The Ingredients For A Breton Stripe

breton swatch ii

Something about the combination of a coloured stripe with a white one creates a clean and crisp look that will always endure. Dr Christine Boydell

Friends, I’m facing a dilemma. I’m preparing to knit a Breton inspired sweater with a boat neckline. I’ve bought a red and dark grey wool. But is the grey too grey?

The key to the breton stripe is a strong contrast colour and then a background neutral. Should my grey be paler, more neutral? When does a jumper stop being Breton and start becoming Dennis the Menace?

There’s a great The Pool article here on the history of Breton stripes and here is a totally exhaustive collection of Breton stripes. I also turned to some of my own reference books, but there wasn’t any definitive explanation of the aesthetic of the stripe. There’s lots of history out there, but not much design guidance.

What do you think? Is my grey too grey or am I in danger of over-analysing? Do I simply admit that this isn’t a Breton jumper any more?

breton swatch iii

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45 Responses to The Ingredients For A Breton Stripe

  1. Kate says:

    I love stripes. I just made a striped jumper from a prima patter( which I had to completely rework) but used the safe navy blue/cream combo.
    I’m going to be honest, I do think the grey is too dark, but I love the idea of grey and red. Just a silver grey might work better. I love grey and white too, in fact I just decorated the lounge that colour. Not Breton stripes though, haha!

  2. Alison says:

    I really like your grey red combo, but what I think is more important is do you? I don’t think it really matters whether or not it’s ‘true’ Breton (you’re not from Brittany after all!). You seem to be having doubts, in which case stop now and swop to a paler grey or you risk wasting time and money on a sweater you won’t love.

    • lemur178 says:

      Actually, “Breton” tops/stripes aren’t strictly Breton either. That name is an English invention that has stuck. In France, they’re known as “marinieres” (and “pulls Marins” for the stripey jumpers), originating from the daily wear of French mariners/fishermen and the Marine Nationale, wherever they might have been situated along the coast of France.

  3. I think it looks lovely! It is not as obvious as dark blue over white, of course, but they are still red stripes. If you want it to be more classic, change grey for white, but i think this a more original and refreshing combination. I love it!

  4. Sue Bowdler says:

    The grey and red will make a lovely striped jumper but it won’t be strictly ‘Breton’. Does it matter? If you want a striped jumper you will be happy. If you want a Breton you won’t be.
    I’m nigh on obsessed with Breton jumpers, my go to default outfit. Just a personal oddity you understand……
    Your knitting is lovely by the way.

  5. Catherine says:

    I had this problem with a navy and off white that I convinced myself was fine but ended up hating and undoing. I think it’s that little voice you can’t ignore, if you’re not happy with it now will you be when it’s done? Whatever anyone else thinks?

  6. Thimberlina says:

    I’d swap the dark grey for something softer and more silver. Otherwise yes, if could look a bit Dennis the menace. 😁

  7. kitkatkrispie says:

    As a confessed stripe addict I am afraid grey and red is a no. It looks like a 1950’s school uniform! I agree with the other suggestions, try a lighter grey. When it comes to stripes, although I do buy other colour stripes, the majority are clear red & white, navy & white or black & white, Sorry, very conservative when it comes to stripes!

  8. Yolanda says:

    Maybe you could knit two? I think you can never have too many stripes, I have been addicted for years. I tried to give it up but just can’t resist!

  9. kitkatkrispie says:

    P.S. The fact you are questioning the colours would suggest you are not 100% convinced! As
    Coco would say “The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” Go
    with your gut feeling, look at your wardrobe, your instincts are always spot on.

  10. Julia says:

    It looks good, but might be a bit too grey as a whole jumper. Have you thought of making the red stripes two rows and the grey four? Then it would look very grey but less school uniformesque.

    A pale silver grey would look lovely; or a cream.

  11. Freda Griffiths says:

    Hi Karen,
    Love the red and grey but to look a little ‘Dennis’ I would make the stripes wider.

    One other point – do check the red wool is not going to run colour – before you do all the knit work.

  12. Pam says:

    I love it too – and there’s nothing wrong with the Dennis the Menace look. (IMHO)

  13. Cherry Robinson says:

    No-one has said it yet- your swatch coordinates beautifully with your iron!

  14. rachelo says:

    I like it! But maybe it would look less dennis if the stripes weren’t of equal thickness?

  15. lemur178 says:

    For me, the size of the stripe prevents this from falling into Dennis the Menace territory – Dennis has great big thick stripes, which these aren’t. As far as the colours are concerned, it’s really up to you and whether you like the effect or not. Nowadays, “Breton” stripes can be whatever you want them to be. Saint James and Armor Lux do all kind of combos that eschew traditional “Navy” colours. Also your stripes seem even when in fact many mariner stripes aren’t. If you’re unsure, maybe you could add a row or two to one colour over the other and see how you feel about that.

  16. Amy says:

    im going to go against the flow. I think you should stick with the gray you’ve used for your swatch. The boldness of the red still pops out against the gray.

  17. bessiemae says:

    Absolutely love the red- gray combo! Strong colors look stunning on you. And do you really want to knit a jumper like everyone else’s?

  18. JaneyB says:

    I’m not sure Ella would be prepared to play the role of Gnasher! Personally I think I’d prefer a lighter grey against the red but I’d also like to be able to knit as beautifully as you so I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment.

  19. Ann Johnston says:

    If you are going for Breton, which is what you said, a pale silvery gray would be more traditional. If you are just looking for a pretty sweater (sorry, jumper!) I like your color combo but would change up the stripes to make them uneven. That way you avoid the Dennis the Menace look which wouldn’t be my choice for an adult woman!

  20. Fabrickated says:

    I once bought a top which was navy with cream and hated it. Whereas white with anything looks great. White and black make other colours look more vibrant – grey will tend to dull them down. So white or very light grey would be much better, in my opinion.

  21. beales56 says:

    I like the grey and red, but you could vary the width of the stripes if you wanted a different look. It’s just trial and error sometimes. What are you planning to wear it with. If you think of the overall outfit that might help.

  22. LinB says:

    I like the gray! I like the red! I like them together! Save the label “Breton” for some other garment. Let this one be a “Ball” sweater.

    Were this my project, I’d make the stripes even narrower — just one row each of red, then gray, then repeat. The pointy shape of stockinette stitches turns the finished fabric into something approaching a tiny herringbone — the stripes are not entirely clean-edged, which is very interesting.

    The foot portion of the socks I have on my ancient old paws this very day are knit in a brownish gray-and-red mini-stripe. With dark gray heels and toes and legs of a pale pumpkin orange. They are very scrappy socks, but the stripes make the randomness of the yarn selection seem deliberate. It was not. You will do better.

  23. Ros says:

    For Breton you definitely want the red stripes to be narrower and the background to be wider. Personally, I would want a paler background colour too (or darker!) Navy blue would work, or an ivory colour. If you’re happy with the red and grey together, I would still play around with the thicknesses of the stripes, to end up with something a bit more sophisticated than the current swatch.

  24. I think the red would look better with a lighter grey or cream. I think the two strong colours are fighting each other a little.

  25. Katie M says:

    I agree with many commentators – I think your grey is a bit too dark. A lighter grey, or a greyish cream would give a nice contrast.

  26. I actually really like the darker stripe, but this is only a small section. Maybe on a whole jumper it could be too dark, but saying that they look pretty ‘sophisticated’ colours to me if they’ve come up true, sure you could style it out with the right colour bottom half.

  27. colognegrrl says:

    First I’d like to second those who said that if you even need to ask, your gut is trying to tell you something. And to throw in even another variety of opinion: I think the red is too bright to give the finished sweater the classy Breton vibe. I’d exchange it for a burgundy (very “in” this fall).
    So there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d chuck both colours and start with a navy and cream ;o)

  28. Bekki Hill says:

    I like the grey. Denise the Menace is much darker. And you haven’t got the hair anyway. If you go lighter you might be in danger of turning into Where’s Wally? Although you don’t have the hair for that either 🙂

  29. I like that grey. You can always try the fair isle technique of photographing it in black and white and seeing if the contrast is what you want. You can see colour contrasts better when they are in grayscale. Jo x

  30. In the US, we’ve outlawed the chemicals that make red dyes hold their color. My running jersey, now years old, STILL bleeds red when washed by hand in cold water. I was once advised by a yarn shop owner, “Never mix a red with anything white.” (I was thinking of a red and white fair isle sweater. So, the dark grey may help to hide any bleeding you might get, even with cold water. Another consideration.

  31. susew says:

    I think the strong red is fighting with the grey (at least on my computer).
    I have pink and cream boat neck t shirt- when I wear to work, one of my work colleagues said “where’s waldo?

  32. I’d make the dominant colour (red ) stripes thicker than the other and maybe lighten the grey but just changing the stripe width might help.

  33. Lora says:

    Take your photo editor and make it a black and white picture. Not enough contrast in the stripes, which means the sweater will read muddy at a distance. Your intuition is telling you that. A lighter grey would be better, I also like the navy and red.

  34. Marta says:

    Love red and grey. From what I gather you need contrast in your stripes. I would photograph your swatch in black and white and that will help you see if you have enough contrast. My next knitted creation will be red and grey, but I’m going for dark grey, to avoid the contrast.

  35. Nane says:

    To me you shouldn’t care if the nuances you choose make your jumper no ‘true’ Breton, if there is such a thing besides the very classical blue and white. I have owned a fine wool stripy sweater in a Breton style but with two fairly dark shades making the contrast not even close to the contrast between your grey and red … and I found this sweater very lovely and often got compliments. To me one of the big charms of the Breton style is the neckline and mostly placement of stripes (I mean how you don’t have stripes close to the neck). So any colour should work !

  36. Lorrie says:

    I would also say a lighter shade of grey. This would allow the red to stand out bright and bold and not have the grey competing.

  37. Nane says:

    on more thought : the background color should be made in larger stripes than your pop colour. Would surely help avoid the Dennis the Menace effect 😉

  38. Sarah says:

    As Lora mentioned, the surefire way to check for adequate contrast in knitting is to take a photo, then convert it to greyscale and see if the contrast is there. In this case, I’d say you need a darker red and a lighter grey.

    Here’s your swatch in greyscale:

  39. Zoe says:

    AGH!!! I can’t wait to see your Breton inspired jumper!!!! Umm, if I had a gun to my head I’d say that perhaps a slightly lighter shade of grey would create more tonal contrast, but you totally are fine with the one you have here already though xxx

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