Brioche in Plain English

I’ve struggled with two color brioche and for someone that has been knitting brioche for many decades without a hitch—both in the round and flat—this is a huge source of frustration. I decided to take multiple classes until I could master it. The upshot is that this approach did not work, so I hope to save you the trouble and expense and hopefully a lot of angst.

The problem isn’t you, it’s the lingo.

Recently there has been a largely unnecessary adaptation from standard knitting terms which might sell books and patterns, but stymies people that just want to do these techniques without having to learn new terminology, take classes or buy books.

*deep sigh*

I was bewildered when a member of my guild said that Nancy Marchant “had to invent new terms” because there weren’t any, the only thing I could think would prompt such a remark is that she wasn’t aware that brioche knitting is technique had been around for centuries. And while vintage patterns use multiple methods of description (the rational for creating a new “standard”) each of these ways is easily more comprehensible to me, but most lack the colorwork I want to learn.

At no small expense I flew to Colorado for YarnFest to take my second (and third) class on the topic from Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark (the first was 4 years ago from Nancy herself at Vogue Knitting in Seattle). Once again I failed to learn the technique.

Admittedly part of the problem was I sat next to a tardy 20-something “troll” who had taken the class before and poured scorn in a loud whisper on other attendees who failed to grasp it. She had lots of fodder since that happened to be the majority of the ladies there—all of whom were knitting veterans with decades of experience looking for a way to bridge this unnecessary gap. Needless to say, I left early just to get away from her competitive, obnoxious behavior.

I’m not the type to give up, especially when it is something I know well, like brioche. So I immediately turned to the web to uncover a solution—right there in my hotel room—knowing I was going to have the follow on course the next day and would need to know how to do two color to move onto increases and decreases.

If you’ve also struggled, I want you to know that I’ve discovered that others are still willing to use the standard terminology to teach these fairly basic techniques and give you equally good results—at no charge.

That evening I came across a YouTube video by a lovely young lady, Stephanie of Milk Shed, and learned, in ten minutes, exactly what the first 2 hours of the class covered. And the lingo? Good old fashioned slips with yarnovers and knit/purl to togethers. There is also a written tutorial that comes with a free cowl pattern. Even Jo-Ann’s is getting into the plain English act with their online tutorials—not a BRK (brioche knit) or a BRP (brioche purl) in sight!

And not to worry if you want to knit a newer pattern. I found that once I mastered the techniques it was fairly straight forward to work in reverse. All you have to do is to map normal knitting terms onto the newer patterns.

*deep happy breath*

Fitting Knitting

One of the things I loved about Knitters Magazine was that when Rick Mondragon first took over as Editor-In-Chief from the photographic genius David Xenakis, was the mandate to do more fitted designs. In one stroke there was an uptick in both fashion and complexity in women’s knitting. In honor of Rick’s transition from boxy to brilliant patterns, I wore my own extra-fitted version of the Knitter’s Design Team’s Lilac Top to Stitches West in Santa Clara, certain in the knowledge Rick had a hand in designing it.

IMG_4115 (2)Craftsy Knit Lab: Fit your Knits, taught by Stefanie Japel (the handouts are fantastic!), is where I got the gumption to use two fitting techniques: extra needle size changes and seam edge reductions. The pattern needed loads of modification because it calls for a bulky weight yarn and I used a sport weight (Peruse in Sea Bright) hand spun yarn from the sadly defunct Art Fibers Studio. I was looking for yarn for a different pattern in Knit Scene, but in the end I went back to my standby of Knitters, remembering a pattern I’d always wanted to make. Needless to say, lots of math and swatching was required.

Modifications

To create a light fabric I used size 6 needles as called for–I simply added more stitches to reach the right garment width. For reductions I first dropped to a size 5 needle earlier than the pattern called for and dropped to a size 4 needle for one inch at the waistline. Because of the skinny fiber, I had to also decrease at the edges to get the same width reductions a bulkier weight yarn would give in order to hit my measurements at the waistline. I decreased five stitches on both sides every other row from high hip to waist and then increased at the same rate until I hit the bust line.

Rolled Hitchhiker Scarf
Rolled Hitchhiker Scarf

I knitted it about 2 inches shorter than the pattern so it would fit under my suit coats and it does, perfectly. Not only does it hit my just above the jacket length, the sport weight yarn is less bulky and cooler. The bright color is perfect for spring and summer looks. I love everything except the color which would look great if only I were a brunette. Since this pattern require much less yarn, I had plenty left over to make a hitchhiker scarf for my Husband’s ex-partner who has lustrous chocolate colored hair.

Beaded End of Hitchhiker Scarf
Beaded End of Hitchhiker Scarf

There’s nothing new about fitted garments. Women’s patterns were highly fitted in the 1940s and 50s. But with the 60’s when loose flowy clothing became de riguer knitting pattern never seemed to recover. There was the occasional one in Vogue Knitting, but usually it was something I felt I wouldn’t really wear. In retrospect, as I look back at old issues (I was a subscriber of both) and I think how forward-looking those Vogue and Knitters were. They remain a go-to source for patterns—despite my habit of buying more books lately.

Interestingly Rick seems to be a fairly understated guy—though he’s riot when he takes the stage or teaches a class. He seems intensely private as evidenced by an interview with Faina Goberstein in 2010. Very much ‘just the facts, ma’am.’ And yet in person he’s larger than life. So is his design sense.

Speaking of Faina, I’m knitting one of her patterns right not for my husband (a blog for another day) called Simon, with all the modifications that accompany my knitting projects. In case you love her patterns like I do, she’s just launched a new website on March 22nd here.

Fitted Einstein Coat: Putting Learning into Practice

So many people inspired this coat, which is why I decided to share. Also, I hope to inspire folks to consider making their own modifications. For me this was a learning experience and I wrote every stitch in the “new pattern” down. I haven’t typed it up and won’t post because this is someone else’s original design that I’ve modified. What I will do share with you my experience and hope you find your own way.

Back view of the finished garment
Back view of the finished garment

The original pattern I started with was Sally Melville’s who is a great teacher and author of the Book The Knitting Experience. The inspiration to make it fitted was with a Craftsy course with Stefanie Japel, Fit Your Knits. The methods used to make it fit were adding stitches under the arms for the bodice and short rows on the lower portion, the latter inspired by a Craftsy class, Short Rows, with Carol Feller. Thanks to you all! The yarn was a bulky yarn closeout at my nearby Joann’s. It’s their in-house brand called Sensations. The buttons came from my LYS Serial knitters—they have such a lovely selection (of everything)! They had the right number (+1) in the perfect size and color as if they’d planned for me to stop by. They also supplied me with the Knitter’s Pride Dreamz needles in 10 ½ (3 sets) and that’s when I fell in love with wooden circular needles. I took my measures (in my unmentionables), printed out the handout from the class, knit my swatches of the various fabrics and did the math. On to the knitting!

Modifications

Four inch collar picked up at neck edge; fitted waistline.
Four inch collar picked up at neck edge; fitted waistline.

Collar: I loved the picture in Sally’s book, but noticed that the pattern didn’t quite reflect the picture–for instance there was no collar in the pattern, but clearly there is one in the picture. So I knew I’d be adding that. I love flipping it up against the cold. A cowl will keep it in the upright and locked position. Texture: The pattern also calls for garter everywhere, but I wanted more visual interest—and a clearer separation from top and bottom portions. So I chose seed stitch for the sleeves and top. Vents under the arms were reverse stockinette so that they would “dent in”. This gives extra ease for the girls and retracts if not needed. Proportion: I wanted a long coat with an empire waist. So I chose the biggest size for the bottom portion. I then measured my shoulder to high waist at both sides to get the slope of my shoulder. Fitting: Bottom: To create an A-line look to the bottom I did short row additions at four different locations cycling through up and down like a zigzag: short row at stitch 15, knit five rows even, stitch 30, knit five rows even, stitch 45, k5R, stitch 60, k5r, stitch 45, k5r and so on. Bodice: I picked up all the stitches from the narrower edge of the bottom. I knit 5 rows even then started increasing under the arms with the reverse stockinette. I followed the pattern until I got to the armholes where I placed the reverse stockinette stitches on a stitch holder. Shoulder fitting was down with short rows to make it lower at the shoulders, higher at the neck. I Kitchenered the shoulder seams, picked up stitches at the neckline and knit a four inch collar in seed stitch pattern. Sleeves: Instead of attaching sleeves I knit them down from the shoulders. I started by picking up 8 stitches (placed marker in the middle to keep track of the shoulder seam) and then picked up 1-2 stitch at each edge as I knit the sleeves down to the reverse stockinette stitches on my holders. Once I had all my stitches on a needle I reduced under the arm the reverse stockinette portion (at each edge) to create a diamond of it under the arms. I continued to reduce the sleeve proportional with my arms with plenty of ease to put over clothes. At least in the sleeve…

Trouble in Paradise

Once completed I donned it immediately. The sleeves were roomy—just right for clothes, but the bottom was perfect only if I wore it nekkid. The button band bulged open especially in my waist and hips. *sigh* I had not allowed for clothing to be worn underneath. “Just wear it open”, my husband says. A heavy coat for chilly days? It just wouldn’t do! So after frogging the garment for about three months, I decided to cut it up the back (followed shortly thereafter with fainting and lying quietly in a dark room). So much had gone into this pattern alteration so far. I was determined to finish it and make it wearable. Surgery time!

Placing cut edges on waste yarn
Placing cut edges on waste yarn

I cut it up the back to the waist and placed both sides on waste yarn. I asked my Facebook clan how I might add material and many creative ideas were given:

  • Sew in fabric
  • Knit a panel in seed stitch or reverse stockinette like the bodice
  • Add a whole new pattern (e.g. fancy cables) in a triangle
Joining waste yarn to hold at the top of the cut
Joining waste yarn to hold at the top of the cut

Everyone seemed to treat the gash like an up and down problem. In the end I turned it on the side and used the same stitch (garter) and method (short rows) to make it bigger. Less inspired, perhaps, but it gave me the garment I’d originally planned, not a different one. I picked up stitches on both sides with the intent to meet in the middle. It was surprising unnoticeable that I was going a different direction from the original. The only issue is that on one side my short rows were WS, not RS. I also had to add the most in the hip region, so the lack of spread (e.g., the zigzag above) made them more noticeable. Thus the ribbon in the back.

Buttoned kick pleat
Buttoned kick pleat

The kick pleat was the one bit of feedback I did pick up from Facebook. I had an extra button, so why not! Now I wear it at least once a week and I always get comments. I’m so excited to tell people “I made it!”

I haven’t figured it out yet…

I haven’t figured it out yet.” Such a hopeful phrase! It suggests two very important things:

  1. That there is more to learn
  2. That I will learn it 🙂

I’m still here in Santa Clara at Stitches West and I’ve come to another realization. I signed up for too many classes—the same mistake I made my first time as Stitches West 14 years ago when it was in Oakland.

In my defense, it’s been 10 years since I was here. That said, I’ve loved every class and will likely love the two (!) more I have tomorrow. The issue is making sure I really learn what I’ve learned.

So far I’ve picked up many new ways of closing garments and making the chains, buttons, etc., in a class with Margaret Fisher. She even taught me how to sew in a zipper! I also learned two stranded color knitting with a designer from my neck of the woods, Lorilee Beltman. I can’t wait to try out her designs! Today was continental knitting with the fabulous Leslye Solomon, who I remember from her classes when I was first going to Stitches West all those years ago. This is when my brain started to fry a bit.Created with Nokia Smart Cam

When a neighbor would get stuck in class and lean in to ask me how to do something—because I tend to plow on even if I don’t know what I’m doing—I would answer, “I haven’t figured it out yet, but here is what I’m trying.” I didn’t feel bad about that, I felt energized!!

After class, this being my only half day of classes, walking around the market I felt a bit dizzy. Yes, that is a sensory overload place too, but it was more than that—I WAS TIRED. So I hoofed it back to the hotel to rest. ZZZZzzzz.

After my nap I picked up right where I left off from class while I was waiting for dinner and there it was. No, it wasn’t smooth (not yet!) and no it wasn’t pretty (not yet!), but this will come. I know it!

And now I must gird my loins for the two classes I have tomorrow—before I get on a plane and fly home.