Finding the Right Fit

There aren’t many knitting apps on the App Store, and I’m not sure why. There are a couple dedicated to teaching you how to knit, a couple that will help you find knitting patterns, and about eight that could be classified as knitting tools (crocheters, just replace the word “knitting” with “crochet” and everything still holds true).

Of those eight apps, exactly zero of them look like native iOS apps. They all have custom interfaces that seem hellbent on ignoring as many platform conventions as possible. One of them allows you to create a new project by tapping an ordinary tab bar item instead of using a modal view. A few of them pop up full screen ads seemingly at random as you tap around the app. Despite these annoyances, most of them have very good reviews from real people who genuinely find them helpful. But they could be so much better. So why aren’t there any beautiful, well-designed knitting apps?

I have a few theories. The first is that there aren’t really any companies that would be incentivized to build such an app. Red Heart, a yarn brand, isn’t going to hire an iOS dev team. It just doesn’t make sense. There is no software company dedicated to making digital tools for the fiber arts. And while I’d wager that there’s actually a fairly significant overlap between programmers and knitters, the overlap between knitters and independent iOS developers is extremely small, and perhaps is just me (and I don’t even know how to knit…I just crochet!).

Then there’s the possibility, of course, that there’s no demand for such a product…but I don’t believe that. Not when there’s so many reviews on similar apps. Yes, there’s a sense in which knitting and crocheting should be decidedly analog activities, but I believe there are ways that technology can help without getting in the way: think voice commands for controlling a row counter, or a row counter right on your wrist as an Apple Watch app.

One good comparison would be a recipe app where you can add notes to the recipes. That way, when you returned to a recipe to make it again, you could easily see what modifications you made last time. Knitting patterns are like that too, especially if you’re creating a garment in a particular size. Things like notes and photos can be really helpful.

There are also a handful of apps on the App Store that act as clients for Ravelry, the largest online fiber arts community. Ravelry has around a million monthly active users. People use the site to add patterns (both free and paid) to an enormous community database, catalog their yarn stash, share what projects they’re working on, and discuss all kinds of topics in the forums. It’s essentially a social network for knitters and crocheters (you have your own profile, can add friends, etc.).

When I think about where YarnBuddy will “fit” in the world of knitting, crocheting, and apps, I’m hoping to position it as a handy tool for keeping your place in a pattern as well as an offline alternative for tracking your projects and yarn stash. Of course, I also want it to eventually work with Ravelry, using its API to import pattern PDFs (I don’t think that will make the 1.0, though). Finally, I want it to be beautifully-designed and a delight to use.

I’m both excited and terrified to find out if there really is a place for an app like YarnBuddy. The anecdotal data I’ve gathered from friends and family so far has been encouraging. If I’m successful, I have the chance to become one of two or three major players in this niche, and that’s pretty darn exciting. For now I’ll just keep chugging along, making an app that I’d want to use myself and hoping for the best!

Something New

Wow, what a year this past few months have been, eh? It’s snowing heavily outside as I write this. On April 16. 😒 According to the local newspaper, we should expect “the first significant snow of the season” today. But like…what season? Winter? Spring? Summer? What is even happening?

And yet, here I am, finally enjoying a few moments of peace. My husband and the kids are all napping, and I’m sitting in my recliner watching the snow fall and typing this blog post in iA Writer, as one does.

I wanted to write a little bit about the new app I’m working on, because I haven’t really done that yet (and it’s not meant to be a secret!). It’s called YarnBuddy, and it’s a simple project tracker for knitters and crocheters.

The app serves two primary functions: 1) to keep an organized record of your crocheting or knitting projects (for fun, posterity, or business reasons), and 2) to track your progress in a pattern so that you don’t lose your place. You can also keep track of your yarn stash, convert between metric and imperial units, and calculate yarn substitutions (i.e. how many balls of yarn you’ll need if you don’t use the yarn listed in the pattern).

Before release, I’m hoping to create a companion Watch app for counting rows/stitches, add the ability to set reminders that will pop up when you reach a particular row (i.e. “Switch colors!” at row 48), and create a few more alternate app icons.

I also need to implement the majority of the logic for the row counters, which is tricky because there are lots of different scenarios one might encounter in a pattern. For example,

  • “Rows 12-24: Repeat row 6”
  • “Repeat rows 3-15 9 times”
  • Multiple parts of a garment, such as a front, back, and two sleeves

I’ll need a flexible counter system that allows the counters to be linked on both increase and decrease, while also displaying the number of repeats.

I also have tons of ideas for features that won’t make the 1.0, such as time tracking, a place to keep an inventory of what tools you own, pattern annotation (it was just too hard to get this to work in SwiftUI, so I punted it), and fun ways to share what you’re working on. I’m hoping WWDC will bring much-needed improvements to SwiftUI that will allow me to deliver a great iPad experience as well (right now it’s a little bit wonky).

I’m planning to have a landing page ready soon so folks can sign up to be notified when a beta is ready. Until then: take care, be safe, stay home!