Sunday, June 17, 2007

Free Software for Crafts and Other Goodies

I absolutely love computers and have used them for years and years. We all know the benefits and the Internet and the whole story. We also know how expensive software can get not to mention the "need" to upgrade computers every time new trends in technology come along. I agree that we should all support copyright and pay for licenses and all that. If we don't well research will not happen and we would all be stuck with DOS v2.2 or something! But sometimes it just plain gets ridiculous. The next option, of which people do not often know is Freeware or Opensource. These are people that have written programs that work and for one reason or another have donated them to the public domain. Sometimes they ask for small registration fees but if you do not pay the software still works at its max. There is more to the story but that is it in a nutshell.
I am going to list and link to the software I use and recommend.

Word Processors and office documents:
We all use Office right? or at least some version of it. We are talking processors, spreadsheets, slide shows and maybe a database.
OpenSource version: Open Office
It has the same capabilities of the commercial version, file compatibility is not a problem. You can save files in .txt format or .doc format.
Difference with commercial version: the graphics are not as pretty.

You can also have "office" documents in Google Documents. It is still in beta stage and the formating capabilities are not exactly what we are used to. But the plain text is saved, you can have the documents available online and/or download them to your computer.

Bookmarks and favorites:
Just in case you do not know, in every browser there is an option to export your favorites. It exports to a comma separated values file (CSV) that can be imported or merged into a spreadsheet of saved for future reference.
Google has its own version. What I like about it is that regardless of what computer you are on, if you are logged into your account, your favorites will be available. Just don't forget to logout if you are using a public computer!

Another option here is Delicious
It is an free online bookmark site. I like that it is online and always available. It has tag suggestions and gathers your bookmarks in different ways. I do not like the search capability. Seldom can it find what you want. If its like me that you have endless knitting and fiber bookmarks, then you have to scroll through a bunch of pages to find what you want. Maybe they will improve.....

Book Cataloging:
I absolutely LOVE The Library Thing I have more books than you can even begin to imagine. When I bought the first duplicate I knew I had to do something. The Library Thing is free for the first 200 books or you can buy a lifetime membership with unlimited number of books. You can add books with the search function. It connects to the Amazon database, the Library of Congress and others. It automatically imports the book cover if available (or you can add your own) the book title, author, ISBN, etc. You can also use the the ISBN scanner to add books.
One of the features I like the most is the export option. Again it will export your books to a CSV file that you can import into a spreadsheet and print out to have in your purse for when at the yarn know.....

Free picture editing software is hard to find. I use two of them:
Irfanview the neat thing about this program is that it will import almost any imaginable picture format. If you had an old digital camera and pictures from it that you can not see, just download the plugins and you are in business. Another really neat feature (not seen in anyother software that I know) is the automatic color change. It will enlighten the darkest picture there is with very little distortion. It will also let you add grids and filters. Kind of the stuff you would want to do for embroidery or tapestry weaving. It has a previewer that works really well.

The other picture editing software is Photofiltre it has most of the commercial (expensive) photo editor that we all know and wish for. Between these two programs and using them interactively you would be hard pressed to justify an expensive purchase.

Weaving Software:
All of the weaving software I have seen have the "free trial" perpetual version. You can edit, add etc but you can not save, print or use the loom controllers. Weaving is a fascinating craft, we all know that mistakes DO happen and most of the time it is a treading mistake, a PAIN to fix. With a proper printed pattern sheet you are almost assured that will not happen. I have used most of weaving software available out there. I use one to do what the other free version will not let me do. Recently I have come to the conclusion that I want Fiberworks the Silver version. It is quite an investment but I know I am actually purchasing what I want and need. The money is well worth it and I am making an informed decision. Thanks for letting me try the others.
For a fairly complete list of the weaving software available go to the Interweave Press weaving pages. On that page scroll down and you will find the link on the right hand side.
Edited to add: After Leigh's comment I remembered the Arahne Software I have not used it but the comments from the weaving world is that it is great. The bad part is that it is only available for Linux OS but you can use a virtual machine inside Windows and it will run. Just look at the graphics and the amazing things it can do. The demo version allows printing and saving. The only difference with the full version is some color limitation in the print out, all the rest is identical. The commercial price for the package can only be justified for production weavers since it is in the 4 digit figures. Thanks Leigh for reminding me of this. I think you just saved me some money!

Beading and Cross stitch:
Every once in a while I get the bug. There are a couple of programs out there.
Spiral ropes using beads and crochet: DB-BEAD fun little program not much to it, but way helpful.

For peyote stitch and the other needle beading options: Easy Bead Patterns I have used it to import pictures and play around with little amulet bags. Again not much to it, but it works and it is fun. It has the option to import pictures and select ALL of the delica bead colors!

Knitting Software:

Charting: there are commercial options of course, but I have only used the free ones and so far so good. I use the knitting font with a a regular spreadsheet (either Office or OpenOffice) install the font. Format the spreadsheet AND import the graphics that show what keys from the keyboard are what symbol and chart away. I have a template spreadsheet that I open every time I need. Just make sure to follow the instructions for installing the font and inside the spreadsheet make sure that the knitting font is the one in use. Then I safe the chart only as a jpg of copy the charted section and paste it into a word document where I write the rest of the stuff for the chart. It works fine for my needs.
Just this past week I cam across a free online knitting charting site. It is a fun program and it works!. Fun part is that you can save your chart and/or print. Just make sure the Java plugin is installed and you are in business.

Knitting :
Sweater calculations: The Knitting Fool has all kinds of tools. From a yardage calculator to an online version of the Sweater Wizard. It will create the pattern based on the information on gauge, needle and size that you give it. It has different armhole and collar options. As far as I can tell there is little or no difference with the commercial version.

Over the years people have created all kinds of spreadsheets to calculate number of stitches per row on large lace patterns, weaving yarn amounts, needle chart, yarn inventory, etc. I use several of those. If you have one you want just drop me an email. Chances are I have it in my computer somewhere. Since they are Openssource I can send a copy without a problem. Actually you can create a spreadsheet to calculate almost anything you want that includes sweaters and socks , pattern repeat distribution, etc. Just make sure to make a nice large swatch and away you go!.

I am sure there are more programs out there, and I might have a couple more in here somewhere that I use not as often. The ones mentions above are the ones I use very frequently and have experimented enough with to feel confident recommending them.

My biggest recommendation, before you buy ANY kind of software, go out there and research. Chances are there is a free working version that will need the job for you.


Leigh said...

What a wonderful list. Many thanks. I can heartily second your recommendation of Oopen Office, Photofiltre, and Delicious. I also like The GIMP and it's free too. It took awhile to learn because I was used to PaintShopPro, but now I like GIMP better. Also, I was interested in your choice of weaving software. I have contemplated this for years. However, having installed Linux not long ago, weaving software is on the back burner. I have a dual boot so Windows is still available. My other option is to learn to use an emulator. All I need is more time!

Annie said...

Excellent post. I felt like cheering!

Bonnie said...

Wow! Fabulous post. Although I am new to computerland, your information has given me much to contemplate and experiment. I am so pleased that our virtual paths have crossed.

Kat said...

WOW, thank you!!! I knew about OpenOffice, but most of the other ones are new to me.

Romi said...

Wow!!! Thank you for the links! :)

Tan said...

Lots of good info, thanks!

Rob said...

Wonderful post, thanks. I have been using the knitting font you recommended and love it as well.

Kaz said...

What a great resource - full of goodies. Thanks for the links.

Anonymous said...

This was very helpfull, thank you so much.Frenchette.

Software testing training said...

Splendid post, thanks so much! I'd also like to recommend xPad for Mac OS word processing. It's a very clever little software. I love the links you added for knitting, so cool. Thanks for showing me new things! :)