I love learning new techniques! During 2021 I started delving into the world of brioche knitting. Although I had used the basic brioche stitch before, I had not made anything using increases and decreases, so I started by making a Jemison cowl by Bristol Ivy, from the book ‘Knitting Outside the Box’ which had been in my queue for some time.
For anyone new to brioche I can thoroughly recommend visiting Nancy Marchant’s website briochestitch.com. This contains all the basics as well as a whole host of stitch patterns based on the brioche technique. Nancy has been instrumental in standardising the terminology for brioche stitches, including the terms ‘brk’ and ‘brp’. She has also published several books covering numerous brioche techniques and stitch patterns.
For anyone interested in the history of brioche, and its comparison with fisherman’s rib (which results in a similar fabric via a slightly different technique), there is a very interesting article by Interweave. https://www.interweave.com/article/knitting/fishermans-rib-vs-brioche-stitch/
The contents of this post are as follows:
- Basic Stitches and Terminology
- Single colour Brioche Worked Flat
- Single colour Brioche Worked in the Round
- Cast-on and Bind-off
- General Points to Note
- Two-colour Brioche Worked Flat
- Two-colour Brioche Worked in the Round
- Other Online Resources
1. Basic Stitches and Terminology
Brioche knitting produces a form of ribbed fabric which is very squishy and thick. The basic form of brioche rib is achieved by working every other stitch and slipping the stitches in between. However, when slipping a stitch, the yarn is wrapped over the slipped stitch (referred to as a ‘yarnover’) rather than being carried in front or behind the stitch. This results in a set of ‘normal’ stitches alternating with ‘wrapped’ stitches. On the subsequent row or round, the ‘normal’ stitches which were worked on the previous row or round are slipped (with the yarn being wrapped over them) whilst the stitches which were slipped on the previous row or round are worked by purling or knitting the previously slipped stitch together with its yarnover.
In my tutorials I tend to use the terminology ‘passive needle’ and ‘working needle’ in lieu of ‘left hand’ or ‘right hand’ needle, to allow for alternative styles of knitting.
The basic brioche stitches and their terminology are as follows:
‘sl1yo’ (slip one yarn over):
In basic brioche rib, every other stitch is slipped purlwise with the yarn in front, then the yarn is taken back over the needle (wrapping over the slipped stitch) ready to work the subsequent stitch. This action of wrapping the yarn over the slipped stitch is abbreviated as ‘sl1yo’ and starts with bringing the yarn forward between the needles first if it is at the back of the work (eg if preceded by a ‘knit’ or ‘brk’ stitch) otherwise the yarn is brought forward after wrapping the slipped stitch, if followed by a purl or ‘brp’ stitch. (Some designers use terminology such as ‘yfsl1yo’ or ‘sl1yof’ to distinguish these variations in the actual movement but I just refer to ‘sl1yo’ in the same way that I wouldn’t use different terminology to distinguish between the way a basic yarnover is worked in between knit and purl stitches in non-brioche knitting.)
‘brk’ (brioche knit or ‘bark’):
This consists of knitting a slipped stitch together with its yarnover.
‘brp’ (brioche purl or ‘burp’):
This consists of purling a slipped stitch together with its yarnover.
This key shows the chart symbols I use throughout this tutorial:
2. Single-colour Brioche Worked Flat
Brioche may be worked over an even or odd number of stitches. The fabric appears identical on both sides – the photo here shows both sides of a piece worked across an even number of stitches.
The basic stitch, worked flat over an even number of stitches, is as follows:
- Set-up row: *sl1yo, k1; rep from * to end.
- Next and all subsequent rows: *sl1yo, brk1; rep from * to end.
It is useful to note that all slipped (i.e. sl1yo) stitches are worked as a brk stitch on the following row, whilst all brk stitches are worked as a sl1yo stitch on the following row. This results in a ribbed fabric with columns of brk stitches appearing rather like the knit columns in a k1p1 rib. However, unlike k1p1 ribbing, the brk stitches appearing on each side of the fabric are only worked on alternate rows (being slipped on the other rows) therefore, when counting rows, each visible stitch represents two rows of knitting. However, the convention when counting rows for measuring gauge is to count only the visible brk stitches on one side of the fabric, which is why, in the chart above, row 1 is shown twice (once on the right side and once on the wrong side).
For a symmetrical pattern, brioche can also be worked over an uneven number of stitches. Brioche may also be worked flat using brp stitches throughout in place of the brk stitches. This produces the same fabric but with the ribs created by the columns of brp stitches appearing like ‘brk’ columns on the opposite side of the fabric.
3. Single-colour Brioche Worked in the Round
This is worked over an even number of stitches, with a marker to denote the beginning and end of the round, as follows:
- Set up round: *k1, sl1yo; rep from * to end.
- Round 1 (brk): *sl1yo, brk1; rep from * to end.
- Round 1 (brp): *brp1, sl1yo; rep from * to end.
- Continue repeating both iterations of round 1.
Note: the columns above could also be worked in the opposite order.
Unlike single-colour brioche worked flat, it is necessary to alternate between working a brk round and a brp round in order to result in columns of ribbing on both sides of the fabric. Any stitch which is slipped on one round is worked as a brk or brp stitch on the following round depending on whether it is an even (brp) or odd (brk) numbered round. Every two worked rounds will only appear as one brk stitch on the right side of the fabric an therefore only count as one round when measuring gauge.
The edges of a flat piece of brioche can be worked in various ways (the photos below are illustrated using two-colour brioche). Without going into detail, some possibilities are:
- For a flat garter stitch border, knit a small number of stitches at each edge instead of working them in brioche rib.
- For a slipped stitch edge in single colour brioche, if edge stitch is immediately before or after a brk1, then slip the stitch with yarn behind. If edge stitch is immediately before or after a sl1yo, then work as a knit stitch.
- For a slipped stich edge in two colour brioche over an odd number of stitches (see below), when working with the light colour yarn, knit the first and last stitches of the row on right side rows, and purl them on wrong side rows. When using the dark colour yarn, slip the first and last stitches, with yarn held on the right side of the work. More detail can be found at: http://www.briochestitch.com/archives/twocolorbrioche/2-color-brioche-stitch
- Work an i-cord edge by knitting the first and last few stitches on all right side rows and slipping them, with yarn held in front, on all wrong side rows.
5. Cast-on and Bind-off
Due to the thick, bouncy and stretchy nature of brioche it is advisable to use a stretchy cast-on and bind-off. There are many online tutorials in such techniques, which are beyond the scope of this post. For an invisible and stretchy cast-on, Nancy Marchant recommends an Italian cast-on, and her tutorial can be found at http://www.briochestitch.com/archives/onecolorbrioche/casting-on. If using another type of cast-on (such as long-tail), work it over two needles held together or a much larger needle, in order to prevent it becoming too tight.
For two-colour brioche (see below) an Italian two-colour cast-on is ideal. Links to Nancy Marchant’s tutorial, and other related tutorials on two-colour cast-on techniques, are included in my post on double knitting. When using this technique, the yarn held over the index finger will form ‘knit’ stitches and corresponds to the columns of brk stitches which will appear on the side of the fabric facing you as you cast on. The yarn held over the thumb will form ‘purl’ stitches and will correspond to columns of brk stitches appearing on the opposite side of the fabric.
6. General Points to Note
Due to the squishy nature of brioche fabric, it consumes a lot more yarn than basic stitches such as stockinette. It is also very stretchy and can grow if using slippery or heavy yarns. It is advisable to go down one or two needle sizes to avoid too loose a gauge, and, as noted above, a stretchy cast-on or bind-off method should be used. See also the comments above which explain how each visible brk stitch represents two rows/rounds of knitting, although this is only counted as one row/round when measuring gauge.
7. Two-colour Brioche Worked Flat
Brioche can be worked by alternating each worked row or round between two contrasting yarns. This gives pronounced vertical stripes as the columns of brk stitches appear in one colour on one side of the fabric and in the contrasting colour on the reverse side of the fabric. The contrast is often more pronounced on the side where the lighter coloured yarn is uppermost.
Two-colour brioche worked flat requires the use of double-pointed or circular needle(s) as, after working the row using the one colour yarn, the stitches need to be slipped back to the other end of the needle in order to work the row again using the alternate colour yarn. With the right side of the fabric facing, the row is worked first using brk stitches in the first yarn and the second time it is worked in the second yarn using brp stitches, and this counts as one row when computing gauge. On the wrong side of the fabric the row is worked the first time using the first yarn using brp stitches and the second time in the second yarn using brk stitches and, once again, this counts as one row. Often the following terminology is used:
|LS||Light side (referring to the side of the fabric where the lighter colour yarn is dominant)|
|DS||Dark side (referring to the opposite side of the fabric where the darker colour is dominant)|
|LC||Light colour (referring to the lighter coloured yarn)|
|DC||Dark colour (referring to the darker coloured yarn)|
Thus the sequence of rows worked would be described as:
|Row 1 LS LC||first row worked on light side using light colour|
|Row 1 LS DC||first row worked on light side using dark colour|
|Row 2 DS LC||second row worked on dark side using light colour|
|Row 2 DS DC||second row worked on dark side using dark colour|
Note: this terminology is not always followed, for example in projects involving multiple yarn colours which alternate between both sides of the fabric, and alternative terminology may sometimes be used (eg MC/CC for main/contrast colours and RS/WS for right/wrong sides of work). However, the above convention is used in these tutorial examples.
See section 5 regarding cast-on methods. A two-colour Italian cast-on works well for two-colour brioche if no visible edge is desired otherwise a loose single-colour cast-on may be used.
Note: after casting on, there will always be a set-up row/round, in order to establish the brioche ribbing pattern, or occasionally two set-up rows/rounds. If working flat with a single-colour cast-on, it is the initial set-up row which will determine the light and dark sides of the fabric depending on whether the sl1yo stitches are interspersed with knit or purl stitches. If using two-colour Italian cast-on, the order in which the yarns are used to cast on knit and purl stitches will determine the light and dark sides of the fabric.
Two-colour brioche can be charted out as follows (in this example, worked over an even number of stitches with one DC set-up row on the light side of the fabric):
- Loosely cast on an even number of stitches using LC yarn, slide stitches to other end of needle and join in DC yarn.
- Set-up row 1 (LS DC): using DC yarn, *sl1yo, p1; rep from * to end. Turn work.
- Row 1 (DS LC): using LC yarn, *sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end. Slide stitches back to other end of needle.
- Row 1 (DS DC): using DC yarn, *brk1, sl1yo; rep from * to end. Turn work.
- Row 2 (LS LC): using LC yarn, *brk1, sl1yo; rep from * to end. Slide stitches back to other end of needle.
- Row 2 (LS DC): using DC yarn, *sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end. Turn work.
- Continue repeating rows 1 & 2.
8. Two-colour Brioche Worked in the Round
This is worked over an even number of stitches. Unlike brioche worked flat, where different rows are worked with the LS or DS of the fabric facing, all rounds are worked with the right side of the fabric facing (referred to as the LS in the example below). Therefore the rounds alternate between brk rounds and brp rounds; here brk rounds are worked with LC yarn, and brp rounds with DC yarn (although in some patterns the colours may be reversed). Each of these pairs of rounds are counted as one round when measuring gauge, based on the brk stitches visible on the right side of the fabric.
- Using LC yarn, loosely cast on an even number of stitches. Join to work in round taking care not to twist stitches. Place marker and join in DC yarn.
- Set-up round DC: using DC yarn, *sl1yo, p1; rep from * to end of rnd. Leave DC yarn at front of work.
- Round 1 LC: using LC yarn, *brk1, sl1yo; rep from * to end of rnd. Leave LC yarn at back of work.
- Round 1 DC: using DC yarn, *sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end of rnd. Ensure that the final brp picks up the LC yarn which is wrapped over the final stitch. Leave DC yarn at front of work.
- Continue repeating round 1 using LC and then DC.
Note: at the end of each round, avoid twisting or crossing the yarns over each other.
In this example a single set-up round is worked using DC yarn. This would be the appropriate method to use with a two-colour Italian cast-on where the knit stitches are cast on using the LC yarn and the purl stitches with the DC yarn. With a single-colour cast-on it is also possible to work two set-up rounds, the first one in LC yarn (*k1, sl1yo; rep from * to end) and the second one in DC yarn (*sl1yo, brp1; rep from * to end of rnd. Leave DC yarn at front of work.).
9. Other Online Resources
Below are links to some other useful websites which cover brioche stitch basics and terminology.