Dabbling with Brioche
…the knit stitch, not the bread. Oh, I wish I were baking brioche today!
Yesterday, I set out to knit a cowl (neck cozy, dicky, tubular-man-scarf, cache-cou, what have you) for baby Jean-Luc. I’d made one for him in the early winter, because his jacket (a size 2T, that we’re getting all the mileage we can out of) left a large gap around his wee neck, letting all the cold air in.
My original design was to be something like an old-man dicky. A turtleneck collar, that then increased to cover the shoulders with raglan shaping, and extended down the front and back a bit to cover a V-neck or some such. It was a good idea in theory, but poorly-executed. The neck, which I’d intentionally kept short to stay out of his mouth, was too short, and the ribbing too wide. The front and back curled, as stockinette is wont to do, and even the few rows of garter at the edging were no match for the curl.
Back to the drawing board it was. But with several projects on the needles (Venezia, Glovelies, and a recently-started pair of socks), it took me a while to muster up the energy to start something new. What we needed was a snowstorm.
And then, the Blizzard of 2013 hit (remember this day, my sons!), and I suddenly had nowhere to go on a Saturday, a skein of cashmere calling my name, and a vague recollection of a Ravelry forum post where one knitter was advising another to knit something in the brioche stitch to make it more versatile and super-stretchy.
So, I cast on. I hadn’t successfully knit anything in the brioche stitch before. I had tried, once, just after Sock Summit, to experiment with the 2-color cable brioche knits illustrated in Interweave Knits Weekend 2011:
So I gave it a try. The designer, Lily Chin, is known for her awesome skill at cables, and it looks tough. But I was feeling smug, and tried it out. And failed. Wrap this? Slip that? Colors all over the place, and then cable forward…ergh. Now, to save face, I’d like it to be known that it wasn’t my knitting skills that failed. It was coming together. A few rows in, and I understood what was supposed to happen. But my patience? Fried. There’s no wonder that of the 4 projects you can view on Ravelry for this pattern, one is titled “super-tricky,” another “a challenge,” which calls the pattern “a beast,” and the third is hibernating. The fourth knitter, who has been knitting for 46 years and produced this as a shop model for an LYS, calls it “great fun once you get used to it.” Yeah. Enough talking about a pattern I haven’t even knit.
But actually, I want to show you another example or two of lovely two-color brioche patterns that I may knit someday:
Both are by designer Nancy Marchant, the owner of briochestitch.com, which incidentally is where I learned how to brioche knit yesterday. It’s a lovely, interesting effect, and I think with a good sense of color, some really nice things can be done with this stitch.
But I wasn’t up for a two-color challenge yesterday. I wanted plain-jane, but warm. So I grabbed a few things from my stash: a skein of Handmaiden Cashmere, a skein of Cascade 220, and a set of US #7 DPNs (I’d tried casting on Friday night on a circ for magic loop, and it got too twisty, so I decided to go low-tech for this one).
I followed Nancy’s recommendation on briochestitch.com and tried the Italian Cast-on, which might just be my new favorite k1p1 cast on. It looks store-bought – there’s no excess, no decorative frill; the knitting springs straight up from the edge, without any crazy tubular nonsense. Likewise, when I hit the other end, I bound off with a sewn kitchener (also called Italian) bind off, for the same effect. Why was I using EZ’s sewn bind-off all these years, when this one is more invisible? I need to research the differences more, but I’m now skeptical.
To make it cling in the center more (and to facilitate a fold-over), I switched to a size 6 needle for the middle inch or so. The result is a nice hourglass shape.
But why brioche? What’s so cool about this stitch? Why is it worth the hassle of all those wraps and stuff, rather than just working a k1p1 rib?
Brioche is thick and sculptural, in a way that regular knitting is not. With k1p1, you end up with a fabric that has some thickness, but when you stretch it out, each stitch is just one thickness of yarn. With brioche, your stitches are thicker, because they incorporate the wrap of the previous row. It’s sort of like knitting fair-isle or double-knitting; those strands, the “floats” add extra thickness to your fabric. Likewise, brioche wraps add extra thickness to the knits. But, unlike fair-isle where those floats are limiting factors to your stretchiness, here in brioche, the wraps add extra elasticity, extra material for the knits to use to stretch out, so the brioche rib is both thicker and loftier than k1p1,but also wider and stretchier than k1p1 over the same number of stitches (oh why did I rip out my swatch before photographing it?!?).
Like everything, it has its place and time. I’m not going to turn into a Nancy Marchant and start knitting everything brioche just because I can. But it is cool, and now I think I’ve got the patience (and the muscle-memory built) to tackle that Hosta scarf. And in the meantime, baby’s got a neckwarmer!