Homero Ortega | PANAMA HAT HISTORY
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PANAMA HAT HISTORY

The Origin of the Panama Hat

The “Panama Hat” has deep ancestral roots. The aborigines of the coast of what is now Ecuador used “tocas” made of toquilla straw to protect themselves from the sun. The lightness and flexibility of this fiber favored its use to make hats that over time have become a symbol for Ecuador, being a fusion of nature, manual dexterity of Ecuadorians, and their culture.

WHY IS IT CALLED PANAMA HAT IF IT IS MADE IN ECUADOR?

The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador, because of their qualities to protect from the sun. From Panama the hat was internationally known and people began to call it “Panama Hat” even though the place of origin is Ecuador.

THE MATERIAL OF WHICH THE PANAMA HAT IS MADE

The “Carludovica Palmata” is an original plant from Ecuador belonging to the family of cyclantáceas and has some unique qualities. It has fan-shaped leaves growing at the end of their long stems, which are evenly cut into fine shoots and dried to create straw. The most important plantations are in Manabi (Guayas) and in the Amazon region. Its name was chosen to honor Carlos IV and his wife Maria Luisa, who promoted the botanical cataloging of South America.

THE WAEVING OF THE PANAMA HAT

The weaving of the Panama Hat is entirely manual. It starts with the characteristic initial button on the top of the hat, called “plantilla”, using only a few pieces of straw and subsequently adding more until reaching a size of 2 to 4 inches in diameter (5 to 10cm). The next step is to weave the top part of the hat, called “copa”, using a rounded wooden block to guide the weave process until it reaches the lowest part of the hat, called “falda” – or skirt in English. The next process is called “remate” – finishing-off. It uses a special interweave, that leaves long strands of straw poke out at the edges of the hat.

The weaving is made by artisans on the countryside, the usual place of work being their homes. This activity is introduced in the everyday life of the artisans, and is incorporated into the life of its creators. It is not only a means to earn an income, in most cases it is a long family heritage, popular tradition, part of them and their lives.

THE PANAMA HAT PROCESS

The Panama Hat starts with the weave but undergoes several stages afterwards. The process starts with lashing the edges to prevent it from undoing and excess fibers are trimmed, followed by the washing and dyeing of the hat. Afterwards, the process continues with the “compostura”: giving the hat its original shape back after washing. Finally the molding and decorating phase in which creativity and design are complemented by the manual dexterity to design exclusive hats that have become the pride of Ecuador.