Saturday, January 7, 2012

Brioche / Fisherman's Rib

I recently joined a knitting group. A bunch of us meet at a local coffee house and share knitting techniques, and work up demo squares. The squares are donated and made up into afghans for a local charity. There's also a "show and tell" aspect to the group, which can be really inspirational! Finally, we keep tabs on each other's "new year's knitting resolution", so there is some group discipline to make you finish that big project you started!!

Anyways, the techniques part recently introduced me to brioche knitting. An excellent reference for this technique is Nancy Marchant's book Knitting Brioche; there's an awesome website that goes along with it. The brioche stitch involves slipping stitches and making yarn-overs at the same time, then on the next row knitting these together. It makes a reversible, thick, and very stretchy fabric.

A closely related stitch is called fisherman's rib (or shaker rib).  This is the stitch I learned from my grandmother (in Holland and Germany it is called patent - with the accent on the last syllable). It is described in the nice book by Elise Duvekot called Knit One Below. This stitch technique consists of knitting in the stitch below the one you would normally be knitting, which results in that stitch dissolving as you slide it off the left needle. I find this technique easier to do.

After some analysis, research, and trial, I am convinced that the plain vanilla brioche stitch and the basic fisherman's rib are identical. I further think that a lot of the stitch variations that exist can be produced using either the brioche yarn-over, or the knit-one-below technique. Colourwork with this stitch produces some very unusual and beautiful effects.

People do use brioche/fisherman's rib for socks. The stitch uses a lot of yarn (50% more than regular knitting) and produces a very thick and stretchy sock. It is tricky to read, tink, and fix, so isn't a "beginner" stitch. Because of the double-sided nature, it takes 2 rows of knitting to create 1 pattern row - this means it takes longer to see the pattern develop (and longer to discover mistakes!) and it will also affect the rate of any decreases/increases you do. So if you want to experiment and work without an established pattern, do some trials first! I would not recommend doing a heel or toe in this stitch because of the complexity of decreases and increases - but because the sock that results is so stretchy, a bog-standard short-row stockinette heel/toe should fit just fine!

A note of caution before you tackle a sweater: this is one baggy stitch, both because the amount of yarn used - which makes the fabric heavier - and the inherent stretch of the stitch. Unless you take precautions you will end up with a minidress with gorilla arms within a week of wearing it. To prevent this:
- knit on smaller needles (2 sizes down?)
- use "grippy" wool (no superwash, no acrylics, no slippery yarns) - nastyscratchy, thick/thin homespun, or tweedy work best!
- consider using an alternative stitch which alternates [K1 K1B] rows with [P1 K1] rows for stability. This variant is called halbpatent in German and uses less yarn than the full version, and is a little less stretchy. note: there's also a variant called falsches patent, which is simply a K-P rib variation (in the round, pattern repeat 4 sts: R1: K3 P1 to end, R2: P2 K1 P1 to end, repeat 1-2). I think this is also known as mistake rib.The result looks the same to the untrained eye, but once you've seen real patent you can tell the difference.

For situations where stretch is required (hats, socks) or doesn't matter so much (scarves) the "full brioche" version is great.

Two-colour brioche and its variations are described on Nancy Marchant's website, so there's no need for me to supply futher info. But there is a lack of public information on fisherman's here's what I've been able to discover.

note: in the instructions below, K1B and P1B mean knit (or purl) into the stitch below. Here's how, if you are unfamiliar with this technique.

Fisherman's Rib Basic (knit flat)
Even number of sts
Setup row: [ K1 P1 ] to end, turn
R1:[ K1B K1 ] to end, turn
Repeat R1 until desired length reached.
This one's easy and gives a nice scarf! Try stripes (even # of rows in one colour). note: I haven't included a selvedge stitch. You might want to add one or more to neaten the edge.
Fisherman's Rib Basic (in the round)
Even number of sts
Setup row: [ K1 P1 ] to end
R1:[ K1B K1 ] to end
R2:[ P1 P1B ] to end
Repeat R1 and R2 until desired length reached. Use a row counter as it is very difficult to keep track of which row you are on!
Bi-Colour Fisherman's Rib (knit flat)
Even number of sts; requires DPNs; results in vertical stripes of colour and a reversible (mirror image!) fabric
Setup row: colour A; [ K1 P1 ] to end, turn.
R1: colour A; [ K1B K1 ] to end, slide work to end, start new row at same end!
R2: colour B; [ P1 P1B ] to end, turn.
R3: colour A; [ P1 P1B] to end, slide work to end, start new row at same end!
R4: colour B; [ K1B K1 ] to end, turn.
Repeat R1-4 until desired length reached. Repeat a few times with a stitch counter and your brain on full alert to establish the pattern; after a few repeats you will learn how to read the work and you can ditch that row counter and relax. note: I haven't included a selvedge stitch. You might want to add one or more to neaten the edge.

Bi-Colour Fisherman's Rib (knit in the round)
Even number of sts; results in vertical stripes of colour and a reversible
(mirror image!) fabric
Setup row: colour A; [ K1 P1 ] to end.
R1: colour A; [ K1B K1 ] to end
R2: colour B; [ P1 P1B ] to end
Repeat R1-2 until desired length reached. This pattern is super easy - always purl in one colour and knit in the other! 
Bi-Colour Fisherman's Rib (knit in the round) variation "Stockinette Brioche"
Even number of sts; results in vertical stripes of colour with no "gutter" between them; fabric is not mirror image on the other side.
Setup row: colour A; [ K1 P1 ] to end.
R1: colour A; [ K1B K1 ] to end
R2: colour B; [ K1 K1B ] to end
Repeat R1-2 until desired length reached. A row counter is handy until you learn how to read the fabric.
You can play with the colour changes, and with the number of K's and K1B's to get different effects. Here's another variant for you to play with:

Rose Fabric (in the round)
         Even number of sts
         R1: purl to end
         R2: [ K1 K1B ] to end
         R3: purl to end
         R4: [ K1B K1 ] to end
         Repeat R1-4 until desired length reached.

I leave it to you to figure this one out for flat knitting. Try this with alternating colours. The purl row colour will create a sort of web of diagonal threads over the fabric. Try knitting instead of purling the odd rows for a different effect. Check out the reverse side! This stitch, because it uses plain knitting rows, will use less yarn and will be less thick than the other variants.

Honeycomb Brioche (in the round)
         Even number of sts
         setup R1: k to end
         setup R2: purl to end.
         R1: [ K1 K1B ] to end
         R2: [P1 P1tog with slipped st*] to end
         R3: [ K1B K1 ] to end
         R4: [P1 tog with slipped st*, P1] to end
         Repeat R1-4 until desired length reached.

* this is not the same as P1B. To execute, pick up the strand of the slipped st from the last row and place it onto your LH needle; purl it together with the current stitch. It's a slight variation of the "rose fabric" stitch, above...

For a bi-colour honeycomb, knit all the even rows in one colour and the odd (purl) rows in a different one. The backside is nice too!

Try a small project like a set of wristwarmers to whet your appetite!

**new 2015**
I've created a pattern for a simple "K1B" cowl, that takes advantage of self-striping yarn. It's made with bulky yarn so knits up very quickly. Download it here. The photo shows the wrong side out, which I think is just as nice in its own right. In neutral tones it is quite manly!

[brioche variant "stockinette brioche" - cowl - free pattern]


  1. I like your summary. I have been soaking up whatever I can on brioche stitch. Nancy Merchant does make a point that though brioche may look like fisherman's rib, it is knit differently. I find the brioche method faster, maybe more rythmic. I noticed she refers to it as "brioche stockinette stitch"

  2. I've knit samples using both the brioche technique and fisherman's rib; I honestly can't tell the end product apart, even in details. I believe that either method will give you the same result - that means you get to pick the technique that works best for you!

    I will say that it helps to be able to do both the "yarn-over" brioche method and the "knit one below" fisherman's rib method, because if you tink or frog your work, you'll see the yarn-overs appearing.

    Reminds me. Maybe I should do a post on tinking/frogging...

  3. I'm always puzzled as to why everyone calls Fisherman's rib the one you're talking about where you alternate knit 1 with knit 1 below.

    Have you tried doing it with k1b, p1? When you turn your work, on the other side of the work you'll be purling the previous side's k1b stitches. And your k1b will be with the previous side's p1 stitches.

    I find this to be much more of a true ribbing, and it doesn't stretch out laterally like brioche stitch (and your faux fisherman's rib).

    This flavor of fisherman's rib is what's in Barbara Walker's first Treasury of Knitting Patterns as well as the Reader's Digest Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches.

  4. thank you to all of you,
    and the comment of lumpynose is unique !
    really, I was searching for a solution for thickness AND stability, you bring it !
    thank you !

  5. Thanks, Reena, for your detailed explanations of some variations in this stitch. Because of you, I was able to figure out what I was doing wrong while trying to knit fisherman's rib in the round. Your comment about bagginess is helpful. I'll keep an eye on that. Now I can get on with my knitting!

  6. Hello,
    Thanks for the great instructions. Your "new 2015" pattern looks great but the link does not work. I would love to try it out. Please look into it. Thank you!

  7. Hi Anonymous - link is fixed. Happy knitting!

  8. Thank you, interesting new stitch to try, hope I get it right!��

  9. Best.description.ever of the differences! Thanks!!

  10. Thank you for this very interesting post.

  11. Thank you for this post. It has helped me a lot. Now knitting a cowl following your directions.
    Just a question: you say "turn" at the end of row in circular knitting, as in "Bi-Colour Fisherman's Rib (knit in the round)". Is this a mistake? and if not, what does it mean?
    Thank you again

    1. Yup, that's a mistake. Corrected! Thanks for the eagle eyed editing!

  12. AMAZEBALLS okay i looked and on your blog this is my favorite blog page of all times. I paid crafty good $$ for both Marchant & Clarke they have brioche video class. Confusing hell yeah. I lost my mind with all that damn back and forth. I'd rather shoot my leg. Love k1 k1b. Found exactly one video on increases here's the link:
    (who says i ain't helpful) now missy RMD Before i kick the bucket part two of this blog should or could be: "K1-K1B the sequel- increases / decreases & short rows can you handle it"