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A hank of Stria
Stria once knitted up
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Yarn Profile: Cotton Stria

First Impressions
Manos del Uruguay is a nonprofit organization begun in 1968 to produce and sell woolen garments made by craftswomen in isolated areas of Uruguay. The organization sells its garments through several self-titled boutiques in Montevideo, and it also exports handknits under such labels as Donna Karan, Polo Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale's.

But that's not what interests us here, for Manos also happens to produce yarns for export to the U.S. under the Manos del Uruguay label.

Cotton Stria is made of 100% Peruvian cotton and thus represents a departure from Manos' core product, a handspun, hand-dyed wool. Cotton Stria has an unusual wavy surface that looks as if it has been cut out with pinking shears. In truth, this effect is achieved by cris-crossing fine binder threads with a core of unspun cotton fiber.

The hand-dyed colors tend to have subtle shifts of hue throughout the skein. When knit up, the yarn produces gentle flecks and waves of color variation throughout.

I've been informed that this yarn is so popular that the U.S. importer must struggle to keep up with the demand. So if you fall in love and want to try Stria, snatch up yarn wherever you can find it, and try to be patient if there's a backorder.

Cotton Stria is currently available in 12 richly bold colors, and for this review I used Pistachio (number 204).

Knitting Up
A general rule is the tighter the spin, the stronger the yarn. Because Cotton Stria has almost no spin in its cotton core, I worried that the fiber would pull apart as I worked with it. Although my needle did rip into the core a few times, the yarn remained otherwise intact while held under tension.

Maintaining even stitches was a bit more problematic. Cotton is not an elastic fiber, which means what you knit is what you get—you won't be able to hide as much later by tugging, washing, or blocking.

Try as I may, I couldn't get my stitches to appear even, both within rows and between knit and purl rows. The yarn's wavy surface did help cover this up to some extent, but the results still were definitely uneven.

Blocking / Washing
My swatches survived their wash beautifully, with no fading or bleeding in the water. I had to reshape them carefully before I let them dry—something any cotton of this type will require.

Manos does not specify water temperature, so I went with warm and added a small dab of Ivory dish soap. My blocked and dried swatches did show expansion from a pre-washed gauge of 5 stitches per inch to a final 4 1/2 stitches per inch—an expansion of approximately 10 percent.

To put this in context, a sweater with a 42-inch chest circumference would, once washed, have nearly a 47-inch circumference. The expansion was only in width, so there's no need to worry about your garment getting longer. But do keep this width issue in mind as you plan the sizing of your garment.

Here's where I got a little nervous, because Cotton Stria is such a delicate yarn. Without a tight spin to hold the fibers in place, I feared the worst.

A few minutes into the friction tests, the stitches had flattened, but there was only a faint blurring of the surface. When examined from a distance of two feet or so, the swatches still looked good.

But when I switched from smooth skin (sleeves and wrists) to a slightly rougher surface (elbows and heels), the surface quickly took a turn for the worse. Suddenly my elegant handknit fabric looked like a tired dishrag.

Lesson learned: Tread lightly on your Stria garment. If you're looking for a more rugged cotton with a similar rippled look, Mission Falls 1824 Cotton may be a good option.

Just because my swatches died under duress doesn't remove Stria from my list of possibilities—but it is important to know how it will age, and to factor this into your design choice.

I wouldn't recommend Stria for a child's garment or in any cases where you know it's going to get a lot of wear. But I do see Stria working beautifully in a special, slightly oversized garment for yourself, adorned only with simple bold lines and stripes and squares of color.

Manos' U.S. distributor Judith Shangold saw the same thing and provides solid pattern support in her Design Source Cotton Collection I book. Medium sizes in her Color Block Cardigan will require 8 skeins, which brings the tab to $64 for a special-occasion summer sweater.

You'll get super softness, potent colors, an interesting pebbly texture, and knowledge that you're supporting social and economic stability for women in isolated areas of Uruguay.

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