Instead of spending the time working on my COVID-19 tracking website (which shows that the number of new cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County have been decreasing for zero days in a row), I devoted the weekend to playing with my knitting machine.

I have been spending a lot of time sitting on the couch and reading about knitting. One of the things that I’ve been reading a lot about is brioche knitting. Some people use the name “English rib” or “Fisherman’s rib” to refer to this stitch; others insist that those names apply to something similar but different. In any event, brioche knitting is a squishy fabric with prominent ribs. The defining feature of creating it with hand-knitting is that you slip a stitch while simultaneously doing a yarn-over. Morally this is equivalent to doing a regular knit stitch but giving up halfway through and moving on to the next stitch on the needle. In machine knitting, this is called “tuck,” and there is a button on the carriage to tell it that you want to do tuck stitches rather than knit stitches. Do not be confused by the name tuck; it doesn’t seem to have any connection to the other meanings of that word in English.

Due to the tuck button, it is pretty easy to make one-color brioche knits on a double-bed knitting machine. You cast on for 1x1 rib (or full needle rib if your machine is happy with that – mine is not). Then you set one carriage to knit in one direction and tuck in the other and the other carriage to do the reverse. Easy peasy, brioche knitting. (Fun fact, if you watch machine knitting YouTube videos with the Google auto-captions, when the speaker refers to the knitting machine’s “ribber bed,” the captions will say “river bed.”)

With hand knitting, once you know how to do brioche knitting, then you can do two-color brioche knitting, in which the ribs on one side are one color and the ribs on the other side are the other color. When knitting in the round, you need to go around once with each color to knit the full round: You do the knits with one color and then the purls with the other color. In flat knitting you do one color then you slide the work back so that you can do the row again with the other color. Neither of these strategies work particularly well with home knitting machines. These machines don’t do any sort of ribbing in the round. The operation of “slide the work back” is super annoying because you need to take the yarn out of the carriage, switch how the buttons are set, put the yarn back in, and then reset the buttons correctly.

This weekend I found an alternative. And I mean “found” in the sense of “Columbus discovered America.” Lots of people must know about it already, but I was previously unaware of it. I was able to use a stitch pattern that was relatively easy to knit on my knitting machine and that looks a lot like two-color brioche.


Note that this swatch no longer exists. I have ripped it out and rewound the yarn. This yarn is Noro, and the knitting machine was not happy about the thick-thin texture and all of the leaves and twigs and whatnot.

In order to make this work, I did two rows with each color. Work the main color across and back, then switch to the contrasting color. Work the contrasting color across and back and then switch back to the main color. In machine knitting lingo, I set one carriage to knit both directions and the other to tuck both directions (KK/TT) and knit back and forth with the main color. Then I set the first carriage to tuck and the second to knit (TT/KK) and used the contrasting color. I repeated this pattern until the machine started crying about how Noro yarn is impossible to work with.

In term of hand knitting what this would mean for flat knitting of brioche is that you would use one color to go across and back, then you would use the next color to go across and back, like normal knitting (no sliding the work to the other end of the needle). The strategy would be to start with the main color and knit a row of brioche like normal. And then on the way back, work the normal stitches normally and for the doubled-stitches (stitch + yo), do that again: slip again and add another yarn over. Switch to the contrasting color. This is sort of like normal brioche stitch again, only instead of working a stitch together with its yo, you work the stitch together with both of its yarn overs and do the slip+yo to the other stitches like in regular brioche. And on the way back, work the normal stitches normally and add another yo to the slip+yo stitches.

It’s hard to explain for hand knitting without pictures or a video or something, and I don’t have time now for either of them right now. Much easier to describe for the machine. Too bad the machine hates Noro so much.