Mike’s Scarf in Brioche (it’s not just for bakers, it’s for knitters too)

"Knitting Brioche" by Nancy Marchant
"Knitting Brioche" by Nancy Marchant

I’ve been knitting for five or so years now, I taught myself how to knit from a book as a way to pass the long hours I was commuting. When you’re on a train for 2.5 hour each way there’s not enough movies/tv/books to keep you from getting bored. Well there are, but eventually you get bored of them, trust me. Almost years ago I bought a book during Knit Pick’s annual book clearance called “Knitting Brioche” by Nancy Marchant.

Introduction to Brioche

So what is Brioche? Well the baker in me knew it was a type of bread/roll, but apparently it’s a style of knitting as well. Brioche knitting is typically layered stitches, most often reversible.

Honestly, I bought this book because the colors in the patterns looked cool. In traditional knitting, the most of the stripes are horizontal. If you want vertical stripes it requires a lot of yarn swapping and twisting, and no matter how you twist or tuck you can never quite hide the yarn running up the sides. In brioche knitting, since you are knitting with multiple layers of yarn, you can have vertical stripes and a whole host of other color variations. Also, I wanted to move on to a new knitting skill. For me half the fun of this hobby is doing something new each project.

I have gone through the book several times earmarking all of the different combinations of stitches and patterns for later reference. As far as instructional books go, this one is excellent. There are step by step photo tutorials of every stitch variation, every recommended cast on and cast off, and a full Brioche stitch reference/term dictionary. The author shows you how to do every concept, increases, decreases, cables and then she has some actual project patterns as well. My only complaint, if I were to have one, is that there’s a few pages of sample swatches that look awesome, but the only instructions are that the swatches can be accomplished by playing with brioche increases and decreases. Yes she does explain how to do increase and decreases but some patterns, or even just charts would have been helpful.

After a year and a half of eying up the patterns, I finally decided I wanted to learn how to actually knit something from the book as a Christmas gift for a friend of mine. At the time he was working outside a lot and I wanted to make him something to stay warm. I love the way the two color rib looks in brioche, plus scarves are always the first thing us Knitters learn to make. So I figured that my first brioche project would be a 2 color rib scarf.

My first mistake was that I thought I could just look at the two color instructions and figure out from there. I was wrong. So I took a step back and read the first few pages of instructions and learned how to do brioche stitches with one color first. If you are comfortable with most knitting concepts, brioche is an easy thing to learn. It only took me a few inches of working my test to “get” it. Basically once I stopped giggling over the words BURPs and BARKs and actually understood the concepts, it was time to move on to the two color variation.

Casting On:

I chose the 2 Color Brioche Stitch with Linen Stitch Selvedge Edge pattern and cast on 27 stitches with black Caron Simply Soft yarn on my size 8 Knit Picks interchangeable needles with a 12 inch cable. You have to use circular needles (or long Double Pointed needles) because you knit each row twice, once in each color. So don’t think you can use regular straights for any of these patterns. Knitting each row twice also means it will take twice as much yarn (and technically time) to knit brioche than it would a standard pattern. This scarf is long because my friend is quite tall and I estimate it took about 3/4ths of a 6 0z skein in each color.

I’m not going to include the pattern here, or even try to explain it, but there are countless videos on YouTube and blogs that do pict0tutorials. This is one of the few times in life where it is important to read the instructions, the author states it takes about 10 rows to see your pattern and she’s pretty spot on. Patience is important, so  resist the urge to rip out if you’re confused and wait it out at least 10 rows.

Finished scarf folded 3 times
Finished scarf folded 3 times to show the differences between the sides

With the two color stitch you end up with a defined rib on each side, with the valley between the rib being in the contrasting color. When you flip the scarf over,  you get the same thing, but the colors are reversed. In my case, I made the scarf in black and red. On one side the ribs is black and the valleys are red, the other side the ribs are red and the valleys are black.

Side 1: black rib, with red valleys
Side 1: Black rib, with red valleys
Side 2: Red rib, with black valleys
Side 2: Red rib, with black valleys

Selvedge

Selvedge in general is essentially a fancy word for a border. In knitting we use selvedge to mean a border in a contrasting stitch. Most often we use selvedge to keep edges from curling. In this case I wanted a more finished edge and I liked the way the linen stitch selvedge looked in the book.

For me the hardest thing about this pattern was remembering the selvedge stitch instructions. But once I came up with a mnemonic to help me remember I zipped right through it. On the black rib side I knit the selvedge stitches on the red rib side I purl the selvedge stitches, and on both sides the red yarn was wrapped the opposite way of the stitch, pull the yarn in front before purling black, and but the yarn in back before knitting black.

Linen stitch selvedge from black side
Linen stitch selvedge from black side
Linen stitch selvedge from red side
Linen stitch selvedge from red side

Finishing

Other thing I struggled with was casting off, it wasn’t clear from the instructions which side the yarn should be on when you swap colors casting off. My personal life theory is that if you’re consistent, even with your mistakes, it makes a pattern. So I just kept all the yarn on one side. This created more loops on one side than the other. I think if I were to make another brioche scarf I might keep one color yarn always in front and the other always in back so the loops were on alternate sides. It is hugely important to cast off loosely. Even more so than usual as this project is stretchy and you don’t want to constrain it.

Finished scarf on model
Finished scarf on model

Even though I finished it in January and not in time for Christmas, overall I love the way this scarf came out. The colors look awesome with each other. The scarf stretches both ways (lengthwise and across). The finished project is shown on the left. There’s also, as always, more pictures of this scarf in my gallery.

I now want to learn how to do the brioche cables and decreases/increases in the book so that I can design my own cool variations and patterns.

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