Not all knitters like charts. If you find them impossible to work with, this article is probably not for you! But if, like me, you find charts intuitive and easy to follow, perhaps you’ve already considered creating your own.
I regularly make charts in my day-to-day work, whether dreaming up my own designs, or editing and writing patterns for other designers. And sometimes I also make charts to help me when I’m knitting from a commercial pattern. Some yarn companies and designers simply don’t provide patterns with charts, and others do so rarely. I don’t like following complex stitch patterns from written instructions – so if no chart is provided, I usually make one from the written instructions before casting on.
Whatever your reason for investing in charting software, learning the basics is essential, as these programs don’t always follow the logic of the software you might use in an office!
Here, I’m going to look at Stitchmastery, for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the most popular programs, and is easy to obtain – you just download it. Second, because it is a paid-for program it’s worth knowing more about before you spend any money! Lastly, I want to talk about Stitchmastery because it has quite a few quirks, and it took me a while to get used to these – but once I did, I realised that it was an extremely powerful tool. Cathy Scott, the software developer who created Stitchmastery, is not paying me to say this, but it is my favourite charting program!
Other programs, such as Stitch Fiddle, Chart Minder and Knit Pro, are also available. If you’re not sure which to use, download the free demonstration first. Stitchmastery has a limited demo option to try before you buy.
First I’m going to show you how to set up a chart. All this information is available in a lot more detail in the Stitchmastery manual, but if you’re not the kind of person who likes to read manuals (I know I’m not) then these are the basic steps you need to follow. It may seem overly simple to explain this bit, but Stitchmastery (SM) doesn’t always ‘think’ like a typical desktop application, so it’s worth knowing these details before you begin.
Creating your first chart
First click the white panel for a new diagram.
You’ll get the following to fill out.
Give your file a name, and make sure
it’s in the right location on your computer – SM sometimes defaults to an unexpected file location.
Give your individual chart a title as well.
Choose whether you want column numbers at the top or bottom, or both.
Fill in the numbers for the rows and columns boxes and choose circular, flat or mosaic. SM can’t go over a maximum chart height of 999 rows and 999 columns.
Remember to untick the ‘First row is a RS row’ if you’re starting on a WS row.
You can go back and change everything except the file name later when you’re editing the chart.
Top Tip! Depending on how powerful your computer is, you may find that SM crashes when working with very large charts or a large number of charts in one file. If you find this happens, save very regularly! It doesn’t seem to be a universal issue.
When you’re done you should have something like this…
Click ‘Finish’ when you’ve filled everything in, and your first chart will be prepared and pop up on screen.
Your screen will now look like this…
The bottom right box shows the line-by-line pattern text automatically generated as you create your chart. This is really helpful, as it allows you to check that what you’re creating on the chart is what you intend.
The bottom left box shows an outline version of the whole chart. You can select to show either a mini version of the chart, which can be useful if you’re zoomed in on a small section of a large chart, or a ‘text’ outline.
If you’re creating a pattern from scratch, it’s very useful to have the text outline showing in this bottom left box, as this flags up potential errors in the pattern for you by marking rows with errors in red.
To show the text outline, click on the box highlighted in blue below, which is top right of the ‘Outline’ box.
Once you’ve clicked this symbol, this is what your text outline will look like.
You can click on the arrow to the left of the chart name to see the chart broken down row by row.
If there’s something wrong with your chart, you’ll see a red dot here like this…
We’ll come back to this later.
Filling in your chart
You’ve already set up your chart with 15 rows and 15 columns.
To the right of your screen is a Palette box, which contains all the symbols for stitches that are available to you. If you can’t see this, click the arrow on the top right of your screen which points left. It looks like this…
Your palette will then pop up and looks like this….
Click on one of the lines to open that section of the palette…
Click on your chosen stitch and then move your cursor over to your chart and add it to the chart where you want it. In this case we’re using purl stitch to make a ribbed border.
Note that the chart will automatically generate the key for the stitch you’ve added. We will look at how to convert the key to a different style and adjust the text formatting later.
Top Tip! Stitchmastery automatically generates line by line text when you make a chart. You can in theory generate a chart by writing the pattern text, but there are some issues here, as, if you don’t use the exact style of text instructions that SM defaults to, or a custom ‘house style’ you’ve created, then you can end up with a chart with mistakes in it. I highly recommend sticking to using charts to generate text for patterns for this reason.
When you want to reuse this stitch, select the white arrow cursor from the top of your window, then click on the symbol in the key – you don’t need to go back to the palette.
Looking at our 2x2 rib, we can see that it isn’t fitting properly into 15 stitches, so we need to add or cut stitches if we want it to fit.
This might seem fairly obvious for this stitch pattern, with this number of stitches, but for a big lace shawl it can be harder to spot in advance that there’s going to be a problem. Being able to visualise it like this is very helpful.
Adding extra stitches / rows
To add extra columns (stitches) to your chart, first select a column next to where you want to add new columns (left or right).
Select a column by clicking on the stitch number at the bottom/top of it.
It’ll look like this…
Click on ‘Insert’ on the top bar and scroll down to ‘Insert Columns’.
You’ll get a sub-menu which offers you the choice of placing columns to the left or right. In this case we’ll insert the column to the left.
Your chart should now have an extra column.
If you want to copy a section of a chart and add it as extra columns, first select your columns as before. To select more than one column click on the number above/below the first column to select it, hold shift and then click on the last column you want to select.
It will look like this…
Then hit Ctrl+C/Cmd+C to copy the columns.
Go to the insert menu as before and this time click on ‘Insert Copied Columns’ and select whether you want to place them left or right.
Adding rows/copied rows works in exactly the same way as described above.
Top Tip! Stitchmastery is very particular about how you select something. Always use the type of selecting described.
Stitchmastery is particularly useful when writing or checking complex charts, which is why many lace designers use it.
Because it generates text line by line as you make your chart, and checks the chart simultaneously, it makes it easier to find solutions to problems and remove any guesswork. If you’re working from a pattern and you think it might have a mistake in it, you can do a basic check by turning it into a Stitchmastery chart.
If the software thinks you’ve made an error it will show this with a red dot next to the Chart name in the Outline section (bottom left).
Click on this little arrow to expand the section and see where the problems are.
You can then expand each individual line if you need to as well, but remember this information is also in the text panel (bottom right).
As you address the problems in the chart, the red dots will disappear.
What the program can’t do, sadly, is tell you how to fix the issue. That’s where your human brain comes in! This is my favourite tool in Stitchmastery, though, and it’s just so clever. I wish I’d known how to use it when I was learning how to be a technical editor all those years ago!
In Part Two, coming soon: We’ll look at how to add borders and repeats, work in sections to save time, and improve your formatting.
About our expert
Rosee Woodland, formerly commissioning editor of The Knitter, is a technical editor and designer who uses a variety of charting software.