Jump Into Brioche Stitch with Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark
Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark has done incredible work designing with brioche stitch over the last few years. Her book Brioche Chic included the most perfect and precise explanation of what you need to know to knit brioche. We also have easy-to-follow courses to offer in this classic stitch. To dig into the and beautiful projects referred to below, grab a copy of Brioche Chic, or explore the cover project from knitscene Fall 2015, shown above.
To begin to work this stitch, and fully fall in love with the possibilities, you’ll first need to learn a few basics. Once you understand the basic stitch structure, you can then learn how to choose yarns and needles that help you fine-tune your brioche projects, work cast-on and bind-off methods that pair well with brioche, and shape brioche with increases and decreases.
The Structure of Brioche
To create this unique structure, we rely on an alternating pattern of slipped and knit (or purled) stitches. Each row or round is worked in two passes, which equal one completed row or round. As alternate stitches are worked, they’re not merely slipped but slipped while a companion yarnover is simultaneously worked. This stitch, the sl1yo, is what creates brioche knitting’s “enmeshed” structure. Once you have sl1yo stitches in place, these stitch/yarnover pairings are either knit or purled in the brioche method, as a brk (brioche knit) or brp (brioche purl).
SL1YO (SLIP ONE, YARNOVER)
This is a stitch combination that creates a stitch/yarnover pairing, which counts as a single stitch. Following a knit or brk (brioche knit) stitch, bring yarn to front between needle tips, slip next stitch purlwise and simultaneously bring yarn over needle to back of work (fig. 1). Following a purl or brp (brioche purl) stitch, with yarn in front, slip next stitch purlwise and simultaneously bring yarn over needle to back of work.
BRK (BRIOCHE KNIT)
This is the brioche version of a basic knit stitch, and it is as easily worked as a k2tog. With yarn at the back of work (fig. 2), insert right needle tip into both a stitch and its companion yarnover knitwise. Work together as one knit stitch (fig. 3).
BRP (BRIOCHE PURL)
This is the brioche version of a basic purl stitch, and it is as easily worked as a p2tog. With yarn at the front of work (fig. 4), insert right needle tip into both a stitch and its companion yarnover purlwise. Work together as one purl stitch (fig. 5).
These three basic stitches make up the majority of all brioche stitch structures. From this point, as in traditional knitting, the options to expand upon the basics are diverse and limited only by your imagination!
Choosing Yarns and Needles
In spite of brioche knitting’s unusual structure, most yarns are open as options. Depending on your desired result, there are some things to take into consideration when choosing yarn and needles for your brioche projects.
Brioche knitting creates a naturally loose, “fluffy” stitch. When worked on needles in the size suggested on any given yarn’s label, the resulting stitches are often much too loose, especially for any garment requiring structure to fit well. I recommend knitting brioche on needles two or three sizes smaller than you normally might for a yarn’s suggested gauge. For example, if I were using a worsted-weight wool that had a recommended needle size of U.S. 8 (5 mm) on the label, I would use a U.S. 5 or U.S. 6 needle (3.75 or 4 mm) to knit that yarn in brioche.
The samples shown are all knit with a worsted-weight yarn on U.S. sizes 3 (top), 6 (middle), and 9 (bottom), respectively (3.25, 4, and 13 mm). While the brioche structure remains obvious on all of the swatches, the middle swatch, knit on U.S. 6 needles (4 mm), would be the best choice for any garment needing to hold its shape and gauge.
For sweaters and other garments that rely on a proper fit, the appropriate needle and yarn choice can make or break your garment. Brioche knit at too loose of a gauge may not hold its shape and can grow in size over time. This may not be a concern with smaller accessory patterns that don’t rely on fit, but it could spell disaster for a larger sweater project. Swatch generously when checking your gauge against the pattern to be sure of a good match for your project.
Brioche, especially brioche rib, is a thicker fabric than traditional stockinette stitch. With thicker fabrics, a little extra ease is usually more flattering than a skin-tight fit. Because of this, getting proper gauge and creating a fabric that holds its shape is part of the larger picture to create a successful, love-to-wear-it project.
For accessories such as cowls and scarves, gauge is not as crucial as for fitted garments or accessories such as hats or mittens. For these more relaxed accessory projects, you can experiment a bit with gauge to create looser, waffle-weave-type textures and draped fabrics. Try a simple brioche rib in a potentially crisp yarn, such as linen or cotton, on larger needles, and its whole personality can change.
When measuring gauge in brioche stitch, disregard the two-pass row or round construction of the stitch pattern. Simply look at the visible stitches and rows. Brioche can occasionally bias, developing a slant to the left or right, depending on your yarn choice and knitting style. So knitting a generous swatch and blocking it before measuring will help to get the most accurate gauge measurement possible before beginning your project. Note that the gauges given in the project instructions are after blocking.
With no hesitation, I will say that my preferred yarn for brioche knitting would be a wool or wool blend. It’s pretty hard to beat the springiness, softness, and texture of a natural wool yarn. That being said, I have worked brioche successfully with bamboo, acrylic, alpaca, cotton, linen blends, and many other fibers.
When substituting yarns, always try a generous swatch in the pattern stitch to see if your substitute yarn will behave in a similar way to the suggested yarn. This is important not only in brioche but most garment projects. A project that takes advantage of a bouncy wool yarn won’t look the same when knit in a sleek, drapey silk.
When working two-color brioche, smooth yarns in high contrast colors are usually the best option to show off your brioche stitches. More subtle color effects can be achieved by pairing two similar shades. You can also experiment with combining yarns of different gauges or textures to create unusual effects.
Brioche knitting can use up to twice the yardage as regular knit fabric due to its thick texture. When planning your own projects or making modifications, such as adding length for sleeves and bodies, err on the side of having too much yardage on hand. Gauge can also affect your total yardage used, so tighter knitters may want to grab an extra skein or two when planning projects.
Now that you know how to begin and end, we can get to the fun part: knitting brioche. Try it out on a swatch or the Caen Cowl by Deborah Helmke to begin knitting flat brioche rib.
Remember, one row of brioche rib is worked in two passes, so where patterns indicate Row a and Row b, those two working rows result in one completed row of brioche knit.
ONE-COLOR BRIOCHE RIB, WORKED FLAT IN ROWS ON EVEN NUMBER OF STITCHES
(multiple of 2, plus 1 st garter selvedge at each edge)
Set-up row: K1, *k1, sl1yo; rep from * to last st, k1.
Pattern row: K1, *brk1, sl1yo; rep from * to last st, k1.
Rep Pattern row for brioche rib.
When worked on an even number of stitches, flat brioche rib is created using one pattern row that is identical on both right- and wrong-side rows. A single garter-stitch selvedge is added as a solid “anchor” stitch at the edge to make it easier to work the sl1yo stitches at the end of each row.
ONE-COLOR BRIOCHE RIB, WORKED IN ROUNDS
(multiple of 2 sts)
Set-up rnd a: *K1, sl1yo; rep from * to end.
Set-up rnd b: Bring yarn forward under right needle tip, *sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end.
Rnd 1a: *Brk1, sl1yo; rep from * to end.
Rnd 1b: Bring yarn forward under right needle tip (fig. 1), insert RH needle tip into first st of rnd and slip this st while bringing yarn to back of work, brp1, *sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end.
Rep Rnds 1a and 1b for pattern.
Working circular brioche rib is similar to flat knit brioche rib, but two working rounds, with right side of the work always facing, make up one complete round, rather than pairing right- and wrong-side working rows while working flat. While working brioche in the round, the brioche purl stitch, or brp, is introduced into the work, to create the purl columns.
To keep track of the beginning of each round, use a locking stitch marker or coilless safety pin to mark the first stitch of the round, moving it up every few rounds as you knit (fig. 6).