Made in Ecuador

6 Feb

Since the mid 1600s the hats known as “Panama Hats” have been made in Ecuador. The craft began as a hobby like knitting and crocheting in homes in the Andean highlands and the coastal plains.

It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th century that the craft of fine straw weaving became a practice handed down from generation to generation.

It took the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s for the world to discover the art of these hats. The miners would pass through Panama on the way to the gold fields on the west coast of the United States. The tightly woven Ecuadorian hats were perfect for the sun and rain of the gold fields. Thinking the hats originated in Panama the prospectors incorrectly identified their country of origin. The style spread to Europe and became a significant industry in Ecuador.

Portrait of Roosevelt from 1903, three years before his trip to Panama.

This mistaken identity was compounded when Teddy Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal in 1914 during its construction. Teddy, a flamboyant and bellicose promoter, posed for many photos with his unique head-gear. The style spread to Europe creating an expanding demand for the weavers of Ecuador.

In time the weaving of the soft and pliant toquilla straw fibers became finer and finer and the price of each hat rose. Today hat prices range from $30 to $20,000 or more. The rarest and most expensive Panama hats can have up to 3,000 weaves per square inch.

Though traditional Panamas are white or cream with thin black bands, straw is dyed and woven into designs and styles limited only by the whims of the weavers.

The more tightly woven the straw the better it withstands sun, wind and rain. It is said that the finest hats can be folded and fit through a wedding ring.

We are hoping to visit the small village of Chordeleg in the mountains outside of Cuenca. Chordeleg weavers are internationally known for the fineness of their weaving and traditional beauty of their art.

6 Responses to “Made in Ecuador”

  1. victoria lovett February 10, 2019 at 1:33 am #

    Wow, that was fun to read about and see all the great pictures. Maryland asked the same question I was going to ask. Hope to see Dana in his new hat soon. Amazing talent to weave in such tiny intricate details. Looks like you two and having fun and learning a lot. Enjoy weaving thru the magical adventure in Equador.
    Cheers,
    Victoria 💕and Fanny🐶

    • Jill and Dana February 10, 2019 at 11:50 am #

      Just finished a class in the history of architecture in Cuenca and looking forward to another on Ecuadorian culture and history. Enjoying all.

  2. Maryl Travis February 9, 2019 at 1:44 pm #

    So, did either of you end up buying an “original” Panama/Ecuador hat?

    • Jill and Dana February 9, 2019 at 1:53 pm #

      Yes. Dana bought a great traditional panama at the Panama Hat Museum just down the street. He has worn it everyday since purchase. It has well tolerated all weather conditions including misty rain. Fortuitously the museum ships to the U.S. so he will be able to buy replacements. Will send you a photo in email as the “Comments” space here does not allow for images.

  3. Richard Thurston February 7, 2019 at 5:00 am #

    Great photos. Bought a nice Panama in San Miguel. Comfortable and perfect on sunny (most) days.

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