MEET THE ARTISANS
As a young man, Santiago showed some woodcrafts he’d made at a local craft exhibition in his hometown of Molles in 1974. At that time, a group of women was just beginning to organize in Molles; they were spinning yarn, but had not yet begun to dye it. One of the organizers saw Santiago’s work and invited him to work as their dyer.
At that time, Manos had no central color lab: the dye supplier developed a palette of 10 – 12 colors, and each location chose which they wanted to produce. Even when they chose the same colors, the different locations all had different water qualities and different production conditions, so the “same” color might be unrecognizable from one source to another.
In 1977, Santiago was invited to move to Montevideo to establish Manos’s dye lab. The first part of his job was to tour all of the separate coop locations, investigate their procedures, and standardize the colors. Then, he began to devise new colors, and to formulate them. Since 1980, he has composed all of the dye blends in the lab, sending large quantities of each “recipe” out to the production facilities where the yarn is made.
Santiago estimates that he has devised over 1,000 colors in his work at Manos. About 500 are still in active production today — but there is an archive of all the others, which can be “revived” at any time, plus many “custom” colors developed for outside clients over the years. (In addition to yarn and their own line of ready-to-wear and home decor, Manos produces knitwear for a variety of international brands, including Polo, Marc Jacobs, and DKNY.)
The popular space-dyed colors emerged in the late 1980′s. Santiago remembers that a coop member came back from a trip to Milan with a skein of astonishing, multicolored yarn, and asked him to duplicate it. After that, Anne Simpson (US distributor for Manos from 1986-99) came down to Uruguay, and she worked with Santiago to come up with colors that would appeal to handknitters in the US. The first space-dyed colors went through two dyebaths each; today, some of the colorways require as many as six separate dyes.
In his spare time, Santiago is a marathon runner. He competes in races of 10, 20, and 40 km, including San Antonio, the oldest footrace in Uruguay. He has also run in Brazil and Chile. He has 78 medals and says that he usually comes either first or second in his class.
In June of 2011, Santiago attended the TNNA Fall show in Columbus, OH, and then went on to New York. About the show, he said that the experience of seeing all the yarns available in the US market has been for him a “complete renewal”, and he is eager to return to his lab to try many new things.
And what are Santiago’s favorite colors? “I prefer neutral colors, from white, sand, beige, to tan. These are the colors from where I live, they give me peace. And then maybe a touch of blue, a very bright one, like Silk Blend 3045 Lapis.
“Someone told me that this wasn’t accidental, it has a psychological significance: people who are continually immersed in colors [in their work] tend to avoid them in their own life.”
Margot Silva works as a spinner at the CAUVA Co-op in Rio Branco, a small village of 16,000 near the Uruguay-Brazil border. Here, the main source of income comes from working in rice production or travelling to work in the nearby tourist town of Marin Lagoon. Margot notes that Manos is a good source of income and development for women throughout Uruguay’s countryside. Each of the 13 co-operatives scattered throughout Uruguay provides employment for rural women, allowing them to remain in their villages and earn a living to support their families, and they work hard to keep it going.
Her family has a history with the co-op, beginning with Margot’s mother, who was widowed and working as a maid until she joined Manos. Her work with the co-op not only gave her a better salary, but the opportunity of personal growth provided by the social workers who routinely give educational workshops. In 1984, Margot began working at Manos as part of the knitting group at the CAUVA Co-Op. She had already been working locally as a knitter; in the eighties, a number of job opportunities for women became available as Manos’ exports grew. Margot said she was drawn by Manos’ renown and when she heard the local co-op was seeking new artisans, she joined the knitting group.
Margot has worked in the co-op’s fiscal commission, as a director, and is currently in charge of the co-op finances. Margot says she has learned valuable skills as an artisan, director (of the Manos Co-Operative Board), and as a woman. She has since begun working as a spinner and finds it to be quite enjoyable because she likes to work in the group environment.