How is the Panama hat made? A palmlike plant provides the supple yet resistant fiber called toquilla. Ecuador’s coastal lowlands provide ideal conditions for the growth and regeneration of this plant. The Ecuadoran hat artisans are considered to be among the world’s finest weavers, and what painstaking work they perform! It can take them six months or more to weave the high-quality Montecristi superfino. The length of each fiber in the hat is quite short. Yet, in a genuine Panama hat, you can hardly tell where one strand ends and the next one begins. Furthermore, the strands are so tightly woven that even water will not seep through!
The town of Montecristi is renowned for its excellent handwoven hats. The masters of the Montecristi area weave in the early morning or late afternoon so that the equatorial heat does not affect the pliancy of the fiber. They begin the crown by meticulously weaving circle upon circle of intricately laced fiber until the desired diameter is achieved. Then the crown is placed on a cylindrical wood block so that the artisan’s hands can deftly spiral downward as he weaves the sides. After many weeks his weaving proceeds at a right angle to form the brim. A thorough trimming, washing, and bleaching coupled with sundry finishing techniques produce the famed Panama hat.