Brioche knitting is a distinctive knitted ribbing technique that is recognizable by its heightened, doughy texture. The fabric is achieved by alternating columns of slipped stitches with yarnovers and knit stitches (or purl stitches, but we’ll get to that later).
Did you know?
Nancy Marchant’s research shows that the name “brioche” arose in reference to a type of cushion that was fashionable for ladies to make in England in the mid-1800s. These brioche pillows were named for the fluffy French baked goods, and the special ribbed fabric that lent them extra poof took on the same name.
Before we start, let’s break down the abbreviations used in this tutorial. If you’re learning brioche knitting for the first time, some of these terms may be new to you– or used in new ways. Breaking them down into the motions they describe can make it easier to memorize the techniques, so that you don’t need to flip between your pattern instructions and abbreviations while knitting.
Note: Like many knitting techniques, there are many different ways to knit brioche. The following instructions are used in Brooklyn Tweed patterns to knit brioche stitch.
Yf = Yarn Forward: Bring the working yarn under the right needle to the front of the work.
Sl1 = Slip 1: Slip the next stitch purlwise (a.k.a. as if to purl).
YO = Yarn Over: Bring the yarn over the needle.
Yf-Sl1-YO = Yarn Forward, Slip 1, Yarn Over: Bring the working yarn under the right needle to the front of the work. Slip the next stitch purlwise, then bring the working yarn over the right needle to the back of the work. This slipped stitch with a YO on top of it is considered one stitch, and will be worked as a BRK on the next row.
BRK = Brioche Knit: Knit the next stitch together with its corresponding YO from the previous row.
Knitting a brioche swatch
We believe the best way to learn brioche stitch (and all knitting techniques!) is to knit a swatch before diving in with a pattern. Making a swatch is a low-pressure way to focus on mastering new techniques, without managing a pattern at the same time.
To begin your swatch, cast on an even number of stitches with your preferred method.
Tip: Brioche knitting creates a very elastic fabric. We recommend a stretchy cast-on method, such as a tubular cast-on, for a seamless transition into your knitted fabric.
To establish the pattern, first complete a Setup Row:
Setup Row: Sl1, *Yf-Sl1-YO, k1* to 1 stitch before end, k1.
Note: The first and last stitch of each row is a selvedge stitch. Since brioche knit fabric is highly elastic, this selvedge will help stabilize your swatch and create neat edges.
Then proceed with Row 1:
Row 1: Sl1, *Yf-Sl1-YO, BRK1* to 1 stitch before end, k1.
Repeat Row 1 until your swatch reaches your desired length (we recommend at least 6” to accurately represent the finished fabric). Bind off loosely in k1, p1 rib, working all slipped stitches together with their YO’s.
And there you have it!
The brioche technique has a rich history, and there are so many unique applications for the fabrics that can be created with this knitting method. For a thorough explanation of the technique, there is perhaps no more authoritative source on the subject than Nancy Marchant. We highly recommend visiting her website and reading her books, which are full of invaluable information about brioche knitting.
Stay tuned for a special pattern release and additional tutorial on April 10, when we’ll demonstrate knitting brioche with two colors in the round, and the Brioche Purl (BRP) stitch.
Images: Crosshatch Junction Kennebec