Inteview from BIG APPLE KNITTERS GUILD

Nestled away in a warehouse 20 minutes outside downtown Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay,
I had the pleasure of visiting, this past April, the Malabrigo yarn manufacturing plant. The
creative design force is Mr. Antonio Gonzalez-Arnao. During my visit Antonio was very
gracious, granting me a couple of hours out of his busy schedule to chat and show me the plant
The plant is rather large. My tour began with a visit to the storeroom where bales of spun wool
yarn are kept on arrival from the spinning mills. There I had the opportunity of feeling the
natural, soft strands of Merino. Eventually, this will form several types of Malabrigo yarns.
The exceptions are Lace and Twist forms, which originate from a finer variant of Merino wool.
Antonio referred to this as “Baby Merino”. I touched that roving and it was as soft as touching
cashmere!
Although Antonio speaks highly of all of the wools that make up Malabrigo yarns, he is
particularly proud of Baby Merino. He refers to these sheep in glowing terms. The breeders are
the recipients of several awards, for their insight into the genetic makeup of these sheep. They
manage to maintain that particular lineage, resulting in a continuous yield of fine, exceptionally
soft wool.
I noticed that the bales of wool were labeled with differently: worsted, aquarelle, sock, Rios,
baby lace, etc. Antonio pointed out that the mills that spin wool for Malabrigo do so with
detailed specifications. This enables him to construct the different designs of wool yarn. Each
bale is specifically tagged according to its final destination will be; Rasta, twist, sock, etc. I soon
began to realize that Malabrigo wool is not a “cookiecutter”.One example is “Rasta”, developed
by Antonio. It requires a certain degree of felting by Antonio’s choice and the mill produces the
yarn just for him.
However, the premiere is the “Arroyo” yarn. A brand new product that is set to reach the
markets by midyear and features a sports weight thickness, superwash and 4 ply. This similar
to the “Rios” type, only thinner. The play on words is evident; in that Arroyo and Rios translate
into stream and rivers in English, respectively, conjuring up an image of one being narrow and
the other wide. Besides an arroyo is a branch of a river .Some of the colors of Arroyo will be
similar to Rios, however, Arroyo will eventually have its own colors. In fact, at the time of my
visit, Antonio was experimenting to achieve a tone to be called “Borraja”, inspired by Borage, an
Eastern European plant with star-shaped blue flowers.
From there, Antonio showed me the section of the plant devoted to wool dying. Although no
wool was dyed at the time, we viewed the tubs where they work with a maximum of ten skeins
a time. It is a painstaking process that calls for different techniques in order to achieve certain
effects, some of which Antonio “kept close to the heart” .We proceeded to a repository where
many skeins of newly dyed wools were hanging to dry. On further inspection I discovered that
some where dyed with the conventional Malabrigo tones. Others had a clearly”experimental”
appearance insofar as the dying techniques and color combinations were concerned. This is
where and artist like Antonio can be truly appreciated. He is an artist in the real sense. He is
an established architect whose father owned art galleries. He grew up surrounded by color,
paintings, and artists from where he not only developed an appreciation of color, but drew
inspiration to find different applications for them. He does not rest in his quest for new colors
and wool textures. He continually probes new territories. This includes blending Merino with
Alpaca, Merino with cashmere as well as Merino with cotton. I saw several newly dyed skeins
of 100 % cotton that had been plied in several degrees. Another brainchild of Antonio’s was
to launch a new kind of lace yarn which would be characterized for two or three plies. The end
east result is yarn with greater consistency and thickness. This would reduce the pilling effect, at
the expense of softness. Once he achieves a proper balance of the different components and the
dying capabilities, both will be launched, in the not too distant future.
Another sector of the plant had actual trials of combining different yarns and results were being
are analyzed. I saw skeins of some of the following combinations: merino with pima cotton,
merino with alpaca, merino-cashmere, cotton-alpaca, etc. Each combination is unique to the
degree of the different proportions that are used and, the degree of plying, and colorants. The
of end results that’s achieved is extraordinary. Once Antonio has a new product in sight, he
continues until he is completely satisfied.
In addition to innovating and exploring, Antonio’s other approach to his work is to learn
continually. He incorporates any new ideas which lead to his next creation and continuous
growth of the Malabrigo yarn collection. He is in complete control of all the procedures and
there is little time to stop. Once any new product passes the stages of spinning, and dyeing, the
final step to measure up to the Malabrigo standards is to actually knit with it and to appreciate
how it looks, with the needles and the knitted swatch. Sometimes, he even knit the swatches
himself! He realizes a new experiment doesn’t always translate into attractive pieces of knitting.
However, he rarely becomes discouraged. On the contrary, he this as an opportunity to keep on
experimenting. This is what strikes me as the concept behind Malabrigo. A continuous effort for
improvising, exploring and creating new products.
It is often said that Malabrigo stockpiles take a long time to replenish in contrast with other
brands of wool. This occurs because there are only two spinning mills in Uruguay that are old.
And taxed as far as the demand for work is concerned. The production, sometimes, suffers
a setback due to mechanical failures and spare parts for machinery. At the time of my visit,
Malabrigo was sending wools to mills in other countries such as Peru, and Italy with fairly good
results.
My tour and interview ended the final quality control and packaging area. This room is
luminous and all windows are covered with fine, delicate cotton curtains to avoid, excessive sun
exposure of the yarns. The dazzling effect of the light on the array of colors is still in my brain. !
Thank you Antonio for your hospitality and your generosity for the Malabrigo donation of 2
pounds of yarn for this wonderful luncheon of the BAKG. !!!
Marcela Zappi

CITY PURLS is the newsletter of the BIG APPLE KNITTERS GUILD and is mailed bi-monthly to all guild members.

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