Source: Brioche Scarf, Purl Soho
Once in a while in the knitting world comes along a pattern or style that catches fire, when it seems everyone is making or has made one of it. I’m looking at you, Clapotis, Hitchhiker, Featherweight Cardigan, Honey Cowl, Turn a Square and so on. If social media can be considered any measure of popularity, brioche stitch still has its hold on garments this year; there are exquisite knitted items around on Ravelry and Instagram, and also in the knitwear in the shops for the southern-hemisphere winter.
To demystify this versatile stitch and to inspire, we are running a single-colour brioche class on 12 April at the store. This is one stitch that is much easier shown than learnt from from a book; there are all sorts of little tips and tricks with it that come hard won from experience – and Sue’s the one to explain them to you. Just call (03) 9830 1609 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.
Brioche actually refers to a family of ribbed patterned stitches that feature slipped stitches and yarn overs knitted or purled together. Among its many variations are waffle, honeycomb, Tunisian and Estonian stitches. (And yes, its name does hark back, according to some sources, to the famous French cake.) Some stitches are formed by knitting one, then knitting the stitch below (or purling one, then purling the one below), which produces the same result, often called Fisherman’s Rib or English Rib.
It takes two rows to complete a single row of brioche knitting since half the stitches are slipped on one round, then knitted or purled on the next. As in regular stocking/stockinette stitch, stockinette brioche stitch works all the right-side stitches as a brk – called bark stitch, or brioche knit stitch – and the wrong side as a brp – called burp, or brioche purl stitch. You can work the stitch as you do your regular knitting, making increases and decreases into the pattern and so on.
The result is a fabric of double thickness, warmth and elasticity. It is usually reversible too.
Because of its elasticity, gauge is so important with brioche, so knit a generous-sized swatch. You need to cast on and bind off very loosely with brioche because of the stretch. You may find you need to go down a needle size or two to get a fabric you like, depending on how tightly or loosely you knit, and use your swatch to ascertain how hard you want to block the finished item. To minimize flare in items that are knitted flat, you may want to start and finish each row with two sets of K1, P1 for a sturdier edge.
Nancy Marchant, an authority on all things brioche, recommends working with non-superwash wool, and not using slippery yarns such as alpaca and silk, since brioche knitting has a tendency to grow lengthwise.
If you’ve never tried brioche before, be patient until you get the hang of it. It can take a few rows (about 5 to 6) before the pattern be easily read. The occasional lifeline when you’re working with large stitch counts may not be a bad idea. When counting, remember that yarnovers are not included in the stitch count: as Marchant says, think of the slip one, yarn-over stitch ‘as a stitch with a shawl over its shoulders’.
The thicker your yarn and the larger your needles, the lighter and fluffier your knitting will be: brioche stitches look crisp and pop so well. And once you get the hang of it, there’s a satisfying rhythm to the knitting, and heaps of fun to be had with colours.
Elizabeth Zimmerman called brioche ‘Prime Rib’ in her books, and her matchless The Opinionated Knitter gives the pattern for a sweater, and a watch cap that ‘my husband calls Tamerlane, my daughters très Dior, and which my son and I just wear for warmth’. Here’s the pattern: ‘With #11 needles work 10” in Prime Rib, then 4 rows in K1, P1 rib. Next row, sl 1, K1, psso across. P1 row, K1 row. Thread yarn through st, and draw tight. Sew up. Try on.’ How’s that for concision?
For Purl Soho’s Brioche Scarf (pictured above), pick the lushest, loftiest wool you can lay your hands on. Our Zealana Heron or Cascade yarns would make beautiful, light pieces that squish satisfyingly.
This chunky, fluffy cowl or moebius from L’Oisive Thé is an easy beginner’s piece to work up, as it is knitted flat and seamed together, ideal for that single skein of speckled or variegated yarn.
This Colour-dipped Hat is knitted in Fisherman’s Rib (the knit-below version of brioche), and comes in sizing from baby to adult.
Source: Purl Soho
For coziness without too much bulk, Christelle Nihoul’s Lagertha cardigan confines the brioche to the neck and button tab. You can see that brioche lends itself well to cabling. It’s knit top down, so you can try and tweak as you go.
Source: Christal LK
I recently finished the saddle-shouldered Oshima for the shop. The pattern was such a pleasure to knit in Zealana Heron, it was worth knitting slowly just to properly experience it all. The details in the sweater make use of brioche properties: a tubular cast on and sewn cast off for maximum stretch; and sleeve, shoulder and cowl decreases and increases that dovetail into the pattern (check out the back to see what I mean). The squish in the fabric is unbelievable.
If you’re after a challenge, Nancy Marchant has created a damask fabric for this reversible cowl, which is knit in the round. As you can see, what effects you can create in stocking stitch, you can do in brioche too. Both sides will have a different dominant colour, and there are some sumptuous colour matches on Ravelry to inspire and tempt.
It would be remiss to speak of things brioche and not mention Stephen West, whose creations are fun itself. His Bundled in Brioche collection offers eleven patterns, including the instant heirloom Briochevron Blanket, and this sumptuous cowl and scarf.
Do come and join us next week if you can, and see the wonderful world this new suite of stitches opens up.