How a Genuine Panama Hat is made?
The hats are fully handwoven by skilled craftsmen from Ecuador who perform this activity following traditional methods from their ancestors usually in the warm atmosphere of their home. Then, all hats are finished to the highest standards in UK.
It is fundamental for our clients to understand why Genuine Panama Hats are so unique, UNESCO recognised, and hard to find in the global market.
At the end, you will discover the most important difference between Montecristi and Panama (Cuenca) Hats.
HOW TO RECOGNISE A GENUINE PANAMA HAT
First of all, to be considered an authentic quality 'Panama Hat', it must be made in Ecuador
The material used to create them is the one and only “Toquilla straw”, which exclusively grows on the coasts of Ecuador. This straw is made from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica Palmata plant and it is cut when the moon enters its final quarter for maximum flexibility.
Fineness of weave, why finer means more expensive?
The thinner the woven, the better is the quality of the hat. All La Marqueza Hats® grades have been categorised from "Fino" grade (WPI 8-10) up to "Ultra fino" grade (WPI 32-42). This is identified by the WPI (Waves Per Inch: the higher the better), a finer hat is more expensive because its processing is more laborious and entails a much longer time.
Be aware that some Panama Hat dealers sell hats with the name "Genuine Panama Hat" but the true is that most of those hats are made in Colombia, Peru, Mexico or China where the material used to make hats are other kinds of poor quality straws like the Iraca, Tetera and Enea. Those materials are far lower quality and durability than our Toquilla straw.
The distinct traditional process that is employed in Ecuador to manufacture the hats since always, is recognised as the best method, where no chemicals are allowed during the whole manufacture.
What about the Panama Hat market prices?
Some buyers think they are making the bargain or the deal of their lives, but the true is they are actually buying fake hats. Genuine Panama hats are flawlessly woven, light-colored, lightweight, and breathable. Often worn as accessories to summer-weight suits, such as those made of linen or silk.
The tightness, the finesse of the weave, and the time spent in weaving a complete hat out of the Toquilla straw characterise its superb quality, and this certainly has a value to be recognised.
The first part to be woven is the pattern.
Few straw fibres are employed in its initial creation, then other fibres are progressively added until a width is attained that varies between 5 and 10 centimetres. To weave the hat body, a mould (a block of wood) is used to gradually produce the shape to where the brim begins, which is the final element of a hat of seven to 15 centimetres.
After that, comes the “remate” (tying off), which consists in doing a special interweaving to finish the weaving process.
The next stage in the creation of a hat
This is performed by women and is known as the “azocada” (tightening), which consists of tightening the tied-off fibres to keep the weave from coming undone, followed by clipping the excess fibres.
Then the hat is washed, “whitened” or dyed, and dried in the sun. When it has lost its shape and looks like a bell, the precision and strength the craftsman’s hands return it to its original shape; this stage is the “compostura” (reshaping).
Finally, the hats are ready to be perfectly blocked and finished at the highest standards in our warehouse in United Kingdom with a cotton soft and breathable sweatband and a silk top protective patch for extra confort.
Performed entirely manually using heritage techniques
The treatment used to process the straw is another key factor do determine the quality, and here the "Montecristi hats" made by the most skilled artisans in Pile - Ecuador stand out, because during its process, considered unique in the world, the use of chemicals is not allowed and has been recognised by the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012.
Other important factors to determinate the best quality, it is if the hat can be folded (rolled). In addition, you have to consider the shape of the hat that should be uniform, and lastly but very important fact, is that all the seams of the hat have to be finished minutely by hand with the same straw, and never sewed by machine (bound edge) or glued down (under-welt).
TO JUDGE THE GENUINE PANAMA HAT QUALITY, IT IS IMPORTANT TO EXAMINE THE WEAVE. THE FINER THE WEAVE, THE FINER THE HAT, BUT NOT ONLY.
Our Creative Director Maria Jose selects the hats one by one in Ecuador using a magnifying glass, especially for Montecristi hats from the 'Extra Fine' category and higher, as these hats have very thin straws to count the stitches per inch with the naked eye. A thinner hat means more ability and significantly more time is required to weave compared to a coarse hat. Next, she looks at the quality of weave, the colour of straw and finally the hat shaping.
You have to keep in mind that the skilled artisan is making a fabric entirely by hand and not for nothing our hats are considered masterpieces. Each time the width of the straw is reduced by half, the amount of work is multiplied by four. A hat twice as fine takes four times to weave. This is why a hat that looks only slightly finer than another may cost more. That bit more of fineness, multiplied by the thousands and thousands of weave “intersections”, can add up to several additional weeks of weaving time.
In summary, certainly, 'fineness of weave' is the most important factor when grading a Panama hat and to determine the price, but it is very important to consider as well the 'quality of the weave', the 'colour of the straw', the 'hat shaping', and of course the 'origin of the hat'.
What about the Panama Hats made in Cuenca - Ecuador?
The Panamas (Cuenca) hats are great quality as well, as long as these hats keep the same factors that have been mentioned before. Cuenca is another region of Ecuador and the hats that are elaborated there are considered genuine since they are also hand -made in Ecuador. One of the most important differences between Montecristi and Cuenca hats, is that in Montecristi, the weaver handcrafts the hats with double straw and in Cuenca the artisans employ single straws to execute the hats, so this factor entitles more time to make one single hat and it could influence the quality in terms of durability over time.