Drawing knitwear schematics in Illustrator: Part 1

One of the many jobs that I've done while working on A Stitch in Time 2 is drawing schematics for each of the garments. I thought it might be helpful to do a quick run-down on drawing these, as it seems to be a question that pops up from time to time on designer blogs and in the designer's group on Ravelry. I am using Adobe ® Creative Suite 5 ® (CS5) and my copy of Illustrator ® is version 15.0.0. I work on a MacBook Pro using OS X version 10.6.8. Some aspects may look a little different if you are using a PC or an older version of Illustrator, however the differences shouldn't be too significant.

This tutorial will be split into 3 posts. This post deals with getting your work space set up. The next post will be published next week, and will cover drawing your outline shapes in Illustrator. And the final post will cover adding curves, alignment and adding measurements.

The first job is to get your Preferences set up correctly. In the Illustrator menu at the top left of your screen you will see Preferences, hover over it and then choose General from the menu. Clicking on General gives you the following dialogue box of general preferences:

For drawing charts and schematics for knitting patterns, you won't need to use most of the possible settings on Illustrator. The first choice is your keyboard increment. This determines how far things move when you use the up, down, left and right arrows on your keyboard. For drawing schematics, I usually have this set to 1 pt. Choose your increment, but don't hit the OK button just yet.

Use the drop-down menu at the top of the dialogue box to select the Units screen. Then make sure that all units are set to Points (of course if you would rather work in inches or millimetres or pixels, then do - just make sure that you have your keyboard increment set to a sensible value for your units). Again, don't click OK just yet, simply select the Guides and Grid screen.

I generally work with a dot style of grid, and gridlines every 100 pt with 100 subdivisions between them. This means if I am snapping things to my grid, I have good control over where shapes are going. For drawing charts, then 10 subdivisions is probably plenty (each subdivision will be 10 pt apart rather than 1 pt that I use for schematics). Go wild with your colour choices, but it's probably worth choosing a colour that you won't be using in your schematic or charts.

Having set up your Preferences, you can open a document. When you choose New... you will be asked for a document name and the size of your Artboard (the area on which you will be drawing). I've named this Sample and chosen A4 size.

If you aren't seeing the red gridlines you may need to choose Show Grid from the View menu.

The next step is to set up some layers to work on. I imagine these like sheets of tracing paper. They determine what shows up in your final image and you can move layers up and down like sheets of tracing paper in a stack. Things at the bottom of the stack may be covered up by the layers above. But they are more useful than that, because you can lock one or more layers while you work on others. So once your outline is finished you can lock it so that you don't mistakenly move things round while you are drawing arrows or something else. In fact, you can even make layers invisible for a while too, if that's useful.

I have my layers palette set up at the bottom of the options on the right of my screen. It's the button that looks like layers! If you can't see it, then you can choose Layers from the Window menu at the top. This will give you a Layers dialogue box that you can drag and drop over to the right of the screen.

You will automatically have one layer already. To add more, simply click on the little button at the top right of the Layers palette. It looks like 4 horizontal lines with a small downward pointing triangle to the left of the lines (on any of the palettes, this will give you more options). This gives you the layers options menu.

From this menu, you can choose to rename the current layer by going into the Options for "Layer 1"... dialogue box. You can also add new layers.

This is the dialogue box you get when you choose Add new layer...

Choose a name for your layer and click on OK.

I would suggest that for drawing schematics, it is useful to set up layers as follows:

There are 8 different layers and I've named them to give an idea of what I would use that layer for. You can move layers around by dragging and dropping them in your desired order. The eye symbols on the left show that all of these layers will be visible. If you click on the eye that layer will no longer be visible (and won't print out either). Next to the eyes are the padlocks. These determine whether a layer is locked or not. When it's locked you can't do anything in that layer. You can't even paste an item into the layer. The coloured strips next to the padlocks show you what colour the things in that layer will show up as when they are selected (this is just the boxes and handles round items that you use to move, resize and manipulate them, not the actual things you are drawing).

In the picture above you will see that the Scan layer is highlighted in blue. If that layer was unlocked, it would be the active layer, or the layer I was drawing in. If you have multiple layers open, then the blue highlight shows which you will be editing or drawing in. You can change the active layer by simply clicking on the layer you wish to be active.

You are now ready to start drawing things, so do come back next week for basic steps in drawing outline schematics in Illustrator.