I use Microsoft Excel Version 2007. Most of the functions that I will describe are available on earlier versions of Excel, but the menu paths may differ somewhat. The "Help" menu for Excel is excellent, and should help you to find the functions I describe for earlier versions of Excel.
There are a few limitations with the program. One is that, as far as I'm aware (and please correct me if I'm wrong!), Excel will not do a polar graph (circular, not to be confused with a pie chart, which Excel does do), so charting such things as doilies or table cloths, knit or crocheted in the round, is not possible. However, if you google "polar graph paper" there are sites that provide free templates that you can print off and use the old fashioned way.
The other limitation is with the fonts. There are standard knit and crochet symbols found in published patterns, and you can download free (for personal use only) knitting symbols fonts from The Knitting Universe. As far as a font for crochet symbols goes, there must be something out there but I could only find one (please update me if anyone knows of any!). My solution for the time being is to improvise with the many symbols that are available, and just define them carefully in a "key" or "legend".
Finally, a word about reading charts. Charts, particularly those for knitting and crochet patterns, are generally (unless otherwise indicated) read from the bottom right, the first row being read right to left, the second row left to right, and alternating in that manner to the top of the chart. I put directional arrows on most of my charts so that it is clear.
I have a rough outline for this Excel tutorial series as follows:
- Part 2: a step by step tutorial (with lots of screen shots for clarity) on making a simple colour chart.
- Part 3: a simple crochet lace chart.
- Part 4: a simple knit lace chart.
- Part 5: making "reusable" templates with basic garment shapes.