Nancy Marchant's new book Knitting Brioche is a distillation of many years spent researching the subject in the Netherlands and writing about it for Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits Magazine. Nancy clearly knows and loves her brioche, and she wants you to love it too.
In its traditional incarnations, brioche stitch is a simple, hearty rib reserved for men's hats, sweaters, scarves, and the like. It's sometimes called Shaker rib, English rib, or even Fisherman's rib. Marchant uses the term "brioche" in deference to Barbara Walker, who used the term in her stitch dictionaries.
Brioche can actually be worked in several ways. I learned to do it by knitting into the stitch below the one to be worked next, but Marchant prefers a slightly different approach. You bring your yarn under your needles and to the front of your work, slip the next stitch as if to purl, and then bring the yarn back over your needle before working the next stitch.
This technique produces what she describes as "a stitch with a shawl over its shoulders." In the next row, that stitch and its shawl are simply worked as one.
The intriguing thing about brioche stitch is that it looks like really easy ribbing—and yet there is much more going on. Marchant admits right from the beginning that this book has a bit of a learning curve. "The projects in this book are not designed to be made in one weekend—they aren't quick and easy—but hopefully," she notes, "you will find them challenging and interesting to knit."
The first challenge is to familiarize yourself with Nancy's language. She uses beautiful and somewhat self-explanatory symbols you may never have seen before and abbreviations you'll have to look up for the first few times. Things like brk2togtbl, sl1yof brp1, or k2dip.
All are clearly explained near the beginning of the book, and many are also illustrated in clear step-by-step photographs later in the book. But you will need to slow down and read before casting on.
Inside the Book
Even stitches have histories, and Marchant begins with a brief explanation of how, when, and where the brioche stitch came to be. From then on, it's all about technique—an extraordinary amount of detailed how-to information covering every possible scenario in which you might wish to use brioche. She covers everything imaginable, from multiple yarn-overs and two-stitch decreases to reversible increases, cables, and picking up dropped stitches.
The deeper you go into the book, the deeper the technique help gets. She shows you how to work brioche in a single color and multiple colors, and then she walks you through a stitch dictionary (shown in charts and written form) of mind-blowing possibilities. And if none of those caught your fancy, you still have 25 projects from which to choose.
Most of the patterns are for rather straightforward scarves, vests, hats, and such, although she does throw in a few intriguing sweaters and jackets too. I suspect most people will be pulled in by the Geveldak Scarf, which pits the slow-moving color changes of Kauni yarn with shifting knits and purls for a gorgeous effect.
Already a Classic
Great care was taken with each part of this book, from the swatches—shown in all sorts of yarns, in all sorts of color combinations and textures—to the ways in which each technique was slowed to its essential steps, like freeze-frame photography, and clearly photographed. She pays attention to cast-ons and bind-offs, to maintaining attractive selvedges, and even creating patterns that are reversible. This is an extraordinary reference for all things brioche.
And the rewards? These intriguing and tactile stitch patterns give your mind just enough of a challenge to stay alert while allowing your subconscious to be lulled into a deeper meditative state. Which is why we knit, right?