a week, and more often than once a day at fiber events.

My Answer: Adobe Illustrator

The reaction to this response is almost always a sigh, a shake of the head, and a quick retreat with shoulders slumped. (Even if the question was posed online, I can hear the sigh and feel the disappointment.)

Why the universal sorrow? Because drafting crochet charts is not (yet) as straightforward as typing in a set of text instructions and having a program spit out a lovely finished chart. Instead, you have to understand crochet diagrams and the construction of the crochet fabric, as well as have the skills to draw the chart using a vector-based drawing program like Adobe Illustrator, which is pricy to purchase, or the free, open source Inkscape. It takes practice, and the learning curve can be steep.

Even among those who do have the requisite skills, their approach to drawing a crochet diagram varies, even when they are using the same software. Having studied this matter for some time now, I have even come to recognize certain telltale “signatures” that hint at which illustrator drew the diagrams for a particular publication.

I asked some of these folks to share examples of their work. What follows are variations of granny square-style motifs. They aren’t all the same motif, but they do offer a glimpse into the ways that individual diagram drafters put their own stamp on their work. Unless otherwise noted, all of these diagrams were drawn using Adobe Illustrator.

Karen Manthey_Granny SquareYou might recognize Karen Manthey’s work. Karen is a prolific tech editor and illustrator who works behind the scenes on many of the publications you are familiar with. Here’s an example of a classic granny square from Karen, with alternating black and blue rounds.

My granny square (shown above) looks a lot like Karen’s.

 

 

 

 

Lindsey Stephens Granny Square

Lindsey Stephens, designer and tech editor, presents a black-and-grey diagram. She can be found at www.poetryinyarn.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robyn Chachula_Granny Square DiagramRobyn Chachula, author of Vintage Modern CrochetBlueprint Crochet and other best-sellers, draws in AutoCad Lt then moves the drawing into Illustrator to create jpgs as needed. She’s a trained architect, so she uses the drawing program she knows best.

 

 

 

 

 

Joan Beebe_Granny squareJoan Beebe provides another classic granny. Look her up at ssknits.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Voth Granny SquareCharles Voth offers this variation on a granny square. He can be found at www.CharlesVothDesigns.ca. He also teaches a Craftsy class called See It, Crochet It: Reading Stitch Diagrams. Check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Granny Square_Alla KovalAlla Koval draws diagrams for all of her designs. You can find her patterns at mylittlecitygirl.com.

But back to the original dilemma. Is there a software program that helps the ordinary crocheter draw stitch diagrams? In my next post, I’ll share a bit more on the subject.

Meanwhile, if you are drawing your own crochet diagrams, pipe up in the comments section and let me know how you are doing it!