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Making & Grading Panama Hats

panama hats - hat image
The production and grading of the wonderful Panama Hat

The panama hat dates back the early seventeenth century and was and still is produced in Ecuador. The panama hat is made from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica Palmata Plant locally known as either toquilla palm or jipijapa palm, the hats are handwoven by weavers whose skills have been handed from generation to generation. The hat shot to fame and its popularity soared after American President Theodore Roosevelt was pictured wearing one whilst viewing the construction of the Panama Canal in 1904, it then became known as the Panama Hat.

Originally the panama was being produced in two coastal villages they were Montecristi and Jijijapa. The name Montecristi is still associated with the Panama Hat, the Montecristi is regarded as one of the finest panama hats available today and it was thanks to the highly skilled weavers producing the finest of hats. The other term associated with Panama Hats is the Cuenca (Kwain-ka). Again Cuenca is a town in Ecuador where the hats are produced by weavers. The Cuenca is more popular due to the speed of production and the price. The Montecristi is the higher quality of the two, the price reflects this, you can expect to pay £50-£150 for a Cuenca throughout the various grades. A genuine montecristi panama will start at around £150 upwards to several thousands of pounds for the superfino's!

Two main types of weaves are used for both Cuenca and Montecristi panama's. The llano weave is a herringbone pattern which is often a thicker and tighter weave. Panama's woven with this method will have less gaps throughout the straw and in general will be a stiffer hat which will hold its shape, for example the image to the right is a Cuenca made with a llano weave. The other is the Brisa weave, less straw is used creating a lighter and more flexible hat, usually a diamond pattern is visible. The folding panama we stock is made from a Brisa weave for example. Both make wonderful hats and the prices do vary but in general the Brisa is the more cost effective method but it depends on the weave count used, the Brisa makes a very lightweight, flexible hat. We generally stock more using the llano weave it seems to be more popular with the manufacturers we use.

Panama hat grades are calculated by measuring the horizontal and vertical rows per inch, the Montecristi Superfino hat mentioned above can have anywhere between 1600-2500 weaves per square inch, it is capable of holding water and when rolled for storage, it can be passed through a wedding ring. The higher the grade the more expensive the hat will become. It is certainly a fine art which can take anything from hours for the standard lower grade panama's to weeks for the finest montecristi to be woven. It continues to provide a livelihood for thousands of Ecuadorians, sadly there are now fewer than a dozen weavers capable of producing the finest of Superfino Montecristi hats, a trade which is dwindling due to chinese and far eastern competition.