Obsession Thursday: Spreadsheets

It’s no secret that I have a background in numbers: I have a degree in mathematics, and I spent 15 years working in product management in the software industry.  I’ve spent many, many hours working with numbers in spreadsheets, sometimes in Microsoft Excel and sometimes in the Open Office spreadsheet program. No matter which program I use, spreadsheets are my best friend, and I love how they can help me even though I’m no longer in the software industry!

I use them for a surprising number of things.

Yes, spreadsheets are good for working with numbers, and I take advantage of this by using them to help me with pattern design and technical editing.  (I may be good with math, but I’m terrible at arithmetic.)  I use them to check the calculations. For example, when creating or checking a garment pattern I create a row with the number of cast-on stitches, I create rows with the number of stitches decreased for armhole shaping, and then I let the spreadsheet do the arithmetic to let me know how many stitches remain after the shaping.

Checking the arithmetic

Very helpful!

But they’re also good for non-number related tasks.

I use them to create charts – these, for example. (I often use the Knitting Symbols font for my own designs, but for Knitty we have our own standard set of symbols.)   I set the column widths and heights so that they reflect the appropriate ratio for a knit stitch (a stitch is about 3/4s of its width in height, so that means  if you set the columns to be 1 cm wide, then the rows should be .75 cm tall.) and then I fill in either the appropriate symbols, or use the color fills.

Colorwork and pattern stitches

When charting, the mathematical functions are amazingly helpful – I don’t need to fill in cell and row numbers – I just set the first one, and use a formula to create the others.  And you’ve got color fills for colorwork charts.

I also use spreadsheets for my to do lists. Here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of Knitty – a sample spreadsheet I use to keep track of my technical editing tasks.

Keeping me on track.

And I even use them to keep an inventory of my stash.

Out of sight, not necessarily out of mind.

Spreadsheets – a knit designer’s and technical editor’s best friend!

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38 thoughts on “Obsession Thursday: Spreadsheets

  1. Becca R.G.

    Another person to add to my informal study showing that math majors can’t add. The spreadsheets look great!

  2. Nancy

    My daughter is an actuary and is a spreadsheet guru – these are great tips to use and she can help me set some up!

  3. Bridget

    Even engineers like spreadsheets 🙂 Although I never thought of using them for a to-do list. I still use pen and paper for that.

  4. Paula

    I love these ideas! Especially keeping track of my stash. Much neater and easier to update than my present method of sorting through all the boxes and bags!!!

  5. Kate

    I have a spreadsheet in my cell phone that does the math for number of skeins needed and the cost for a project. That way when I run around the warehouse at Webs trying to narrow down my choices for a project I put in the yards and price per ball, and out shoots the total balls and price. (I also do math and not arithmetic. My friends find this to be hysterical)

  6. Roxy

    I’m happy to know I’m not the only one who catalogues their wool stash on excel!

    I’ve had to start cataloguing in secret though after my other half used it as evidence that I owned too much wool, the fact it has an entire spare room to itself didn’t give that away apparantly…

  7. Priscilla B

    I also love spreadsheets (I’m a retired astrophysicist). I keep track of my stash and the gauges for each yarn on one or more needle sizes. I also have a page for all the patterns I have for socks with the published gauge, number of stitches in body, suggested yarn, etc. Another spreadsheet is for the books I have, have read, and wish to read.

  8. Latisha

    Excel is very good. I use Access and Excel to manage my life… or at least I used to…. before I had 8 kids to keep track of too….

  9. Elizabeth

    I already keep track of my stash in Excel, but never thought of it as a design tool. Fantastic!

  10. AnnieBeeKnits

    I have another knitting-related use for spreadsheets, too: calculating the number of stitches (& therefore the amount of yarn) used in a shawl or other WIP. For a basic neck-down/out triangular shawl, you increase 4 sts every 2nd row, so I use a spreadsheet to calculate how many stitches will be in each row, and the total cumulative number of stitches. If I’ve used half my yarn but I’m only 1/3 of the way through the stitches, the spreadsheet will tell me in advance, so I can make modifications! (Yep, I’m a spreadsheet nerd too.) 🙂

  11. Lisa Swanson

    I truly believe there is a math gene, which I don’t have, so sometimes adjusting patterns and attempting design is a struggle for me, but I keep at it. Don’t know if spread sheets and I will every be friends – Excel and like programs fall into the math gene thing for me.

  12. elizaduckie

    I’m math challenged and this just makes my eyes roll back in my head! I admire it I just can’t use it–brain going to white noise…..phht.

  13. Beth Katcher

    You forgot one of my favorite applications of spreadsheets!

    When a pattern has multiple shapings going on (e.g., neck and armhole) where the directions give one part and then say AT THE SAME TIME …? I rewrite the directions. Each spreadsheet row is a row of knitting and each column represents a place for shaping. The final column shows how many sts should be on the needles.

    This works for when you have multiple patterns going on as well, e.g., an aran knit. I still use the charts with the pattern, but I have a spreadsheet that shows me if I am on row 17 of my knitting, that is row 3 of chart A, but row 9 of chart B.

  14. Yvonne

    My math challenged brain is frazzled reading this – how do you people think up these things!:)

    Would you consider doing a tutorial (as in a very basic run through with a real pattern)on your blog or as an article(s) for Knitty ? Enjoy all the contributers to this blog – thanks!

  15. Chris(Buttercup)

    Does anyone use Numbers for IPad yet? I’m slowly moving all my patterns, stash and well, everything to it and wondered if anyone had any helpful tips.

  16. cathy

    I LOVE IT!! People think I’m obsessive because I use a time management program to keep track of how long it takes me to do each part of a knit project. I just love the details.

  17. heather

    another nerd here. but i hadn’t thought to use excel for these purposes…but now i’m going to go at it for sure! scoot over accounting files, here comes some knitting!

  18. Marie

    I have just started reading charts with patterns and using spreadsheets make so much sense! I can make comments right in the cells and make them as large as I want so I don’t have to strain my eyes so much. Thanks for this new idea!

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  20. kashurst

    Awesome! I’ve used them for colorwork charts, too! My husband is a huge Excel geek! I once emailed him giving him two choices for dinner. He emailed me back in an Excel formula. And I totally got it!

  21. HelenK

    Love it! I think I’d do thank you notes in Excel if I thought the recipients could read them.
    Thanks for the tips on using Excel for patterns.
    I’d have my stash in Excel if I hadn’t discovered ravelry.com first.

  22. Babs

    So glad to know that I am not the only Queen of Excel! There is hardly anything that cannot be better organized in Excel.

    Here’s one of my additional uses when it comes to knitting: gauge swatches. I have a spreadsheet that shows my gauge (row and stitch) in a particular yarn, worked in the round or flat, stockinette or some other stitch pattern, and size and type of needles. I wish I had started this years ago, but at least I can add to it with each swatch. It helps me most with socks and mittens where a little difference in gauge can mean a big difference in wearability.

  23. Babs

    Meant to add that I kept stash in Excel for ages, long before there was a Ravelry. It was a bit depressing when I found I had more than 25 miles of stash. This thread may make me revive the use of that spreadsheet, though. Thanks!

  24. Lorraine

    Its nice to know I’m not the only one. I use excel for all the same things. You should see my xmas list… 🙂

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