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What's WIF Got to Do With It?

WIF stands for weaving information file. It is a specially formatted text file that describes a weaving project. What makes WIF files so wonderful is they're a generic standard, and can be read by nearly all weaving software. (If you're willing to wade through formatting, you can even open WIF files in a text reader such as Windows Notepad.)

Using WIF files, weavers can electronically store and exchange weave drafts, display them graphically with weaving software, and use them to drive computer-assisted looms.

The reason a generic standard is necessary is that each weaving program stores draft and project information in its own proprietary file format. For example, Fiberworks PCW uses .dtx files and PixeLoom uses .plm files.

Before the WIF standard, there was no way for a weaver using one program to share their electronic drafts with someone using another. If the weaver owned more than one brand of weaving software—perhaps because each had different features they needed for their designing—they could not transfer weave drafts between the two programs, and would instead have to re-enter everything by hand.

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Most weaving software implements the WIF standard as an import/export file format. Now, if a weaver using Fiberworks PCW wants to share a project with a weaver who uses pixeLoom, the first weaver can select File->Save As->WIF Format in order to export the project into the WIF format which the second weaver can then import using File->Open.

Having an established standard for describing weave drafts is a boon for websites such as Handweaving.net where weavers upload and download WIF files to exchange weave-draft information.

On WeaveZine, WIF files make it possible for us to offer weave-draft information in a downloadable format that users can import into weaving software to customize (swapping out warp and weft colors or changing the treadling and treadling) and/or use to drive a computer-assisted loom.

It also makes it possible for us to elegantly publish weave drafts with very long repeats in the threading and treadling. These types of drafts produce cloth that is organic and rich, but up until now, have been hard to publish because you would have to interrupt the article with a long draft section, which does not display well in print or online. With WIFs, WeaveZine can publish a thumbnail image of the draft—to give the reader the basic look-and-feel of the textile—then offer the complete details as a downloadable WIF file. The best news? You don't have to hand-enter all those treadling and threading details to play with the draft in your weaving software.


How Do I Open a WIF File?

The most useful way to open a WIF file is with weaving software.

Weaving applications read the text file, display it in graphical weave-draft format, and enable you to edit the draft and immediately see the effect of your changes in the computer-generated "cloth."

Note:While it is possible to open and read a WIF file in a text-file reader such as Windows Notepad, the WIF-file formatting displays the weave draft numerically. Unless you are the kind of person who enjoys sorting through columns of numbers, you'll be happier using weaving software that does all the necessary translation to display the weave draft graphically.

There are several wonderful weaving applications currently on the market. Most of them are written by developers who are weavers or the spouses of weavers. Judie Eatough has compiled a list of weaving software on her site.

Weaving applications typically have the same core functionality (graphical display and editing of weave drafts) and then additional features that are unique to that program. Like choosing a loom, the best way to choose the weaving application that best meets your needs is to try it out. Most weaving companies offer a downloadable demo that you can use to test-drive their program. (Would that it were that easy to try out different looms!) Demo versions typically limit you in some way, such as not being able to save or print project information, or expiring after a set time period.

Also like looms, weavers who do a lot of electronic editing and manipulation of weave drafts sometimes have more than one application, so they can switch between them to take advantages of the different features offered by each program.

Note: The .wif file extension is not unique to Weaving Information Files. Because there are only so many three-letter combinations, sometimes a given file extension is used by different types of applications. For example, the .wif file extension can also mean "Wavelet Image File" and "Window Intermediate File template." If you run into an error where a WIF file is described as corrupt, your file may be one of these other file formats, or non-weaving software may be trying to open your weave draft.


No Software: What Can I Do?

Personally? If you have a computer and you weave, I think you'll get a lot out of weaving software. For me, creating and editing weave drafts on a computer is as obvious as using a word-processing program to write fiction.

The ablity to make a small change to an element of the weave draft and immediately see that change reflected in the computer-generated "cloth" has taught me much about weaving.

That said, not everyone shares my prejudices, and for others it's a matter of budget. So how can you view a WIF file if you haven't purchased weaving software?


Using Weaving Software Demos as a Reader
One option is to download a demo of weaving software and use that to view WIF files. In researching this article, I contacted weaving software developers and asked about this.

The following companies (in alphabetical order) offer demos, and are fine with you using their demo as a WIF reader. You typically won't be able to Save or Print without purchasing a license, but you will be able to view and play with the weave draft.

Note: If you are a weaving software developer and are willing to have WeaveZine readers use your demo as a WIF reader, please email me to be added to this list.

Writing software for a niche market such as weaving is often a labor of love. The marketplace for weaving software isn't large enough to make anyone rich, and yet these developers offer complex editing functionality at reasonable prices.

These companies deserve your support. If you find yourself frequently using a particular demo, please consider purchasing a copy of the application. Not only is it the right thing to do, it helps these companies stay in business, so they can continue to offer new features as weaving evolves.


Generic WIF Viewers
Kris Bruland wrote a custom module for Handweaving.net that reads a WIF file and generates a PNG image file which graphically displays the weave draft. I spoke with Kris, and he is working on extending this functionality into a WIF-file viewer that could be used to display WIF files anywhere on the Internet, regardless of the website where they are stored.

Jane Eisenstein wrote Wif2Tiff, a program that reads a WIF file and converts the drawdown into a black-and-white TIFF image file. (Note: this image does not include the threading, treadling or tie-up, just the drawdown.) Wif2Tiff is offered as "donation ware" which means that if you download and enjoy the program, a donation (in whatever amount you choose) is a great way to say thanks and support future development.


History and Technical Details

In the 1990s, developers of weaving software recognized there was a need for a common file format to describe a weaving project. Until then, each weaving program has its own proprietary way of storing weave drafts. This meant that weavers using different software could not share files.

So in March of 1996, Ravi Nielsen of Patternland Weave Simulator, Bob Keates of Fiberworks PCW, and Rob Sinkler of Swiftweave wrote and published a specification for the WIF file format, which is based on the Windows INI file format. The idea was that weaving software developers could use this specification to write import and export functions that would enable weavers to share weave drafts between different weaving programs.

The current version of the WIF specification is version 1.1, which was published in April of 1997 with the collaboration of eleven weaving-software developers including: , Ravi Nielsen of Patternland Weave Simulator, Bob Keates of Fiberworks PCW, Rob Sinkler of Swiftweave, Sally Breckenridge of WeaveIt, Dana Cartwright of WeaveMaker, Jane Eisenstein of QD-WIF, Mark Kloosterman of Proweave, and Bjorn Myhre of WeavePoint.

You can read the WIF technical specification at the WIF web site.


Syne Mitchell is the editor of WeaveZine. Formerly employed as a programmer-writer and web-developer at Microsoft, she now enjoys using her computer to design weaving projects.