National Geographic : 1962 Dec
Fingers stitch a signature on an embroi dered handkerchief. Needlework, once a cot tage industry in Puerto Rico, is waning. With a pistol-like needle, rugmaker shoots tufts of wool into a canvas at the V'Soskes' Vega Baja plant, 20 miles west of San Juan. Man at left vacuums a finished carpet. a wide spectrum (an estimated 20 percent of the population is Negro). But in every home -rich or poor-I found hospitality. Just a generation ago, almost every humble house had a woman busy with low-paid needlework. I found few in 1962. With ris ing local wages, needlework industries have moved to the Philippines or Hong Kong. Rugmakers Weave Rare Artistry But if the embroidery needle has largely vanished, the carpet needle is sewing up a fine profit. At Vega Baja on the north coast, I visited with Thad V'Soske at one of six plants where the V'Soske brothers produce some of the world's most beautiful rugs. 776 "We've seen changes, all right," said Thad, a quick, kinetic man. "When we opened our first plant 25 years ago, the only other big industries were sugar and needlework. Peo ple here had no real incentive to work. Look at this." He darted to the window and ges tured toward his parking lot. "Our first em ployees came here on burros and bikes. Now see the cars! The whole spirit has changed." The V'Soskes brought quite a spirit with them when they moved here from Michigan. "We started by showing three men-all of them farm workers-how to tuft rugs," Thad recalled. "One of them was nearly starved. Today he's one of our best-paid executives. The point is he learned. All of them did.