Knitting: Breaking Into Brioche

A while back, I got sucked into a particularly deep Ravelry rabbit hole and discovered the talented Susanne Sommer’s page with so many gorgeous, truly modern knits. Having added nearly everything on her page to my Ravelry favourites, I then decided I simply had to cast on soon and decided her Peachy shawl would be the place to begin.

 

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“Brioche and Garter are a match made in heaven” – Susanne Sommer

Several long nights were then spent, whilst nursing my newborn, hunting online for the perfect yarn combination. I wasn’t able to get what I wanted in Australia, so ended up getting some delicious Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles shipped from Stephen & Penelope in Amsterdam! It is really the most delicate and delightful yarn I have ever had the pleasure of holding. The urge to cast on was irresistible. Despite the multiple works-in-progress already filling my knitting bin, I really could not wait!

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The finished product

Pattern: Peachy by Susanne Sommer of Sosu

Source: Ravelry download

Price: €6

Yarn: Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles in Teacup (A), Genie (C) and Jelly (D) and Madelinetosh Eurosock in Antler (B)

Needle: 4mm long circular

This pattern used a few techniques I didn’t know, including i-cord tab cast on, two colour brioche and i-cord bind off. The cast on was tricky! I watched Susanne Sommer’s video several times over and cast on several times before I got the hang of the manoeuvring required.

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My hideous unevenly tensioned mess and rather complicated counting system.

Once, I got started, I then felt like my knitting looked like a hideous unevenly tensioned mess. Nothing like the beautiful close ups of the finished product I’d seen on the Ravelry page. In desperation, I frogged and cast on again several times before giving up and asking for help on the brioche forums on Ravelry.

Much to my delight, Susanne Sommer herself responded, reassuring me that all would come together with the blocking. So I took a leap of faith and pressed on.

Two colour brioche is a clever technique in which each row is worked twice, once with each colour. The first time the row is worked, half the stitches are slipped with the working yarn making a yarn-over loop which is paired with the slipped stitch. The second colour is then worked into the previously slipped stitches together with their yarn-over, while slipping the stitches and creating a yarn-over for those stitches already worked in the first colour.

I’ve just read and re-read that last paragraph and realised I’ve made it about as clear as mud. The visual learners among you will probably prefer to just watch this video. It’s far simpler than I’ve made it sound.

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Right side and wrong side displaying the gorgeous effect of two colour brioche stitch.

The pattern is beautifully written with details on the special techniques provided. The only minor flaw is that near the start of the brioche triangles in both sections, a few stitches are written as being worked as though they already have a yarn over, when it hasn’t yet been created. Being a brioche novice, I inadvertently worked two stitches together as a result (e.g. pattern calls for a brioche knit (brk) and I k2tog instead). Given the size of the shawl and the lacy speckled yarn, this error is never going to be noticed, so I left it!

Working brioche was initially rather all consuming and required a bit of concentration, but once I found my rhythm, with a rather complicated counting system—I had three row counters on a crochet hook to keep track of my rows and repeats—it was easy to work this project while also indulging my Netflix addiction.

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Post blocking beauty.

That is until a slip of my concentration or, worse, of the needle resulted in an error. Fixing brioche is a whole new level of knitting prowess! I must confess, I just made it up. I fiddled with the threads until I thought they looked like they were doing something similar to their neighbours. The use of two very similar coloured yarns in the biggest section of the shawl made this even harder as I could often not see which yarn went where. Fortunately, my perfectionistic tendencies are fading as I age, and I was at no point tempted to frog the whole thing and start again. Though I did occasionally pop a lifeline through the project, just in case a real disaster struck.

I won’t be entering this shawl into any serious competitions as errors abound, but they mostly are hidden well among the rows and rows that I managed to get right.

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Don’t look too closely. Errors abound.

The i-cord edge of the shawl gives it a lovely softness, but my yarn choice has almost ruined the effect. Given my time again I would use four yarns all of the same composition and type. I couldn’t get my hands on specific Madelinetosh yarn suggested in the pattern, but I wanted the same neutral colour, so I bought it in Euro Sock instead of the recommended Merino Light. I didn’t appreciate that the different structure of the yarn (4ply vs. single ply) would so dramatically effect it’s elastic properties. Indeed, I only really worked out what a ‘single’ yarn was very recently when reading a handspinning book! As a result, the difference in the stretch of my i-cord edge in the first section—where I used the 4ply Euro Sock and a single ply—compared to the second section—where both yarns were single ply—was so noticable that I thought it would ruin the project entirely! Fortunately, some gentle but firm blocking has made the difference far, far less noticeable and I don’t think it will effect the fall of the shawl too adversely.

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World’s slowest, but possibly most lovely, bind off.

The i-cord bind off (lovely photo tutorial here) has got to be the world’s slowest way to cast off. But it is also one of the most lovely. I really love the effect of the bind off in the neon bright pink of the Jelly yarn. Super squishy! It draws a big underline across the bottom of the project and gives it a very finished and polished quality.

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Suboptimal blocking conditions.

Blocking this gorgeous number wasn’t done as delicately as I would have liked due to a lack of blocking mat real estate and also a lack of patience for blocking wire placement on the part of a certain hungry baby. I used wires along the long edge of the shawl, but the shorter edge I just used a few judiciously placed sewing pins. Despite the imperfect technique, the blocking has brought out the absolutely beauty of the brioche, as Susanne Sommer promised me it would, and I have fallen in love with it all over again.

I think this is my favourite knit of all time, which, having knit for the better part of 20 years—the last 10 of them in earnest—is not a minor accolade. I’m so excited to have discovered the diversity and creativity of the Ravelry rabbit hole and as a result, I still have a knitting bin full of works in progress and even more projects I simply cannot wait to cast on.

 

Knitting: Rainbow at Daybreak

As part of my obsession with all things gradient, I managed to score a beautiful skein of ‘Spring Rainbow’ from the very talented Briony of Gradient Yarn Australia.

Like all gradient projects, the key is finding one with the perfect meterage requirements for just one skein. No more. No less. After much Ravelry trawling, I chanced upon this very simple yet striking design from Stephen West. And seeing as my Spring Rainbow echoed the washed out palette of dawn, the Daybreak shawl was a perfect fit for my yarn in more ways than one! I quickly picked out and ordered a delicious deep blue yarn to complement the colours… and then the yarn sat at the bottom of my works-in-progress bin for an eternity while I necessarily knit things with deadlines.

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Beautiful yet simple striping design is perfect to show off the pastel hues of Spring Rainbow by Gradient Yarn Australia. (And highlighting a mistake I only noticed when inserting this photo in this post! Oops!)

Finally, around the time B. arrived, I had a break in the never ending stream of new babies requiring knitwear and I was very excited to finally cast on this gorgeous project for myself.

Pattern: Daybreak by West Knits

Source: Ravelry download

Price: $6 USD

Yarn: Gradient Main Street 4ply in Spring Rainbow and Garnstudio DROPS Baby Merino in Blue

Needles: 3.5mm circular needle

This knit up surprisingly quickly. Though it may have been the increased knitting opportunities I had in the pre-baby phase of my maternity leave!

The pattern warned me regarding the need for a looser tension on the edges to prevent it being too tight to block and I probably didn’t pay enough heed. When it came to blocking, one edge was significantly tighter (and therefore shorter) than the other. With some diligent (read aggressive) blocking the difference ended up being only a matter of a few centimetres and is completely indiscernible when the shawl is being worn.

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‘Decorative’ edging due to my accidental knitwise increase on wrong side.

Having foolishly ignored this pattern note, I then completely failed to read the next one and used a knitwise increase for all my rows both right and wrong side. I only noticed the instruction to work wrong side increases purlwise when I was well and truly on my way, so I kept my error consistent throughout and decided to think of it as a ‘decorative’ feature rather than a demonstration of my ineptitude!

The benefit of a shawl when using a gradient yarn is that there is a little room to move in terms of using up all your yarn. Even more conveniently, the difference between a medium and large shawl in this pattern came down to the last few rows! So I ended up working it as a large shawl (20 stripes), but then cut short the purl ridge edging to five ridges (instead of seven) when I pulled out of my game of yarn chicken just in the nick of time.

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Five purl ridges rather than seven

The final hurdle was in the blocking. The pattern calls for lace blocking wires—which I found here—which are threaded through the edge of the shawl and pinned out to create a smooth curved edge. After wiping down the wires to remove a greasy residue, I set about threading them through the edge of the shawl. The process was slightly arduous and I was never entirely sure I was doing it right. It then almost ended in tears when a delivery man failed to notice my beautifully laid out shawl on the ground in our front room and trod on it with his big work boot! Fortunately, the result was no worse than a couple of bent pins. Though I may have traumatised him slightly with my sudden screeching!

When it was all blocked and beautiful, I was excited to discover that shawls don’t have to be draped over one’s shoulders—something that makes me look dowdy and decidedly round shouldered—but can be worn in a number of ways. Great post on how to wear a shawl here.

I like to wear mine like this!

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Having discovered West Knits by way of this shawl, I got sucked into a Ravelry rabbit hole and found this beautiful design by Susanne Sommer, which then sucked me in deeper and deeper until I found myself breastfeeding at 3am while ordering yarn from Amsterdam on my phone!

So, having just finished one, my just-for-me can’t-wait-to-cast-on project has been replaced with Susanne Sommer’s Peachy shawl and some amazing yarn from Hedgehog Fibres via Stephen & Penelope. It’s all in brioche stitch—something I had never heard of before—and I can’t wait to cast on!