Return to Uruguay

This article was originally published in Issue 47 and we’re delighted to make it publicly available here.

Words: Lydia Gluck
Photos: Sarah Chapman


Pom Pom co-founder and creative director Lydia Gluck was lucky enough to join the 2023 Return to Uruguay trip with Fairmount Fibers and Manos del Uruguay. The trip was a whirlwind tour of Uruguay, but also an insight into Manos itself. Here she reflects on the opportunity to travel, learn, and connect with knitters she never otherwise would have met. 

The Uruguayan landscape is noticeably flat. While we watched it flash by the windows of the bus I joked to my fellow travellers that Uruguay seemed like the ‘Norfolk of South America’, since in the UK the county of Norfolk (where I now live) is known for being relatively flat. Having grown up among the jagged cliffs of South Wales, Norfolk at first seemed to me to be too flat, but once I became accustomed to it, the abundance of sky felt like the reward for the less dramatic landscape, and as Uruguay has this same plentiful and all-encompassing sky, it felt very ‘Norfolk’ to me.

Knitting has taken me to many places, but Uruguay has been the least expected. Although when I think back to my early days of learning to knit I remember buying some Manos del Uruguay yarn –  unspun, so possibly Maxima, but unfortunately I no longer have the label nor the leg warmers I made with it! – and I must have noted at the time that the yarn had a name that suggested not only its origin, but also a little about the company and people who created it. Manos del Uruguay means ‘hands of Uruguay / Uruguayan hands’, and as I learned on the trip there really are many hands, both currently and historically, that bring these yarns to our local yarn stores (LYSs) and ultimately into our own hands as we knit.

Founded over five decades ago in 1968 by five friends, Manos del Uruguay was created as a series of co-ops, all situated in the Uruguayan countryside, with the aim that these cooperatives would bring steady, meaningful, and fairly compensated work to rural women. These jobs wouldn’t require women to leave their homes, villages, and families, and of course the nature of co-ops means that the workers themselves own the means of production, and have self-determination. They set their own working hours, and elect representatives to go to meetings with other co-op reps and  staff employed by the co-ops to run the aspects of the business that are less hands-on. One of these employees is Cecilia Lalanne, who heads up design and product development. Cecilia accompanied us, along with our tirelessly knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide and translator Pilar, on one of our visits to the co-ops, in the countryside north of the country’s capital of Montevideo.

This particular co-op was Dragón, where the women who work there dye Manos yarns in a vibrant range of colours. When we arrived there was yarn hanging on a line in the bright sunshine, in a range of bluey greens with flashes of purple. We were there not only to see where the dyeing takes place, but also to have a go ourselves under the expert eyes of the Manos dyers themselves. We each dyed two skeins, sharing the dye bottles between us, guessing as best we could with the guidance of the Manos women. We then hung our own skeins in the same sunshine, ours showing a much more varied palette; each skein was our own little improvised work of art.

The Fairmount team really knew how to please a group of eager knitters. Of course dyeing is a sure-fire win, but on the way to the co-ops we also visited Engraw, a mill that has been manufacturing wool tops since 1951. There we walked among huge stacks of unwashed and unprocessed yarn, accompanied by a dog (possibly also an employee of the mill?). Our guide explained that wool is shipped to this plant from all over the world, and then is scoured and spun into fluffy clouds, ready to be sent on to the next facility to be turned into yarn. One of the most impressive aspects (aside from the breathtaking possibility of all that wool!) is that the plant is carbon neutral; it creates its own energy through an onsite wind farm and grows its own trees to burn as fuel. At our next stop we stayed at the magnificent San Pedro de Timote ranch, and had a tour from Don Beto who grew up there and, though technically retired, still rides a horse around the grounds. He accompanied us during our mate (a traditional South American tea-like drink, drunk through a special straw) lesson with Pilar, toasting traditional tortas fritas for us over an open fire. 

But before we explored this lesser visited part of Uruguay we spent time in its capital Montevideo. Pilar took us to well-known statues and buildings, all the while giving us insight into a country that many of us knew little about. I have never been somewhere and come away with so much knowledge. I think there is sometimes a feeling that the only way to ‘really’ know somewhere new is to explore by yourself, but I came away from this guided trip feeling so enriched by the experience. I think in many ways it’s lovely to embrace being a tourist when you are one, not the stereotype of a person who disregards local custom, but accepting that you aren’t an expert, and that it’s ok not to know your way around and defer to people who do. Of course solo exploration has its place, and we also had plenty of that among the group plans.

The originator of the trip that I was lucky enough to go on was Lisa Myers who runs Fairmount Fibers, the US distributor of Manos del Uruguay yarns. Lisa is part of the Manos family, Cecilia told me, and is a champion of their yarns and their story. She really believes in the company, and you can tell from the way she talks about Manos that it has always held a special place in her heart. Lisa told me that she had always known that the only yarn brand she would ever take on as a distributor was Manos del Uruguay. Before she became their US distributor, Lisa ran a yarn shop, and when the previous distributor came to retire and pass the baton, Lisa couldn’t say no. She set up Fairmount Fibers, which soon became her sole concern, and has been for the seventeen years since. 

As part of her relationship with Manos, Lisa first visited Uruguay in 2008 to see where and how the yarns she distributed were produced, and she felt from the offset that many other knitters would love to see and experience what she had. It’s an unusual knitting tour in a way – many knitting tours are centred around local history or a set of techniques. But Return to Uruguay is centred around Manos itself, the message, the making, and the people. The trip offers not just an insight into the way Manos del Uruguay operates, and where the yarns are dyed and other Manos products are created, but also into the country itself.

One of the things I loved about the tour was the opportunity to visit so many varied locations (I only managed to mention about half of them here!), and the final two stops were the cherry on top. After we had travelled to the countryside and the co-ops, we headed south again back towards Montevideo where we visited the Atchugarry Museum of Contemporary Art. Pablo Atchugarry is a well-known Uruguayan sculptor, creating undulating yet angular pieces from marble. Pilar pointed out the Portuguese marble used in some of his works, which has a distinctive pinky hue – of course these were my favourite. 

We then spent our final evening at Casapueblo, the surreal former home of artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, now a hotel and gallery with a cafe and a west-facing view over the water. There we watched the sun set and toasted to the new friends we had made. Because what are knitting and travelling if not exercises in connection?

To this day Manos is a collective of co-operatives, and has stayed true to its original ethics and goals. You can find out more about the trip and Fairmount Fibers at and Manos del Uruguay at and follow them @manosdeluruguay and @manosyarnsusa.


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