Urban Edge (book review) and reflections on the changing yarn industry

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to witness a small revolution going on in the world. And I think I just saw one land on my desk.

The Traditional Yarn-World Divide

If you were to ask me, “What do you think of when you hear ‘Leisure Arts’?”… I would say, “Books about: crocheting 24 hour baby afghans, learning to crochet in 10 minutes and making doilies.” (a quick glance at their website confirms my associations). Leisure Arts is known as the publishing company that makes the booklets that appear in Big Box craft stores.

Let’s jet back to the year 2002. This publishing philosophy came to be as a reflection of a more general divide between Big Box stores (Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, Michaels) and LYSs (Local Yarn Stores): Big Box stores carried cheap (i.e. icky) yarns and LYSs carried high-end, luxury yarns.

Fast forward a decade to 2012… the times, they are a-changin’! The gulf between Big Box stores and LYSs is narrowing. Lion Brand (a leader in the Big Box yarn-world) now produces the LB Collection: a line of fine yarns only available online and in it’s LYS-like Studio Store. Debbie Stoller is just one big-name designer who has put her name on a line of reasonably priced, high-quality yarn (Stitch Nation) available at Big Box Stores. And on the other hand, luxury brands have developed reasonably-priced acrylic and machine washable yarns that match the high standards expected by LYS customers and owners (think Berroco Comfort and Cascade Superwash).

What does this change mean?

This slow fuzz-i-fication (yes, that’s a technical term) of the boundaries between Big Box stores and LYSs shows us one thing: customers are no longer satisfied with scratchy yarn, frumpy clothing patterns and limited choices.

Not everyone in the US is a quick car trip away from an LYS (For instance, my mom lives in Kansas and is more than an hour away from an LYS). But, nowadays, even folks out in farmland can hop on the internet, and drool over fabulous pattern on Ravelry and yearn for oh-so-soft merino. The increased awareness of amazing patterns & yarns has lead to a boom in online LYSs (like WEBS and Jimmy Beans Wool), but nothing can replace touching the yarn and seeing it in person. So, Big Box stores have incentive to make yarns and books available to this new breed of demanding customer.

And so, back to Leisure Arts. To be a successful, on-trend publishing company… they can no longer simply publish booklets for Granny Square blankets. They’ve gotta step it up. It seems like they’ve heard the call, and published Urban Edge.

Book Review: Urban Edge

Urban Edge (if you haven’t already gathered) is published by Leisure Arts… and is a fabulous deviation from the company’s stereotype.

The book is written by the Shannon Mullet-Bowlsby from ShibaGuyz, and features patterns for crocheted garments inspired by urban life. The designs are innovative, and the book includes patterns for a hoodie, a waterfall cardigan (I’m seeing those everywhere!) and a saucy cocktail dress:

The stitch patterns included are also guaranteed to keep a crocheter’s interest: cables, amazingly interesting stitch patterns (did you see the cover garment?) and fun colorwork.

Why this book is a Revolution

As a crocheter, I’ve felt particularly entrenched in the divide I discussed at the beginning of this post. There’s a stereotype that crocheters only like cheap yarn and they only shop in Big Box stores. To counter this perception, I’ve met crocheters that would never dare step foot in Jo-Ann’s, for fear they would be viewed as perpetuating this awful perception.

But there’s a beautiful middle ground that accepts the roles of both types of shops (and yarns) in the world. I was delighted to see that Shannon selected yarns from both sides of the divide when making the samples in this book. You’ll see garments crocheted from Malabrigo and Takhi, but also yarns made by Caron. It’s about finding the right yarn that works for your project.

As a designer, I couldn’t agree with Shannon’s message more: he has created beautiful designs, and he wants to help you make them! It doesn’t matter where you live! He wants you to make a beautiful garment that you’ll adore, using the yarns available to you.

Rock on, Shannon!

Features of the book

The designs are beautiful. There are a few other features that sets this book apart:

  • Each design is sized from small to 3x.
  • Patterns are provided in charts (when appropriate) as well as written instructions.
  • Contains detailed descriptions of stitches you’ll be using in the book.
  • Detailed instructions for novel finishing techniques.

You ready to get crocheting?

Urban Edge is a fabulous book with tremendously inventive crochet designs. While there are patterns accessible to all skill levels, those with a daring spirit will be kept on their toes with adventurous stitch patterns in some garments.

Kudos to Shannon. And kudos to Leisure Arts. Great job.

7 replies on “Urban Edge (book review) and reflections on the changing yarn industry

  • Sister Diane

    BRAVO, Stacey! I loved this review, and more importantly, it made me take a second look at a title from a publisher that I honestly don’t pay much attention to, for exactly the reasons you stated at the top of your post. I’m glad to see Leisure Arts moving in this direction – and I thought it was a fascinating layer to add to your review, placing this book in the context of the blurring divide between big boxes and LYS’s.

    I also applaud you for sharing your honest take on the publisher’s niche in the marketplace – it was this honesty that made me sit up and take notice. Well done!

  • Mary Cast

    I totally agree with you on this book. I already started to make the hoodie vest for my 26 yr old daughter, who never wanted anything crocheted but an afghan. She chose the yarn herself, and got Lion Microspun in bright turquoise. It’s less expensive, less classy yarn, but it looks great so far. Great review.

  • Rose/yarnivore

    What a great review, Stacey! You’ve noticed a really important change in the perception of crochet as a yarncraft; at Crochet Today! magazine, we’ve been trying to walk the same line of fuzzification (it’s definitely a word if two of us use it!). There is nothing wrong with making afghans, and nothing wrong with natural fibers and high fashion, and let’s go ahead and mix the two!

  • Robin

    I think your commentary is spot-on. It’s an exciting time for crochet and all things fiber. I love granny squares as much as the next gal,but it’s terrific to see all the beautiful, fashionable pieces that are being created and made available to the masses.

  • barbnrus

    Great, insightful review. I’m part of that “middle ground” that shops both big box, on-line, & LYS, using everything from basic acrylic & cotton to gorgeous merino, alpaca, and silk. It’s wonderful to see all the lovely, fashionable wearables coming out in crochet!

Comments are closed.