Monday, January 13, 2014

Another Stitch, Another Obsession: Brioche Knitting

You'll remember from several months ago when I was obsessed with star stitch. From that obsession, three new patterns were born: Carriage Trail, Quarry Creek and Ridgeview. (By the way, each are available individually in my Ravelry store or together as an e-book called "Stars Shine.")

When I'm knitting, I think a lot about how we-knitters can rearrange two simple stitches, knit and purl, into almost infinite combinations. And with simple adaptations to those two stitches, even more patterns can emerge. Knit the stitches out of order and, voilĂ , cables! Throw in some planned holes and decreases and, tada, lace! Knit with two colors at the same time and, presto, fair isle! It's all just knits and purls.

Lately I've been looking at a lot of pictures of sweaters online, mostly from designers. Knitwear that has graced the runways of London, Paris, Milan, or New York. I see a lot of what looks to me like brioche stitch. Consider me inspired. I grabbed needles and scrap yarn and started swatching.

Miss Babs' Yowza in colorway Coffee Break
looks messy in a knit/purl pattern

Miss Babs' Yowza in the same color as above,
but in brioche stitch
I'm not new to the brioche stitch. One of my favorite gifts to my nephew was a blanket done entirely in stripes and double brioche. The fabric is fluffy and drapes nice, but still thick and cuddly, and that was with a not-my-favorite cotton yarn.

I'm surprised when I see brioche stitch labeled as advanced knitting. At its most basic form, it's nearly as easy as garter stitch; every row is the same. (There are plenty of free patterns available online for simple brioche stitch scarves. I suggest this one from Purl Bee.)

I think the confusion comes in because there is a slight bit of magic and sleight of hand required to make the stitch work. Oh, and some patterns use different abbreviations for stitches, like maybe brK or something like that. Don't let it confuse you!
In my opinion, the easiest form of brioche begins with an even number of stitches and one set up row:
*yarn forward, slip one stitch as if to knit, knit one, repeat from * to end of row.
Immediately, the knitter's well-trained brain sees a problem. "I moved the yarn to the front, how can I knit? The yarn must be at the back to knit!"

Trust me. When you knit the stitch with the yarn in front, a yarn over magically appears and it appears exactly how you need it, on top of the slipped stitch. This makes the rest of the rows easy peasy. 

The rest of the time, you'll only have to remember one set of instructions:
*yarn forward, slip one stitch as of to purl, knit two together, repeat from * to end of row. 
Won't a knit-two-together make fewer stitches? Don't forget, you're also adding a yarn over so it balances out. And bonus, the knit-two-together is actually already set up as one stitch because it's the previous row's yarn over and the stitch it covers! Magic!

Repeat that row forever (or close to it) and you'll have a scarf you'll love for its warmth and squishy-factor and even stretchy. It's also perfect for those variegated yarns that just look muddled and messy in other stitch patterns. The slipped stitches and yarn overs calm down even the craziest of dye jobs. Don't count it out for projects for the men in your life, too. It's the opposite of fussy knitting.

Of course, you can get wild and crazy with brioche. Two colors or offset stitches or in the round. Increases, decreases and cables. But sometimes you just need something that's a good switch from garter stitch or ribbing for a basic project. 

Also, brioche is a delicious bread and now I'm hungry.