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Software Review: Garment Designer

First Impressions
Several years ago I took a knitwear design workshop with Susan Lazear, founder of Cochenille Design Studio. I remember being terribly impressed by Susan's vast garment-design knowledge, and terribly depressed by my lack thereof. As she walked us through the various design stages, she kept mentioning how you could do those same steps -- and more -- using her software.

When it came time to review software for Knitter's Review, Susan's name came to mind immediately. As a general rule Cochenille doesn't provide review copies anymore. They were generous enough to bend the rules for us, and I'm grateful.

Let's open the box and see what's inside.

Installing It
The software ships on one CD-ROM with print documentation to help you get up and running quickly. For this review, I used Garment Designer with Style Sets 1 and 2 included.

Cochenille has implemented a security system to prevent unauthorized copying of the software. To unlock your copy you must first connect to the Internet, then run the SecurityInstall.exe program included on the CD. (If you don't have Internet access, Cochenille also provides a phone number you can call. This is the Cochenille office number, but Susan and Tracy monitor messages after hours and on weekends and will quickly be able to get you sorted away.)

You'll be prompted to enter a special security code that came with your disk. This code is located in the installation manager.

Once you add your code, it will register automatically with Cochenille's system, which then bounces back an unlock code to unlock your software.

A word of warning: Don't try installing the software without unlocking it first. Although it'll install, you won't be able to run it without having the folks at Cochenille manually unlock it for you.

Once you've unlocked the software, you can run the GDInstall.exe program and let the software do the rest. From start to finish, the process should take less than three minutes.

Using It
Just as a stove isn't much good if you have nothing to cook, it's best to have a design idea in mind before you launch the software. The user interface borrows many icons and commands from other popular applications, giving it an instantly familiar feel.

You'll see many references to what's called a "Sloper." This is essentially a computer representation of your body (in outline form) based on measurements you provide.

Throughout the design process, you'll be able to see how your body sits inside the pattern. You can create and save multiple slopers of different people to reuse later. As a visual person, I consider the sloper one of of the most powerful elements of the software because I can instantly see the fit -- no need to compare notes and check measurements.

If you get stuck at any point along the way, you're in luck: Cochenille has obviously invested a lot of time and energy in creating extensive, easy-to-read documentation. The product ships with a hefty, spiral-bound reference/design manual, plus the application itself includes help files and a Help Card folder.

If this fails, you can also call or email Cochenille for help. Keep in mind that it's a two-person business, so 4am help requests might not get answered until the working day. Considering the quality documentation, you probably won't need to call anyway.

Starting Your Design
You normally begin with one of the pre-programmed standard size slopers (which include women's sizes 2-50, men's sizes 32-50, plus children, toddlers, infants, and dolls). Then you can choose from among the various style options (garment category, top style, shoulder type, neck style, sleeve shape, armhole type, etc.) and then watch the garment appear before your very eyes.

You can see an example of the design interface here.

At this point I could instantly see where I needed to modify the shaping to fit my body more comfortably. Making changes was simply a matter of clicking and dragging pattern points and lines on screen.

Noteworthy Features
The software understands the relationship between armholes and sleeves. If you change your sleeve design, the software will automatically make any necessary adjustments to the armholes on the body portion of the garment. No more trying to fit a size 12 sleeve into a size 8 armhole.

If you have the symmetry function enabled, the program will also automatically mirror any changes you make on one side of a garment (a sleeve, for example) onto the corresponding opposite side of the garment. This can be a major time-saver.

Finally, my favorite: The pattern intelligence function alerts you any time you've done something that introduces problems elsewhere in the pattern. Imagine... the front and back of your sweater could actually knit up at the same length!

Turning Shapes into Stitches
Once you've created a design you like, it's time to convert your design into knitting terms. You can choose from bottom-up, sideways, or top-down instructions. Simply provide your yarn's intended gauge (both in terms of stitches and rows per inch).

The program will create a pixel-per-stitch graphic for you, with each pixel representing one knitted stitch. You can then copy the graphic into any paint or graphics program to add color schemes.

You can also use Cochenille's other tool -- Stitch Painter -- to style the surface color and texture of your garment. Stitch Painter retails for $85, with a Gold version available for $165.

Simply export your design into Stitch Painter and design your color and texture treatments there. For color patterns, you have the world at your fingertips.

For stitch types, however, you'll need to have your own stitch guides. Stitch Painter will help you position those stitches within your garment, but it won't tell you which stitches to use.

What It Delivers
Alas, the software doesn't spit out a perfectly composed pattern when you're through with the design phase. You'll get a visual schematic of all your pattern parts (sleeves, body, etc.), which you can also group together and print out in a joined display. More important, you get a row-by-row summary of stitch counts.

The output can seem slightly daunting at first, but if you've followed a few sweater patterns already, you'll know what to do.

What It Doesn't Deliver
The shaping instructions will tell you how many stitches your garment requires (which can be a daunting surprise), but it doesn't tell you approximately how much yarn you'll need.

Also, the software doesn't have built-in templates for different collar types. There is an easy workaround using bands, however, and the reference and design manual shows you how to do it.

If you're interested in more sophisticated design options -- such as scalloped hems, keyhole necklines, and bolero styling -- you can purchase the Optional Style Sets 1 and 2.

Each set includes 50 additional style options you can mix and match with the standard styles.

Sewing Roots
It's important to note that Garment Designer is first and foremost a design tool. Knitwear is only one of its supported mediums.

The software includes many functions for seamstresses wishing to design and print sewing patterns. It includes styles for skirts, pants, waist treatments, and dresses.

If you happen to sew, this means you get twice as much bang for your buck. If you don't sew, just select the Knit mode and you'll only see the menu commands that pertain to knitting.

This is a sophisticated piece of design software that I compare to a commercial stove. It's an extremely powerful tool that many professional designers rely on for their work.

If you're only interested in designing extremely basic garments, this may be a bit more price and power than you need. If you've ever contemplated going professional, this is a must-have.

Then again, if -- like homeowners and their commercial stoves -- you simply enjoy having lots of power and flexibility at your disposal, you'll love Garment Designer.

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