How to knit two-colour brioche – the easy way!

Pravigan is a big scarf. A huge scarf. A big huge scarf in laceweight. A big huge scarf in laceweight two-colour brioche.

A big huge time commitment.

I totally cheated.

Or rather: I got smart. (Yes, that's better.) In swatching, I very quickly decided I couldn't be doing with this double-row nonsense. For those who don't know: brioche is characterised by the way each stitch carries a yarnover behind it, forming something like tentlines running down at an angle, and creating the deeply corrugated, three-dimensional fabric that is so irresistibly squooshy. (You can get the same effect by knitting into the stitch below the next stitch on your left-hand needle – working this way is usually called fisherman's rib, and the resulting fabric will look slightly different because of how it affects gauge. Bee stitch, used in Julia's Thielenbruch shawl from Lost in the Woods, uses this technique and is sometimes categorised as a brioche stitch.) Worked in two colours, those tentlines create a beautiful visual depth and can sometimes be used to dramatic effect. 

In brioche, the stitches in a row or round alternate between having a yarnover wrapped around them, or being themselves worked into a stitch and yarnover together. When using just one colour, that's no problem. But in two-colour brioche, you normally have to work each row first in the background colour, slipping every other stitch and wrapping yarn round the needle; then return to the start and repeat the whole row in the foreground colour, working those slipped stitches together with their yarnovers.

Slow going. And for some of us bears of little brain (or, more generously, little attention span), it's annoyingly easy to forget about going back to work that second colour. So I figured out how to do both colours in one row. It's very simple – as long as you're comfortable with holding one yarn in each hand. (Which is a great trick for colourwork generally, so if you're still attached to either the English or continental knitting style, I highly recommend training yourself in the other one.) This is how it's done. 

A typical brioche pattern for plain rib will look like this.

Abbreviations:

BC/FC: background/foreground colour
sl1-yo: slip 1, wrapping yarn round needle
brk: brioche knit – knit into next stitch together with its yarnover
brp: brioche purl – purl into next stitch together with its yarnover

Row 1 RS BC: k2 edge sts, [sl1-yo, brp] to last 3 sts, sl1-yo, k2
Row 1 RS FC: slip 2, [brk, sl1-yo] to last 3 sts, brk, slip 2
Row 2 WS BC: k2, [sl1-yo, brk] to last 3 sts, sl1-yo, k2
Row 2 WS FC: slip 2, [brp, sl1-yo] to last 3 sts, brp, slip 2

But we're going to cut out all that time-wasting slipping. Of course, that does mean we'll be missing some yarnovers ready to work with our stitches, doesn't it? Just have to create them as we go. Here's how – your cheat's guide to working brk or brp without pre-formed yarnovers.

(Note: the photos don't show every step of brioching, because this isn't really a beginner's brioche tutorial; they only show how stitches worked in the foreground colour differ to usual brioche stitches. If you're new to brioche, I recommend you start with the brioche primer included in Pravigan, or with another simple brioche pattern, just to acclimatise. This tutorial also assumes that the brioche pattern is already set up; whether you work your brioche in the usual two-row method or not, or if you've started with single-colour brioche, the results are all the same.

The method

Hold your background yarn in your left hand, and foreground yarn in your right. Your new, simplified pattern is this, with detailed instructions below:

Row 1: k2 edge sts in BC, [brk in FC, brp in BC] to last 3 sts, brk in FC, k2 in BC
Row 2: k2 in BC, [brp in FC, brk in BC] to last 3 sts, brp in FC, k2 in BC

Brk in FC (shown top right): Lay BC yarn over the top of your left-hand needle, next to the waiting FC stitch, and using FC, knit into that stitch and improvised "yarnover" together (as shown top right). Bring FC forward.

Brp in BC (not shown): Purl into next BC stitch together with its yarnover. Wrap FC yarn over needle from front to back. (This step is very much like the usual sl1-yo – you just happen to be actually working the stitch, not slipping it.)

Brp in FC (shown bottom right): Lay BC yarn over left-hand needle, as for the FC brk, and purl into that stitch and "yarnover" together.

Brk in BC (not shown): Knit into next BC stitch together with its yarnover. Wrap FC yarn over needle from front to back and around to front again, ready for the next FC brp. (Again: very much like the usual sl1-yo.)

 

You'll find that after just a few stitches, this rhythm – work and wrap, brioche, work and wrap – becomes second nature. If you occasionally forget to wrap, not that I ever do that ahem ahem, it's simple enough to pick up the float on the next row.

The slightly trickier part is following conventional brioche instructions while working the one-row method. I recommend following charts rather than written instructions, if available. As long as it's plain rib, you're fine. But when shaping enters the picture, watch out; you need to collapse two charted (or written) rows of instructions into one, following two rows at the same time.

Examine the chart to see where different kinds of shaping stitches are worked. In Pravigan, for instance, decreases are almost always worked in the background colour on right-side rows – followed by matching increases in the foreground colour on the second pass at that right-side row. So, work to the first shaping stitch, whichever yarn it's worked in (whether it's in the "first" or "second" row as charted), perform your increase or decrease, work to the next shaping stitch, etc. That doesn't present any particular challenge: since the decreases are worked first, you won't find any "extra" stitches in the chart. (Stay with me. This will make more sense after the next example.) 

When decreases – or indeed gathered stitches such as 3-into-3; anything that takes up more than a single stitch, regardless of how many result – are worked in the foreground colour, it gets a bit more complicated. The BC row, the first one shown in the chart, will show the full number of stitches that the FC row then takes away. In certain rows in Pravigan, a brk5-into-5 gathered stitch is bracketed by br-p3tog on either side. In the chart, the br-p3tog appears on the first, BC row; brk5-into-5 on the second, FC row. When using the one-row method, you have to be careful with your counting! Remember that those extra 4 stitches between the decreases aren't really there (ooh... freaky...), and be sure not to leave too many stitches between your br-p3togs. As long as the BC decreases really are worked directly on either side of the FC gathered stitch or decrease, this isn't too hard to remember. But when columns of regular ribbing intervene – it can feel surprisingly complicated!

As with most knitting techniques, this process quickly comes to feel natural. It's also much easier to follow a two-row chart once the stitch pattern is established. So I recommend working a swatch for your chosen brioche pattern, using the one-row method, both to practise the hand movements and to internalise the stitch pattern and how to read the chart. I do not recommend switching to the one-row method halfway through a project! Your tension is likely to be significantly different, almost certainly much tighter, when brioching this way.  

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