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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tutorial: Using the Brother Cartridge and Cartridge Utility

How to use the Brother Cartridge and Cartridge Utility

A step-by-step description of the process of creating a pattern file on your computer, transferring it onto the Brother Cartridge, and loading it into memory on a Brother electronic knitting machine.
Brother electronic knitting machines came with patterns already loaded into the machine, but also with ways to input patterns. One of those ways was through the use of a physical Cartridge which fit into the console of the knitting machine and could be used to both save patterns from the knitting machine, and to import new patterns into the knitting machine. These cartridges could also be used with the PPD system which connected with a television set, before personal computers were common. This was an improvement over the manual input process, but is quite primitive by modern standards.

A third-party company, IBB electronic engineering, offers a Brother stitch pattern cartridge for knitting machines. This device fits into electronic knitting machines that took the original pattern cartridge, but also can be connected with a computer through a USB port. Interacting with the Brother Cartridge requires the Cartridge Utility software.
The Brother Cartridge has a very basic memory, and uses its own file format. The Cartridge Utility program is used to transfer graphics files into this file format, and then to transfer the file format to and from the Brother Cartridge.
Using the Brother Cartridge and the Cartridge Utility is a two-stage process. One step is to create (or unpack) the simple file in the format (*.BPM = Brother Pattern Memory)  that will fit on the Cartridge. The other step is to transfer this simple file to (or from) the computer and the Cartridge.
Yes, it is arcane and awkward. That's how computing used to be in the day. :) 
I work with an MS Windows computer using Windows 10; I have no experience with using a Macintosh computer to run this.

Overview of the steps
  1. Obtain a suitable pattern in a suitable format
  2. Use the Cartridge utility to add the pattern to a BPM file (Brother pattern memory)
  3. Use the Cartridge utility to write the BPM file onto the physical Brother Cartridge over a USB cable.
  4. Take the Brother Cartridge to the Brother electronic knitting machine and transfer the pattern(s) into the memory of the electronic knitting machine.

Step 1. Obtain a suitable pattern in a suitable format

Knitting machines use bitmaps - either 0 or 1 (white versus black). The pattern needs to be some kind of bitmap. Each pixel represents a stitch on the knitting machine. The width of the pattern should be less than the width of your knitting machine - but the knitting machine will repeat it for you, so it can be much smaller.

The Cartridge Utility can add the following file types:

*.PAT DesignaKnit PAT file
*.BPT Brother PaTtern file
*.CST CompuStrick CST file
*.CUT Creation CUT file
*.PCX System 90 PCX file
*.STC Stitch Painter file
*.SBR Stitch Painter Brush file
*.DAT PC10 DAT file
Most of these files are proprietary file formats from commercial software. For example, if you own DesignaKnit, you can use it to make a *.PAT file, and then the Cartridge Utility will allow you to upload it into your knitting machine.

You may also have a *.PAT file provided with a pattern that you could use. 

With Adobe Photoshop, I was able to save an image file as a *.PCX file.

Or you could use a free graphics program, such as GIMP, to create and save a pattern file. GIMP is not for the faint of heart, but it is free. 

Let's say that we have our file, call it: mypattern.pcx

Step 2. Use the Cartridge utility to add the pattern to a BPM file (Brother pattern memory) 


You can do this step without the Brother Cartridge unit connected. The BPM file will be stored on your computer. 

Run the Cartridge Utility program. Here's the opening screen on mine:

I click on the No Port button, because I don't have the device connected and I just want to make a file.

The only choice I have next is 4. Edit. The first three options require me to have the Brother Cartridge connected. When I click on it (or type 4), I get this screen:

In the next screen, I can either open an existing BPM file, or create a new one. I am going to create a new file, MyPattern.BPM. I click on New, and am prompted first to choose which Mode I want.

You can see that you have a choice of 7 different Brother electronic knitting machine models. Yes, different formats for different machines is arcane and awkward. That's the way computing used to be in the old days.

I have a KH-965i, so I will choose number 5. Here's the next screen:

You can see that the file name is Untitled.bpm and the Mode is KH-965. In the centre, there is a list with only one entry, Page 1.

Again, this is arcane and awkward. But that's the way computing used to be in the old days.

Now click on Page 1, and click the Edit button on the top right. Here's what my screen looks like now:

Again, my file name and mode are there as before. The screen says that I have 95% of the space available. The other 5% must already be taken up with file details.

Now I can either Browse, or Add. Browse gives me a way to look at pattern files on my computer, so that I can find the one I want without having to use another program.

I have a file I made on my computer, called checkers.pcx. Using Browse within the Cartridge Utility, it looks like this:

Now I am going to go back to the previous screen, and add it. I click on the Add button, and get this screen:

901  10 x 10 @ 0600, 0014
This is the Index (901) and the pattern information (10 x 10 - 10 pixels by 10 pixels), as well as the memory location. You don't need to know anything about the memory location (it's arcane .... ), but you do want to know what the pattern number is, and it helps to know how big it is.

If I wanted to, I could add additional patterns into the same BPM file, and they would be listed as 902, 903, etc.

The amount of storage space differs by type of knitting machine. It is limited. That's the way computers used to be. (should I patent this phrase, I wonder)

Now I can close the file, and then I want to save it onto my computer. I click on Save As, find the directory where I want to save the file, and type the new file name at the bottom where it says File Name. Here's a screenshot:

I Save the file MyPattern.BPM

On the next screen, click on the Exit button, and we are back to the opening User Interface screen, ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3. Use the Cartridge utility to write the BPM file onto the physical Brother Cartridge over a USB cable. 

In this step, we are going to take the MyPattern.BPM file from the computer's hard drive and move it onto the Brother Cartridge. For this step, you need to use the cable that came with the Brother Cartridge to connect it to a USB port on your computer. Once you have done this, the User Interface will now allow all of the options, not just the Edit option.

We click on 2. Write to write the file that we just created onto the Brother Cartridge.

This takes a long time, far longer than seems reasonable for the size of the file. But that's the way computing used to be. Wait until the computer is finished.

Now you are finished at the computer. You can disconnect the Brother Cartridge from the USB port on your computer, and take it with you to your knitting machine.

Step 4. Take the Brother Cartridge to the Brother electronic knitting machine and transfer the pattern(s) into the memory of the electronic knitting machine.

For this step, you can consult your knitting machine manual. I am cutting this short in the interest of getting it out sooner rather than later.  Good luck!

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