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Software Review: Sweater Wizard 3.0

First Impressions
The Sweater Wizard is a PC-based design program created specifically for knitters. You can use it to design many types of sweaters and vests in standard sizes from infant to plus sizes up to a 114-inch finished chest. The software even lets you create sweaters for teddy bears and dolls.

It uses pre-established design types—pullover, turtleneck, cardigan, etc.—that you then walk through a buffet of size, trim, detail, and finishing choices. When you're done, you're presented with a complete knitting pattern for your garment.

The software costs $89.95, a high but worthwhile pricetag if you want sophistication and flexibility in designing your own knitted garments. This won't stop you from acquiring other magazines, books, and patterns—but theoretically you'd never have to again.

I reviewed an earlier version of this tool in 2002, but the functionality has been so vastly expanded in version 3.0 that I wanted to take a new look.

Installing It
The Sweater Wizard ships on a CD-ROM. Simply pop it into your CD-ROM drive and, depending on how your computer is configured, you'll immediately see an installation screen with several options. As an added bonus, the CD includes a demo version of a companion product, Stitch & Motif Maker.

If you don't see the installation screen, browse to your computer's CD-ROM drive (mine is labeled D:) and double-click on the autorun.exe file. This will launch the installation program.

The installation is quick and straightforward, with a wizard that walks you through all the steps. Accept the license agreement terms, enter your customer information, specify where you want the program to install, and that's it. On my machine, the process took two minutes.

Using It
As with all the other knitwear design tools I've tried, the Sweater Wizard works best if you already know what you're going to design. There's no window shopping here. You're immediately presented with lists of questions about what you want to make.

The program's interface is simple but effective for any basic sweater design. You won't be overwhelmed with extraneous buttons requiring a Ph.D. to navigate.

The program comes with no print documentation, but it does include extensive on-screen help as well as help documentation on the Sweater Wizard Web site. Carole Wulster—the founder and creator of Sweater Wizard—also provides email support, promising answers within 24 hours, and she has an active online discussion group for customers.

Starting Your Design
When you first launch the program, you'll see a blank screen with just a few options enabled. Most likely you'll want to begin a new project, so you'll click on the "New" button (or select File | New from the dropdown menu).

Then you'll be walked through three screens, each of which has radio buttons for different options, such as knitting method (straight needles, in the round with optional steeks, top-down and side-to-side), sweater type (drop shoulder, modified drop-shoulder, set-in, raglan, vest, shell, and tuxedo vest), neckline (crew, scoop, V, placket, boat, square, funnel), shape (standard or A-line), style (pullover or cardigan), chest size (up to 64 inches), fabric weight, fit, length, yarn gauge, and needles.

As with the earlier version, there's no "back" button as you navigate these windows. If you suddenly change your mind about a fundamental element of your project, your best bet is to click "cancel" and start over

Flexible Styling in 3.0
Once you've completed the design steps, you'll see a very basic schematic of your pattern. Below the schematic, you'll find the written-out instructions for knitting your sweater.

Here's where version 3.0 kicks into full gear: new dropdown menus for options, neckline, and trims. The options menu contains pure gold, letting you add ribbing, back-neck shaping, changing body shape from standard to hourglass, changing sleeve from bottom-up to top-down, and modifying the shape of your sleeve cuff.

Want to add a cable pattern down the middle of your sweater, or perhaps use a moss stitch throughout? You can tell the software to accommodate a pattern repeat by specifying the number of stitches in your pattern. (Often you'll see stitch patterns written in books as "multiple of 14 sts plus 3," and that's precisely how you enter it here.)

The other dropdown menus let you choose a different neckline and trim, add buttonholes, and specify shoulder style and finish (seam or three-needle bindoff).

You also have the ability to change the garment size and yarn gauge. This is helpful if you create a size and style that fits you perfectly—simply open your pattern file, change the yarn gauge variables to suit your latest yarn, and bingo, you know you have a winner

Designs to Go
The Export feature lets you move your finished design to a Microsoft Word document or a rich text file. You can also export your design schematics and save them as .bmp files. I clicked the "Export to Word" option from the File dropdown menu and watched as the program automatically launched Word and exported my design right before my very eyes.

The results in Word will still needed a bit of formatting for easier readability, especially where paragraph returns were concerned. Also, here's where you can add any pattern repeat instructions, project notes about yarn used, the project's recipient, the project date, etc.

From Word you can also export the pattern to your PDA, a nice touch if you don't want to haul around a pattern (and happen to own a PDA)

Other Noteworthy Features
The Sweater Wizard was designed by a knitter for knitters, and this in itself is noteworthy. The interface is simple, and the patterns are written in common, understandable knitting terms. Your shaping instructions are given both in terms of rows (i.e. "30th row") and measurement ("until piece measures 15 inches"). This means you have a backup if you get distracted and lose your row count.

The software will also calculate the approximate amount of yarn you'll need for your garment, with separate estimates for the body and sleeves. In version 3.0, these estimates were modified to be more generous, although you're still advised to use common sense and stock up on at least one extra skein just in case.

The software demonstrates its sophistication in small but significant ways. For example, it calculates the exact number of stitches to pick up along each section of a neckline, instead of saying "pick up xxx stitches around neck" and leaving you to try and distribute them evenly. This may not sound like a big deal, but those numbers are the secret formula to sweater success.

Visual Help?
As with the earlier versions, you won't find lots of visuals in 3.0 beyond the design schematics in your finished pattern. It would be nice to have sample schematics of style options, for example, if you forgot the difference between T-shape and drop-shoulder shaping, or if you don't know what a placket neckline is. Even in the Help files, the shapes are all described only in words.

I should note that the Knitting section of the Help files is a wonderful resource. Carole Wulster writes with a friendly, conversational tone, explaining some of the most-asked questions. She illustrates a few topics with images (some of them too blurry to be helpful), and I would love to see even more photos here in the future.

Other Shortcomings
The ability to program pattern repeats is a great step forward, but your garment can only have one pattern repeat (unless you pick several patterns that all require the same number of stitches). And there's no place to note the stitch details of your pattern repeat, but you can always add it after you export your pattern into a word-processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Unlike Cochenille's Garment Designer, you can't resize portions of your garment visually by clicking and dragging them on the schematic. Certain important variables will be shown in input boxes, where you can change the measurement as desired, and you can make other modifications using the dropdown menus. But if you want to do something extra funky—an asymmetrical dip on one side of your cardigan, for example—you're on your own.

There's no "notepad" area where you can add details about the project. Carole suggests you incorporate these details into the pattern's file name when you save it (i.e. "Clara's Cherished Cashmere Cardigan"). If you want to add any real notes, you'll need to do it either in Word or on your pattern's print-out.

Also, there's no easy way to re-use someone's body measurements as you can with Slopers in Garment Designer. Carole advises you to create a "master" pattern with that person's measurements. When you want to reuse those measurements, open a new instance of Sweater Wizard, resize the windows so you see both patterns side by side, and copy over the measurements into the new instance.

Companion Applications
If you want to add any type of surface design to your garment, you can use the companion product, Stitch & Motif Maker. As the name implies, this handy tool lets you design a stitch or color motif on a grid.

Besides the full color palette, you can also use stitch symbols. To get a quick reminder of which stitch combination a symbol represents, just hover your mouse over it. There are extra symbols you can use to assign your own stitch combinations.

And, unlike The Sweater Wizard, there's an "undo" feature here if you make any mistakes. Whew!

Notes for 4.0?
If Carole were sitting opposite me this morning, I would love to suggest that she subject the program to formal usability testing, if she hasn't done so already.

You can learn volumes about a tool by silently watching different users at a computer try to perform a list of specific tasks. In seeing where people tend to slow down or get lost, and using this insight to make user-interface modifications to future versions of the program, she could turn version 4.0 into an even bigger winner.

 
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