Brioche stitch refers not to the french pastry, delicious as it may be, but to a family of stitch patterns that include slipped stitches knit together with yarn-overs to make a squishy, stretchy and extra-thick fabric. What I will show you today is called the two-colour brioche rib, also known as the Shaker rib, English rib, or Fisherman’s rib. It resembles regular knit one, purl one ribbing, but the purl stitches are in a different colour than the knit stitches. It’s great for hats, scarves and sweaters, and when done in two neutral colours, it’s a great stitch pattern for men’s garments. Though I have not read it myself, I hear that Nancy Marchant’s Knitting Brioche is an excellent reference, with a good bit of history, a thorough description of the technique, and some really nice patterns.
The technique I’ll be showing you here is for flat-knitted pieces, but it’s easily converted to patterns knit in the round, and I’ll explain how at the end. Also, I will refer to the two colours as the main colour (MC) and the complementary colour (CC). In the photos, the MC is green and the CC is purple.
Step 1Casting on
Cast on an uneven number of stitches onto a double-pointed or circular needle with the MC yarn. This will allow you to have a selvage stitch at each end so you don’t have to do yarn-overs at the end of a row, which can be awkward. The reason that you have to cast on with a double-pointed or circular needle is that you’ll essentially be knitting each row twice with each colour, and so will need to push the stitches to the end of the needle every other row.
Step 2Attaching the CC
Turn your work and knit the first stitch with the CC. Bring the yarn to the front of your work and then slip the next stitch. You will then do a yarn-over, but it will be placed in such a way that it is draped over the stitch you just slipped (see picture). Knit the next stitch. Continue in this manner until all the stitches have been worked.
Step 3Working the first row with the MC
Now, push all the stitches to the other end of the needle, where the MC is hanging. Knit the first stitch, and then purl together the slipped stitch and yarn-over. Bring the yarn to the front and slip the next stitch (this is the CC stitch that was knit in the previous step), and then do a yarn-over in the same manner as in the previous step. Continue in this manner to the last stitch, and knit it.
Step 4Continuing the pattern
Turn your work. Now working with the CC, slip the first stitch (to make a nice selvage edge) and slip the next stitch and yarn-over, as was done for the previous row. Purl the slipped stitch and yarn-over together, and continue this pattern to the end of the row, knitting the last stitch. You can now start to see the pattern emerge: on this side of the work, the MC appears in knit columns while the CC shows up as purl columns. On the other side of the fabric, the opposite pattern emerges.
Now, slide the stitches to the other end of the needle, and with the MC, slip the first stitch and knit the next slipped stitch and yarn-over together. Then slip the next stitch and yarn-over. Again, continue in this manner to end of the row, knitting the last stitch.
Step 5The right side for the CC
Turn your work, and with CC, slip the first stitch (I knit it in the picture, but that shouldn’t change much), and slip the next stitch and yarn-over. Then knit the next slipped stitch and yarn-over together. Work in this way until the end of the row and knit the last stitch.
Slipping all the stitches to the other end of the needle, pick up the MC and slip the first stitch. Purl the slipped stitch and yarn-over together, and then slip the next stitch and yarn-over. Continue the pattern to the end of the row and knit the last stitch.
Step 6Working the pattern to completion
Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your piece is as long as you want it to be. If you forget where you are in the pattern, look at the rows below the one you’re working and determine if you’re on the side where the MC or the CC appears as knit columns. If the MC appears that way, then you’re on step 4 and if the CC appears that way, then you’re on step 5. Also, remember that for each row, you knit with the CC first, and the MC second.
Step 7Binding off
Binding off is as simple as it would be for knit one, purl one ribbing. Work in pattern to the end of the row with the CC, but when you slip the stitches to the other end of the needle to work with the MC, instead just knit the knit stitches and purl the purled stitches, binding off normally (by working 2 stitches and then passing the first stitch over the second). That is, work the slipped stitches and yarn-overs together normally, but instead of slipping the next stitch and doing a yarn-over, just knit or purl that stitch, depending on where you are in the pattern.
Taking the technique further
After you’ve completed your inaugural brioche stitch scarf (or maybe just a swatch), you’ll probably want to try some more advanced techniques.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it’s also possible to do brioche stitch in the round. To do this, you must cast on an even number of stitches (instead of the uneven number as when you knit flat) and join them in the round on double-pointed or circular needles. After the set-up rounds, you then only work step 4, and forgo the selvage stitches. This Two-Color Brioche Hat by Yana Ivey shows off this technique quite nicely, and also shows how you can do decreases with brioche stitch.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s also possible to do much more intricate designs, as can be seen in Nancy Marchant’s Rodekool, a cute little keyhole scarf. Here she uses increases and decreases to create something like “brioche lace”, and the contrasting yarn colours make the design really pop. She also uses the “separate but connected layers” quality of brioche stitch to create the keyhole. It’s a very interesting construction! This pattern also shows how amazing brioche stitch can look with yarns that have long colour variations.
I do hope you try out this very fun technique, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!