Family · Knitting · Nihon Vogue · Uncategorized

Finding the Right Design Documentation Tool and Project Stairway

You’re probably tired of hearing that I’m taking the Nihon Vogue Level One course.  Sometimes I am kind of tired of taking it, so you are in good company.  I have learned so many great new things, become acquainted with even more talented knitters.  However, there is much upon which one needs to keep focus, and therein lies the challenge for me.

All this is leading up to is that I wanted to find some way to save time when documenting my Nihon designs.  The customarily acceptable way is to submit hand-drawn quarter-scale designs in a little book especially provided for this purpose.  To aid in this endeavor, one is also provided with quarter-scale metric rulers and even cute little quarter-scale french curves!  However, each drawing takes hours upon hours.  Detail must be provided about the numbers of rows and centimeters between major points, how the decreases and increases and shoulder-shaping are to be accomplished, how the neckline is shaped… on and on.

As a computer-savvy person, I figured there had to be some way to do this in Adobe Illustrator, a tool I already own.  To my immense and chagrined surprise, I found myself to be wrong.  Certainly you can draw in Illustrator (duh) but there is no way to accurately represent your drawing to scale.  For that, you either need a suspicious add-in for Illustrator provided by an unknown third party or you need CAD software.  That’s right:  architectural drafting software.

I’m a bit familiar with CAD because my darling Brian bought AutoCAD for his Mac to use for designing and specifying technical information about Project Stairway.  Since he is only using this program for his personal use and doesn’t care about watermarks on the printed page proclaiming that this isn’t a “real” version, he was able to get it much less expensively than the asking price of just under $5000.  The learning curve was tremendous– CAD has been around since before all those smart people with degrees in UI design came along.  Brian is probably the smartest man I’ve ever known (all-around smarts, practical smarts– I may have known a couple of geniuses in the past who could only do one thing well).  But even with Brian Brains, it took him a couple of weeks to be able to use the software to the extent needed.  I will now take you on a side trip about Project Stairway (I’ll get back to knitting design after this little excursion).

Project Stairway began long, long ago in a time when Brian was redesigning and adding to his home and I was in some other life.  By the time I met Brian, the stairs had existed for a few years, but he had not had the time to finish them.  So this is how they looked when I first entered this home, up until a couple of days ago:

Sherlock explains that these stairs are doomed, and everyone should get off.
Loki peers into the hole Brian drilled so that he could repair a squeak.
Brian with his work in progress.

And after weeks of planning, calculating, ordering, staining, finishing and installing, this is the progress to far.

The new stairs, without banisters, rails or newels.
Sherlock likes the new stairs, but worries about no banisters.
The top wall has toppled. Long live the chi!

Aren’t they beautiful?  Now that the treads and risers are in, he will turn to installing banisters and railings and newel posts, hence the blue painter tape, upon which is marked lines as a guide to where the wrought-iron banisters will go (he figured this out by using a laser thingie).  Taking down the bulky walls that previously existed along the railing and at the top of the stairs has really opened up the area.  As Brian put it, “a great big breeze of chi wafted over us” when the wall came down.  (That was pretty tongue-in-cheek for Brian; he’s not a chi kind of guy, but still, he was right.)

Now, back to AutoCAD–  I was thinking that I might create some tall tale of justification to spend $5000 for this software because of all the cool things Brian did with it.  So I downloaded a free evaluation version for my PC.  Exactly two hours later I had accomplished nothing except for reaching dangerously high levels of frustration and finding heaps of dust piling up around me,  created by expletive bombs exploding every few seconds.  I know AutoCAD is a good software, but if I don’t have time to draw my own $%*& quarter-scale drawings, I don’t have time to waste on learning it.

What was I to do?  I Googled around again for some solution using Illustrator, and finally, in the dark corners of an ancient forum where other people (probably not knitters) had expressed similar frustration with lack of scale drawing, someone mentioned the magic words “Google Sketchup“.  Despite the fact that this sounded like a flaky condiment, my ears perked right up.  Sketchup has an evaluation copy available, and I was soon downloading it and watching tutorials.  It seemed somewhat doubtful at first, because it’s really for creating mockups of buildings for Google Earth.  But I am here to tell you that it is just the thing for creating scale drawings of garments.  You can get it for free, but the not-free version includes things I need, like the ability to export to pdfs and things like that.  There is a separate tool called Layout that you can use to annotate your drawings, print the scaled grid, etc.  The learning curve for Sketchup was much easier than for AutoCAD, but it is not totally intuitive.  There are some things I still need to use other tools (such as Fireworks) for, but for a little under 1/10th the cost of AutoCAD, Sketchup is a bargain.  Here is an example of what I’ve done with Sketchup so far (click to enlarge):


So the bottom line is that if you need to create scale drawings of any kind, check out Sketchup.  You might be glad!


4 thoughts on “Finding the Right Design Documentation Tool and Project Stairway

    1. Steph– sorry I totally missed your comment! Yes, I did you the snap to grid features, but the thing that is missing is being able to specify the line length in advance, rather than fiddling with making it just right and also the ability to instantly measure distances that you didn’t create. Does that make sense?

  1. Aha! This software was reviewed in Fine Woodworking Magazine, December 2007, No. 194, “A Quick Course In SketchUp”, page 78. Rick has been interested in getting it for furniture and cabinet design. This may be the final reason to follow through….

    1. I love how you pinpointed the exact issue and page! I think the software has been upgraded since that article, so it is probably even more useful than it was at that time. I think you and Rick would both enjoy it and find it very applicable to your hobbies and professions.

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