Review: Knitting Brioche by Nancy Marchant

Knitting Brioche by Nancy Marchant. Cincinnati, OH: North Light Books, 2010.  256 pages.
Grade: A+

So I got one of the books on my wish list! I actually downloaded the iBooks version.

I am very impressed with this book. Of course I tried one of the techniques before I purchased it. In fact, the author is generous with her knowledge so we can all try before we buy: she has a web site that teaches some of the basics of the brioche stitch. I tried out her two-color brioche instructions, loved the results of my swatch, and decided to purchase her publication.

In her Introduction Marchant tells the story of how she came to write about brioche knitting. Born in the Midwestern United States she moved to the Netherlands where she discovered this elegant ribbing. I suppose her history with this fluffy fabric could be considered a kind of love affair or a type of thirst for knowledge. After years of experimentation she developed new ways to employ the stitch, discovered new patterns, and designed her own garments.

Following the Introduction comes a historical and technical summary about the brioche stitch. Her history of it is as informative as it is interesting to read. The technical summary is, of course, essential since it details the basic methods of its execution as well as the way to “think in brioche.” This manner of thinking means to treat slipped stitches with their accompanying yarn overs as one unit. It’s truly amazing to read everything that flows from this sole concept.

The first chapter, “Working the Brioche Stitch Using One Color,” explains the four basic ways one can knit the brioche stitch and its relationship to other kinds of knitting. Since I have Barbara Walker’s Treasury of Knitting Patterns I did not learn much new from this chapter aside from the different ways one can achieve the same resulting rib pattern and learn more about how to “think in brioche knitting.” For those who are not familiar with this kind of fabric: reading this chapter will make it very clear how to make it. More significant for me is the masterful manner in which the author shows her audience how to think in brioche to knit this way. She makes it all very easy to understand and reproduce.

This innovative manner of viewing knitting indeed opens up a new dimension of possibilities as revealed in Chapter 2, “Working Brioche Stitch Using More than One Color.” The techniques described here are of immense value to me because I really like to discover new reversible fabrics and patterns that look elegant on two sides. After making some swatches I know that when someone looks at something I make in two color brioche they will ask me, “Wow! How did you do that?”

The “Brioche Stitchionary,” the topic of the third chapter, is as awesome as the previous one. It is a tour de force on the many possibilities of employing the brioche stitch to make novel and interesting fabrics. There are patterns here that use as many as five colors at once, other kinds of reversible fabrics, and striking textural designs. Many of the patterns are actually new twists on old, familiar ones, such as “Stockinette Brioche Stitch” and “Four-Color Moss Brioche Stitch.” Anyone not satisfied with a new way to make reversible fabrics will be satisfied with the huge variety of new stitch patterns that Marchant has devised.

Chapter 4 is about “The Design Elements of Brioche Knitting,” including information about increasing, decreasing, how to make cables, and much more useful instruction. This chapter and inspires one to think up ways to add both color and texture to knitted fabrics.

The fifth and final chapter, “Projects,” is just that, original designs with easy to follow instructions for sweaters, vests, scarves, hats, and other items for men and women. I want to try all of them. Even better: the author notes when a pattern was intentionally designed to be used as a base to design other garments. She even offers bits of advice on how to begin altering some of her patterns. Her intent was not only to offer her audience some nice instructions. She wants us to make her patterns our own and advance this method further.

A lovely bonus: the photographs are crisp, clean, and attractive. The knitting samples were all created with care and dressed up for photography. There isn’t a single garish looking picture in this book. I am as impressed with the professional design of this text as I am with the techniques it clearly explains.

I recommend this book to any knitter who wishes to learn a whole new way to knit, design, and create beautiful fabrics. The instructions are written in plain English and the methods are fascinating. It’s truly a pleasure to read and a creative inspiration.

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