POP FIBER: Brioche Knitwear & Carol


Much has been said, written, drooled… about the wardrobe in the film Carol (2015). The film stars Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, a middle-aged, mid-divorce mother, and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet, department store shopgirl and Carol’s young lover. Costume designer Sandy Powell knocked it out of the park with Carol’s vintage garb, from the showstopping fur coat to the coral scarves and hats to match her manicure. Therese’s wardrobe is less glamorous but just as drool-worthy—the wide-leg trousers with ankle booties, the navy duffle coat with striped detail, the whimsical pom-pommed beret. From start to finish, the women are divine.

But, of all of the fantastic garments in this fantastic film, the one that I find myself thinking about again and again is not one worn by either Blanchett or Mara—it’s the sweater worn by Therese’s male suitor Richard (Jake Lacy) when the two argue in her apartment. In this scene, while he struggles once again to comprehend why Therese would prefer to spend time with her “friend” Carol than to sail with him to Europe, he looks impossibly snuggly and dapper in a chartreuse-and-black ribbed knit pullover with a shawl collar.

(You can catch a clearer glimpse of both of their sweaters in this promo video for the film. Hers appears at 0:07; his is at 0:17)

Perhaps Powell dressed Lacy in this sweater for this scene to reinforce his character’s conservatism—his snugly held, tight-necked assumptions about what Therese owes him.

Perhaps. Or maybe she just knew it was a killer garment and had to put him in it at some point.

Either way, by including this pullover (and a similar, daintier version on Therese in multiple scenes as well), Powell is jumping on a trend that today’s knitters are embracing more and more: brioche.

Brioche knitting is not one stitch type but a technique wherein one uses slipped stitches and yarnovers in one row to set up multiple loops to be stitched back together in the following row. It yields a squishy, ribbed fabric that is both light and warm. And bonus—if you alternate two different colors, you’ll get a shadowy two-tone effect with one dominant color and one recessed. Lacy’s shawl-collar sweater looks like a bi-color brioche, with black on the ribs and the perfect shade of chartreuse in the valleys.

It’s unlikely that American knitters would have called a sweater like Richard’s “brioche” at the time. More likely, patterns would have simply referred to this style as “rib.” Some might have called it “fisherman’s rib,” a term we still use to describe a stitch that is different from brioche but yields an almost identical fabric. Some patterns also used the general term “double knitting,” which came in the 1970s to mean knitting two layers at once, but seems to have been used before that for a single layer of knitting that appears the same on both sides (as brioche, fisherman’s rib, and basic k1-p1 ribbing do). Regardless of the actual technique and provenance of the sweater worn by Richard in the film, the look of the garment—lofty bi-color ribbing—reflects a style that is absolutely en vogue with modern knitters.

The brioche authority both online and in print is Nancy Marchant, whose book Knitting Brioche (2010) serves many as a brioche bible of sorts. While Marchant has been championing this style of knitting for decades, brioche has been having a bit of a moment over the last couple of years. In the era of #knitstagram, we now have knitting gurus and icons just a click away, and some of these new pro knitters have been designing projects with—and confessing their love for—the brioche stitch.

Three of the most well known and most prolific are Stephen West (@westknits), Lesley Anne Robinson (@knitgraffiti), and Andrea Mowry (@dreareneeknits), all of whom released several brioche-centric patterns last year. The most famous of these is probably West’s “Askew” series, consisting of patterns for a hat, a shawl, and even a dickey. (I didn’t know I had the need or desire for a dickey, but seeing West’s Askew patterns immediately filled me with, well, dickey envy.)

WestKnits Brioche Askews Me Stephen West knitting
Stephen West in his Askews Me hat and dress – flickr.com
Lesley Anne Robinson in her Pop Twizzle cowl – instagram.com
Andrea Mowry dreareneeknits brioche stitch hat
Andrea Mowry in her Vintage Prim Tweed hat – instagram.com

So, while Powell did a spot-on job of using clothing to recreate that early 1950s moment in Carol, her choice of garments also reflects trends in the work of knitting’s most exciting young designers. I might just need to apply Carol‘s heritage color scheme (a coral, a red, or that chartreuse) to a modern shape like this or this to make myself a cozy brioche treat that spans the ages.


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