Note: This review was written in August, 2013. There have been a few updates since I wrote this, but the basic information should still be useful to you. :)
A few days ago I was on the forum for the Colorfully Modern Cardigan on Ravelry, reading on everyone's progress and seeing their pictures, when someone mentioned an iPad app called knitCompanion. She said it would "make it easier to keep track on the pattern". I thought, "Oh? I wonder how it would do that?" I looked it up and installed it, and I was blown away.
The official website is knitcompanion.com, and you can go there for a bunch of information, including a vast array of tutorials and the user guide. The app is currently available for iPads and iPhones, and they hope to expand to other devices.
There is a free version and a paid version. You install the free version and upgrade to the full version if you want inside the app. Currently the price to upgrade is $15.99. A bit more on what the full version contains later on.
Even without spending a dime, this app is very full-featured.
But what is it? At the most basic level, you load your knit and crochet project PDFs into the app and use it to help you knit/crochet a project. You can highlight areas, set markers to keep track of what row you're on in charts and in written instructions, increment numeric counters, zoom in on the part you're currently working on, add notes, and more. This page of their website lists out everything that the app contains.
I mentioned recently that I like being able to read PDFs in my Kindle app, which is great for electronic versions of knit and crochet projects. I mentioned the downside is that I can't highlight anything or make notes. The knitCompanion app is all of that and a bag of chips.
I'm not going to go through all of the capabilities (that's impossible), but let's go through a little tour:
Here is the home screen. The cute little sheep is your guide and is the "voice" in all of the videos. She's very smart as well as being cute. The "Live Events" shows when there are free info webinars or other events with designers.
Under "Designs", you can see the five very beautiful designs that come with the app (yes, even the free version!):
Back to the designs. You can knit the designs, of course, but they're also there to help you get used to the app.
Since I'm in the middle of the Crochet-Along cardigan, I decided to load the PDF in and use the app while I worked the project.
Until I say otherwise, everything I'm going to show you was done on the iPad (as opposed to the iPhone or the computer).
First thing, locate the PDF online. For this cardigan, it can be found here, then you click the download link on the right side. That loads the PDF into a reader on the browser. When you tap near the top of the page, you see a gray bar, and one of the buttons is "Open in..." This is great for all kinds of apps, not just knitCompanion, as you can see here:
I touched "Open in knitCompanion", and it loaded right up:
This PDF can be accessed from the "PDFs" button on the home screen, but you can't do all the cool stuff here. You can flip through the pages like in the Kindle app, but there are no counters or row markers or any of the rest of it.
See that "New Project" button at the top? Tap that, and it starts the conversion process into a project:
I think it's really neat that you can choose which pages you want. Say you have a huge book in PDF form with a bunch of projects but only want to work on one of them. You scroll through the pages and highlight the ones you want. Since this PDF is for only one cardigan, I selected all pages and was then asked to name it:
The QuickStart refers to the part of the app that you can access in the free version. It's available in the paid version, too, but I'm guessing this is what you'd use for most everything.
Once you create the project, now all the fun begins. I found where I was in the pattern and zoomed in so I could read the instructions very clearly. I also added some highlights, a row marker, and I incremented one of the counters for how much I've gotten done.
I made that really big so you can see the highlights well. I'm working the small size (remember I'm using a big hook which throws my gauge off but gives me a loose sweater), so I don't really have to highlight the numbers. I highlighted a few in my example so you can see how easy it would be to keep track of what you're supposed to do for larger sizes. On future projects, I intend on highlighting all of the numbers I need to keep track of (how many stitches, how many rows, etc.) before starting, then I won't have to worry about it anymore. There are even different color highlights available.
That scroll bar just to the left of the colored blocks with numbers is the row marker. Tap in that area, and it appears, and you can move the marker up and down. Tap in that area again to make it disappear.
The colored blocks on the right are the counters. You can slide it out if you want to decrement or reset the counter, and you can keep track of four different numbers. (In proofing this before posting, I found that I typed "resent" instead of "reset". I got a little giggle at resenting the counter, which I frequently do on slow-moving projects.)
As I worked I found it really nice to have the iPad propped up next to me on the couch, and I increased the row counter as I went along. Of course, I had to rip out some of it because a ribbing went diagonal on me, and I used the counter to keep track of that as well.
I tried out the annotations and added a note simplifying the next decrease directions:
Tap on the little note icon (you can choose your color) to get the note to appear, and you tap anywhere but on the note to close it.
That's the gist of the app, but there is so much more. If you have a Dropbox account to store files for backup or accessing on other devices, you can configure knitCompanion to interface with it, which greatly expands what you're able to do. You're not limited to PDFs you find on the web or have in your e-mail, and you can use knitCompanion on multiple devices as long as you link to the same account (and remember to export when you're done with one device - more on that later).
I have used Dropbox for quite some time, and I really like it. You get a huge amount of space for free. I have documents and spreadsheets for my business on it in case my laptop crashes as well as personal files. I also have a folder set up for sharing Loose Bead Society photos with a member who takes pictures for the society. I need the pictures in one central location, and this gives her an easy way to get them to me.
Recently I decided to store my jewelry designs' tutorials on Dropbox so I wouldn't lose them if my laptop crashes (do I sound paranoid?) but also so I can access them on the iPad. I remember most everything, but sometimes I need a little help remembering how to start, what I did with the clasp, and a few other details. It's been very helpful, but now I have an even better way to access them and will recommend this app to my customers who get the electronic versions of my tutorials.
You do need to explicitly tell knitCompanion that you want to interface with Dropbox. It's a simple process and can be found in the Settings (the gear at the upper right of the Home screen). There's a "Sync Options" button in the lower right, and that's where you can enable Dropbox. Once that's done, it interfaces with the Dropbox app on your device. Oh, that should be installed and set up ahead of time. :) I'm not going to go into all that now, but if you're interested in doing that but get stuck, let me know. I may be able to help.
So in the "PDFs" section of knitCompanion, once you've enabled Dropbox there's an option on the bottom for Local PDFs and Dropbox PDFs. You can store the PDFs in the default knitCompanion folders, or you can navigate through your Dropbox folders to where you have them stored.
Let me show you my list of tutorials. I have folders for each design which include the photos, but I also put the PDFs separately so I don't have to go hunting for them. I tapped on the one I wanted, and an "Import" button appears:
I touched that, and it copied the PDF from Dropbox onto the device. I tapped on "Local PDFs" to see it and to create a project as I showed you above:
This is a postcard I made up for the 2012 Bead&Button Show Meet the Teachers reception. I figured it was a good example to show you how knitCompanion can be used for beaders as well as knitters and crocheters.
Zoom in on the chart and add a row marker:
...and you can keep track of your beaded charts! They designed this capability for knit designs with fancy charts, but it works just as well for beading, too. Every rectangle that has a blue line going through it is a bead to be stitched in this row.
One of the many great things about this app is that it remembers exactly where you are in the project and even how zoomed in you are. The row counters are saved with each project, so you don't have to worry about losing your place when you bop between projects.
Speaking of bopping around, what if you don't want to lug your iPad with you when you're at the repair shop waiting for your car to be done? Knitting or crocheting is a great way to pass the time, but juggling paper patterns or a big tablet isn't all that easy in a waiting room. If you have Dropbox and knitCompanion on your iPad and iPhone, you don't have to! Just remember to export your project into Dropbox on the last device you accessed it on and import it on the other device.
I imported the cardigan project onto my iPhone, and I think it'll work just fine:
It's quite a bit smaller, of course, but you can zoom in more or even turn the phone sideways if that helps.
When you're done at the shop and want to work on the project at home on the iPad again, export it from the phone and import it onto the iPad. This is really important, or you'll probably end up repeating rows.
Even though I'll have to remember these extra steps, I think it's wonderful that I can store my files locally on different devices. If everything was stored on Dropbox (and you accessed and saved to Dropbox while you were working), you'd be at the whim of your cell signal, and the performance would likely lag. I have a grocery app I really like - I can plan what to buy and from where based on the prices I've put in and make up a grocery list, but when I get to the store and access the app from my phone, it's so slow I don't even want to use it anymore. There are ads that have to load, and every time I click an item that I've purchased (essentially crossing it off the list), it updates the database "out there". It's a bigger drain on my battery and my sanity. Having local files like knitCompanion has frees you up for more knitting (or crocheting or beading...).
Speaking of ads, there are none. NONE. Honestly, there are no ads. The free version has all the capabilities I mentioned above (and more), and there are no ads. Also, there are no limits to how many PDFs or projects you can access in the app. I don't know how they do it, except I'm sure they're hoping we'll all buy the full version.
Update to the above paragraph: They did have to add ads, unfortunately. They're small and at the bottom of the screen, so they're unobtrusive.
In the full version there are keys to help you while you're knitting, smart counters (helpful if you have instructions like, "after x rows do the decrease, and at the same time, after y rows do something else"), clearer row markers, and much more. Since I have not yet purchased the full version, I can't comment yet. :) I do think the clearer row markers (the entire row is highlighted, either with a normal background or an "inverse" one) would be helpful, but at the moment I'm very happy with what the free version has provided. I do see myself purchasing the full version when I have some extra cash to support the product and to play with all the cool new stuff. (Don't get me started on bills - between vet visits for the cats and the aforementioned car repair and a lot more, I'm lucky I can afford the free version of the app right now.)
One more feature I want to show you, which is accessible from the project screen (Edit/Measure):
A ruler! How neat is that? This one is from the iPad app. You can measure your piece as you work! This would be great for those dreaded swatches, but I can also see myself measuring bracelets when I can't find my tape measure (which happens more often than I care to admit). I'm sure there are ruler apps out there, but why load up your device unnecessarily? The iPhone ruler goes to just over 2 1/4", which I can see useful for when you're at the hair salon and want the stylist to know what an inch actually is (instead of the 2 or 3 inches is usually ends up being). "This is how much I want cut off. THIS much!"
It's the attention to detail like the ruler and all of the other features they've provided in the free version that make me recommend this app very highly. I do hope they're able to develop it for Kindles, Nooks, and other tablets, because knitters, crocheters, beaders, and probably other crafters I'm not thinking of right now can really benefit.
Gone are the days when you're searching for the scrap of paper or notebook where you've tallied your rows, a pencil, a highlighter, the pattern itself. If you're like me, you're practically glued to your iPad and/or iPhone, and all your designs will always be with you.
So you don't have to scroll up to find the link again, it's knitcompanion.com. You're welcome. :)