The Panama Hat

Today I would like to talk with you about one of our most beautiful creations: The Panama hat. The Panama hat is also known as an Ecuadorian hat, a traditional brimmed straw hat of Ecuadorian origin.

The question is: why we say it’s our creation? Cappelleria Bertacchi imports the tequila straw to Italy and shapes them into these beautiful hats.

Traditionally, expert hands weave these these beautifull hats, starting from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant (the toquilla palm or jipijapa palm). Actually more than an actual palm, this is more of a palm-like kind of tree. What makes Ecuadorian hats incredible is lightweight and breathability.

The tightness, the finesse of the weave, and the time spent in weaving a complete hat out of the toquilla straw characterize its quality.

UNESCO on 5 December 2012 added the art of weaving the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

One of the questions that we get the most is: Why are they called Panama hats if they are from Ecuador? The explanation is simple: One of the first towns to start weaving the hats in the Andes is Principal. Straw hats created in Ecuador, like many other 19th and early 20th century South American goods, were shipped from the Isthmus of Panama for their destinations in Asia, the rest of the Americas and Europe. The Panama hats got a name that reflected their point of international sale—”Panama hats”—rather than their place of domestic origin.

Since 1834 the world started using the word “Panama Hat”.

Its popularity increased in the mid-19th century when many miners of the California Gold Rush travelled to California via the Isthmus of Panama and Pacific Mail Steamship Company.
To add more popularity in 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal and there are many photograph of him wearing a Panama hat.

Different Weaves styles

There are two classic weave styles used for Panama hats:

Cuenca weave – herringbone in design, using a little more straw, and marginally heavier than Brisa Panamas (few milligrammes!)

Brisa weave – little diamonds/squares, less intricate in design But, it is perceived as finer than Cuenca pattern by some as it is lighter.

Other more intricate styles of weave include:

Crochet Weave Styles Incredible artisans use the crochet technique to make this beautiful hat. In this way, the final product is far more robust and hardy finish. Fancy Weave Styles Using different straw’s colours and different weave techniques, the straw is layered to. make textures and patterns.

Different Qualities of Panamas
Our Genuine Panama hats get woven either in Cuenca or Montecristi, Ecuador, where depending on the fineness of the weave, each hat will take a different amount of time to be weaved.

So how can we measure the quality of a Panama Hat? the secret is “The grades” or ‘references’ this refer to the finesse of the leaf – the larger the number, the smaller the weave size.

Our ‘standard’ Cuenca Panama takes an artisan approximately 2-3 days to weave. The Panama fino will have taken up to 15 days per hat, and the finest Montecristi Panamas, created in the Montecristi region of Ecuador, can take up to 1 month to be woven.

Cappelleria Bertacchi decided many years ago not to stock the entry-level quality of Panama straw (grade 1/2). We have an assured quality of Panama’s between a level 3 and level 5 weave, from the basic to the fino and then to the legendary Montecristi.

How do you determinate the quality of a Panama hat?

Counting the number of Vueltas/ Rings on the crown, this is the system historically used to assess quality. The smaller and tighter circles are the finer, and more precious is the hat.

Counting Weave per inch
This method is largely used in the USA, for the grading of the finest Montecristi hats. We have to underline that using this system to qualifying the weave can cause some discrepancies.

Reference/grading system
The most common method used, although, will differ among Ecuadorean suppliers.

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