How a Genuine Panama Hat is made?
Entirely handwoven by skilled craftsmen from Ecuador who perform this activity following traditional methods inherited from their ancestors, usually in the warm atmosphere of their home. This art of weaving hats is in danger of extinction and it has been recognised as world's Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO.
We will explain here why the Genuine Panama Hats are so unique and hard to find in the global market.
HOW TO RECOGNISE A GENUINE PANAMA HAT?
An authentic high quality 'Panama Hat' can be made only in Ecuador, because the material used to create is the “Toquilla straw”, which exclusively grows on the Ecuadorian coasts. This particular straw comes from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica Palmata plant which is harvested when the moon enters its final quarter, resulting in its maximum flexibility.
What determinate the price of a Genuine Panama Hat?
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) *Weaves Per Inch. Only the most expert artisans can weave the finest ones because great ability and precision is required to work with very fine straw.
Be aware that some Panama Hat dealers sell hats under the name "Genuine Panama Hat", but the truth is that most of those hats are made in Colombia, Peru, Mexico or China, where the materials used are other kinds of poor quality straws like the Iraca, Tetera and Enea, resulting in far lower quality and durability than the Toquilla straw.
The distinct traditional process that is employed in Ecuador is recognised as the best method since always, 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.
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 that varies between 5 and 10 centimetres is attained. To weave the hat body, a mould (a block of wood) is used to gradually produce the shape from where the brim begins, which is the final element of a hat of 7 to 15 centimetres.
After that, comes the “remate” (tying off), an exclusive technique used only by the expert weavers to finish the brim of a Panama. It consists in making a special interweaving to finish the process on the brim, this is called 'back weaved': the straw is turned back toward the crown and woven into a loose band around the outer edge of the brim.
The next stage is the creation of a hat
This is usually 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 off the excess fibres.
Then the hat is washed or “whitened”, and dried under the sun. Once it has lost its shape and looks like a bell, the craftsman’s hands precision and strength 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 the United Kingdom with a cotton soft and breathable sweatband and a silk top protective patch for extra comfort.
Performed entirely manually using heritage techniques
The treatment used to process the straw is another key factor to determine the quality, and here the "Montecristi hats" stand out, entirely handmade by the most skilled artisans in Ecuador and considered the best in the world where the use of chemicals is not allowed during the whole process. In fact, UNESCO recognised this precious art as world's Intangible Cultural Heritage on December 5th, 2012.
Other factors to judge the best quality are if the hat can be folded (rolled), the general shape of the hat, and last but not least it is important to check if all the hat edges have been minutely finished by hand with the same straw, avoiding those hats that have been sewed by machine (bound edge) or glued down (under-welt).
LA MARQUEZA HATS® QUALITY GUARANTEE
We personally inspect and select the hats one by one in Ecuador. Our specialist team use a magnifying glass to measure the grade of each hat, especially for the 'Extra Fine' and higher categories, as these hats have very thin straws to be counted by naked eye. Next, we carefully observe the weave uniformity and the colour consistency.
Keep in mind that the skilled artisan is practically 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.
What about the Panama Hats made in Cuenca - Ecuador?
The Cuenca Panama hats are excellent quality as well, as long as these keep the same characteristics that have been mentioned above. Cuenca is another region in Ecuador and these hats are also considered genuine as they are hand-made using a very similar weaving technique with few differences.
One of the most important differences between Montecristi and Cuenca hats, is that in Montecristi, the hats are handcrafted employing double straw, meanwhile in Cuenca the artisans use single straws. This factor entitles more time to make a hat and it would influence the quality in terms of durability over time.