The real deal

Joe loves hats. He wears one every day. His walking-around hat is one he picked up in the Kyoto airport at the start of our round-the-world trip 3 years ago. For cooler days, he purchased a beret in Barcelona. But the hat he has always desired above all others is a good Panama hat.

DSC07188

Everyone looks great in a Panama hat. Photo taken at Homero Ortega.

When we decided to travel in Ecuador, we came upon a blog post about Panama hats. Who knew that Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador and were popularized when workers on the Panama Canal used them a century ago? Also, we didn’t realize that the craft of making Panama hats is on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. That was all we needed to know. Now, we had a new mission for our time in Ecuador: find the long-desired Panama hat.

We did our homework. We read informative websites and visited nearby shops. Then we headed to Homero Ortega in Cuenca for a visit to check out their museum display. Visitors are welcomed and given a free tour. Ours was in English. Importantly, we felt no pressure to buy a hat.

The guide showed us a higher quality hat to better understand the weaves per square inch and uniform weaving. The finest hat might have up to 3,000 weaves per square inch.

The guide showed us a higher quality, still unfinished hat to better understand the weaves per square inch and uniform weaving. The finest hat might have up to 3,000 weaves per square inch.

The straw used in the hats is grown in Ecuador, washed and dried. Ecuador Panama hats are all hand woven. Weaving takes anywhere from a few days to many weeks, but a truly fine hat could take up to 8 months.   Makers of the finished product, like Homero Ortega, buy the unfinished hats from local weavers.

Upon delivery from the weaver, the rough hat is washed.

Upon delivery from the weaver, the rough hat is washed.

Each hat is washed twice and dried. This process takes about two weeks. If the entire hat is to be colored, the dying happens at this stage.

Each hat is washed twice and dried. This process takes about two weeks. If the entire hat is to be colored, the dying happens at this stage.

Hats are blocked by placing them in a mold and a hot, hydraulic press turns them into the desired shape.

Hats are blocked by placing them in a mold and a hot, hydraulic press turns them into the desired shape.

Hats are trimmed at the edges and then put through a water and glue bath before heat is applied.

A fabric band or other decorative touches are sewn on the hat.

A fabric band or other decorative touches are sewn on the hat.

While we were focused on the men’s classically styled hats, we noted that Homero Ortega makes 85 different hat styles, 500 hats every day, and not all look like the classic “Panama hat”. We also saw woven bags and a finely woven wedding dress (amazing!).

While we were focused on the men’s classically styled hats, we noted that Homero Ortega makes 85 different hat styles, 500 hats every day, and not all look like the classic “Panama hat”. We also saw woven bags and a finely woven wedding dress (amazing!).

This is truly a work of art!

This is truly a work of art!

With so many choices, Joe had a lot to think about.

… to be continued in “The Final Decision”

 

 

April 2016

 

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Ecuador, South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The real deal

  1. I’m guessing you both ended up buying a hat!

  2. icelandpenny says:

    I love this, because it shows how they are made, something I’d never seen. Incidentally, I bought a Panama hat for my partner in Mérida (Mexico)! Made in a village near-by, I as told. They were very good quality. I haggled a good half-hour, too, fortunately able to do it in Spanish, began by explaining I wasn’t a rich American, I was their poor cousin a Canadian, this caused a good laugh all around, but it still took half an hour of banter before he & I reached terms. (Not hugely cheaper, but cheaper enough to respect my bargaining efforts.)

  3. leggypeggy says:

    Poor John bought a Panama hat at Ortega’s in Cuenca. He got caught in the rain one day. While he trying to recover the shape, the dog got it. Wish I could have sent an order with you. Look forward to seeing what Joe bought.

  4. Cliff Mail says:

    Joe, looking forward to seeing your choice, is cigar smoking also on the agenda? Beth, are you getting one?

    • No cigars. I (Joe) gave up pipes and cigars in 1970-something. Though on a 1985 trip to Cuba, I did buy cigars for my father-in-law. Beth labored whether to buy a Panama hat. You’ll find out what she decided in the next post.

  5. Carol says:

    I want a Panama hat now

  6. Of course, with all this build-up, we get to see a picture, right? (please)

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