On Brioche.

I have lots of thoughts on brioche stitch.  

(I don't know what this says about me that I have so many thoughts about a knitting stitch.  It is, perhaps, abnormal to have strong opinions about such a trifling thing.  But no one ever accused me of normality, thank goodness.)

I recently finished the Shake It Up Shawl by Anna Johanna.  This was a Totally-Not-Like-Me-At-All project.  I'm normally all about practicality and neutrals.  This is not a project about those things.  Seriously, it has tassels, and tassels are fundamentally not practical.

This was a project borne of the excitement of participating in a yarn club.  I'd been eyeing Uschitita yarns for a long time, but found them difficult to obtain stateside.  So, when I was able to get in on a yarn club, I put in the effort so as not to miss the opportunity.  The day she listed the club on her site, I was doing an interview across town for an article, so I set an alarm because I knew I'd be distracted.  It went off while I was driving home, so I got off the freeway and pulled into a parking spot at a gas station to purchase my membership from my phone because yarn shopping while driving is probably dangerous, given how deliriously happy I was about it.  (If you know anything about Houston traffic, you know that this was not an easy task.  But I'm not letting a little traffic come between me and the yarn I'm coveting.)

Yarn clubs are exciting because you're giving your money to a dyer blindly, trusting that they'll send you surprises you'll like.  After ogling Steffi's Instagram feed for months, I felt confident in this arrangement.  It was so much fun to await the monthly package!  Of course, the yarns were gorgeous, but they were also mostly colorways I never would have picked.  Also part of the fun.  Once they were here and they were mine, I devoted myself to finding a way to use them that honored my tastes.  I normally work the other way: I choose a pattern, then the yarn (unless it's socks.)  Going the other direction was a cool challenge.  

One of the skeins seemed alone to me.  It just had a different tone from the others, a more muted sensibility.  That skein became socks:

The others needed some thought.  They all worked together.  But all of them in one project would have been too much color explosion for me.  So, following Andrea Mowry's advice to unskein the yarns to see how they coordinate, I played with the combinations and settled on three that all had varying ratios of white-orange-purple. 

The Shake it Up Shawl ended up being a perfect fit.  It's not really a fade, and it's not really color blocking.  It's color play, if you will.  It ended up a striking way to play the three colorways off each other: a little striping, a little lace, and brioche. 

I had never attempted brioche before.  Not for any reason other than there are only so many new things a human can learn each day, and the Day to Learn Brioche simply hadn't arrived before I queued this project.  But if you've known me for at least five minutes, you know I'm a fan of learning new things.  In the process of learning this stitch, I got to practice some valuable life lessons, too. 

Brioche isn't an easy stitch to learn, I have to admit.  I find the stitches confusing to make sense of—I can't look at it and figure out where I am in the stitch pattern or figure out my mistakes.  Not yet, at least.  I get to practice my faith that it will simply take me more tries to "get" it.

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"Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good. "

—Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Because it's hard to figure out my mistakes, and even harder to go back and fix them, I chose to accept the gaping holes and the errant yarnovers.  This recalls to me the deliberate imperfections of Navajo rugs or the wabi-sabi practice of kintsugi.  The "mistakes" are a testament to the learning process and my "perfectly imperfect" humanity.

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“There's more than one right way to knit, and you don't have to be perfect or even good at knitting to have it work out for you. That's pretty unusual, because there really aren't a whole lot of other hobbies where you can relax, be imperfect, and still have a wonderful time...just ask rock climbers.”

—Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Things I Learned from Knitting

Two-color brioche is particularly slow to knit.  It takes two passes to finish each row.  It's a lot more effort for less progress than I'm used to.  Brioche asks for my patience.

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"Best of all, knitting is slow. SO slow that we see the beauty inherent in every tiny act that makes up a sweater."

—Bernadette Murphy, Zen and the Art of Knitting

Because it's not an easy stitch to "get" (at least not for me,) brioche requires my attention.  This is perhaps the most difficult lesson for me.  I tend to multi-task a lot, oftentimes reading while I knit (which is why I typically choose simpler stitch patterns) because my brain resists calm.  Brioche stitch is the perfect marriage of repetition and complexity to set me into a state of flow: I can slow down, calm my mind, and allow the repetitive nature of the stitch to take over.  It's very zen.  Perhaps someday when it's less of a challenge, it won't be that for me any more.  That's OK, too.  For now, brioche asks for the valuable commodity of my attention.

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I will consider that paying attention to my knitting is a good thing, and probably what people are talking about when they say that knitting is "the new yoga."

—Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit’s End

I'm very pleased with how it turned out, and with what it means to me.

One last thought on brioche stitch: I'm sure I'll develop more thoughts on it once I practice it some more.  I am, after all, only one project in with this technique.

JEAN HAREComment