My favourite Uruguayan sweater is a loose-fitting raspberry coloured cardigan with raglan sleeves, a shawl collar and two lines of cable stitching down the front. It is made from 100% wool, hand-spun and kettle-dyed, a natural fibre that is lustrous, soft, lightweight and warm. When it's cold and damp in Montevideo, this garment is the ultimate comforter.
What makes this piece of clothing particularly special is not the styling or the drape of the wool, but the fact that I know who made it. Her name is Marita and she lives in a village northeast of Montevideo called Totoral. She's part of a rural co-op associated with "Manos del Uruguay," a progressive homegrown venture that helps skilled artisans to develop and market their creations. Each knitter is a part owner of the co-operative and directly benefits from the profit generated.
|Each "Manos del Uruguay" label names the maker|
The organization began with five women in 1968, and has grown to include 350 artisans working in 17 co-ops. "Manos del Uruguay" was a pioneer in introducing health insurance, retirement pensions, paid vacations and maternity leave for its members. They also established the first preschool and kindergarten facilities in Uruguay for members' children. In 2009, "Manos del Uruguay" was admitted as a full member of the World Fair Trade Organization which promotes sustainable economic development.
The high quality wool used for knitting their ready-to-wear collection is distributed and sold throughout the world, with each skein personally signed by the dyer. There's an American website Fairmount Fibers a Canadian one Manos Canada and a British site Artesano Yarns. A colour lab in Montevideo is directed by Santiago Vera Puglia, a master dyer who maintains quality control for the entire "Manos del Uruguay" operation. The "stria" or shading of the wool from dark to light tones is a distinctive characteristic of his specialized dyeing techniques. He is responsible for developing over 1000 colours and for keeping those colours consistent as large batches of wool are hand-processed and hung out to dry.
"Manos del Uruguay" operates four retail stores in Montevideo and also sells products at the Carrasco Airport duty-free shop.
|"Manos del Uruguay" store at Punta Carretas Shopping|
I want to send a big "Gracias" to the woman named Marita. The work of your hands has kept me warm and comfortable all winter. It's more than just a piece of clothing - I like to think that stitch-by-stitch you've created a poem.