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If you’re new to brioche, let us give you a short introduction and some tips and tricks to master this technique! First let’s talk about what brioche actually is: brioche is a knitting technique that creates a lofty, reversible, ribbed fabric. This is accomplished by slipping stitches and creating yarnovers that are knit together with stitches in the following rows. In many patterns, brioche is knit using two colors of yarn, although you can knit 1-color brioche as well.
For the purposes of our discussion today, we’re going to show you 2-color brioche knitted flat using standard terminology found in most patterns. Brioche has its own language so we’re going to define a few abbreviations and terms here.
Sl1yo stands for slip 1, yarnover, and it is a stitch you’ll be using on every row. What you will do when you see Sl1yo is slip the next stitch from your left needle to your right needle, while simultaneously wrapping the yarn around your needle from front to back. This slipped stitch and its corresponding yarnover will be treated as 1 stitch in the subsequent row.
Brk stands for brioche knit, and you’ll sometimes hear it referred to as the “bark stitch.” When you see a brk stitch, you will be knitting the next stitch together with its corresponding yarnover that was created on the previous row.
Brp stands for brioche purl, and you’ll sometimes hear it referred to as the “burp stitch.” When you see a brp stitch, you will be purling the next stitch together with its corresponding yarnover that was created on the previous row.
Here's the slightly tricky thing to understand about 2-color brioche when knitting flat: to create a reversible fabric, each row is actually knit twice: once with one color, and once with the second color. So for each 2 rows of knitting, you are actually knitting 4 rows!
Essentially, each side of your piece will have a color that is dominant on it. If we’re talking about Color A a light color, and Color B a dark color, let’s say that the Right Side of your work will have Color A as the dominant color and the Wrong Side of your work will have Color B as the dominant color.
Practice Makes Perfect
On each Right Side row, you will first knit and slip stitches across in Color A. Then, without turning your work, you will slide the stitches back to the beginning of the row you just worked and you will purl and slip stitches across in Color B. You have now completed the first, Color A dominant side of your brioche.
On each Wrong Side row, you will first purl and slip stitches across the row with your Color A. Then, without turning your work, you will slide the stitches back to the beginning of the row you just worked and you will knit and slip stitches across with your Color B. You have now completed the second, Color B dominant side of your brioche.
Now that we have defined the terms, and talked about the order in which the rows are knit, we hope you’ll begin to understand what the following rows signify:
Row 1 (RS/Color A): *Sl1yo, brk; repeat from * to end.
Row 2 (RS/Color B): *Brp, sl1yo; repeat from * to end.
Row 3 (WS/Color A): *Brp, sl1yo; repeat from * to end.
Row 4 (WS/Color B): *Slyo, brk; repeat from * to end.
Let's practice by making a small swatch with 2 colors of yarn and either circular or DPN needles. Start by casting on for an even number of stitches (for our sample used below, we cast on 36 stitches).
You will begin by working 2 setup rows to prepare for the pattern stitch:
Setup Row 1: With Color A, *sl1yo, k1, repeat from * to end of row,
Now, without without turning your work, slide the stitches back to the beginning of the row you just worked and work as follows:
Setup Row 2: With Color B, *brp, sl1yo, repeat from * to end of row,
You are now ready to turn your work to work both Wrong Side Rows (Rows 3 & 4). From here, continue working Rows 1-4 for the remainder of your swatch.
If you forget which row you are about to work, let your stitches guide you! The yarnover will tell you which color you should be working with (hint: it's the opposite color - so, if your yarnover is Color A, that means you should be working with Color B) and also whether or not you should be working a brk or brp row (if the yarnover is paired with a knit stitch, you will work a brk, and if the yarnover is paired with a purl stitch, you will work a brp row). And, as noted above, you will be able to easily see whether you are working the Right Side or Wrong Side of the fabric by checking which color in dominant.
You may see patterns written slightly differently, or using slightly different abbreviations, but these are the basic stitches that make up all brioche patterns. In the case of Lisa Hannes’ All About That Brioche shawl, some simple shaping is added to the end of the rows, but the remainder of the pattern is very similar to what we have noted above.
If you’re looking for a free pattern on Ravelry to practice your brioche, we recommend Emma Galati’s Brioche for Beginners cowl. Emma uses slightly different abbreviations than we have here, but her pattern is a simple 2-color brioche cowl designed for beginners.
You can find more information about brioche knitting on Nancy Marchant’s wonderful site Brioche Stitch. For a few tips and tricks about brioche, there’s also this post from Ann Shayne of Mason Dixon Knitting.
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