How Panama Hat is made

The raw material used in the manufacture of a Panama hat comes from Toquilla (Carludovica Palmata), a palm-like, herbaceous plant (family Cyclanthaceæ) that grows in the Neotropical Zone extending from southern Guatemala to Bolivia. Because of the flexibility of its leaves, only the species of the mountainous areas between the south of Manabí and the north of Santa Elena in Ecuador are used for weaving.


The young petiolate leaves called « cogollos » are shaken to loosen them. Their green outer section is removed to leave only the ivory centre. Using a pointed metal object, the leaves are ripped into fine filaments. The finer the threads of a Panama hat, the more delicate the weave.


The fibres are cooked in hot water and dried in the open air, avoiding direct exposure to the sun. They must be shaken regularly to prevent the strands sticking together.


The complete weaving process, from the centre of the crown to the brim, can take a few days, some weeks, even several months depending on the fineness sought by the weaver. The circular “rosette” at the top of the crown is the guarantee of a handmade Panama hat. The weaver should moisten his hands to keep the straw supple.


The weaving pattern of a Montecristi, the eponymous hat of Montecristi, a town in the province of Manabí, results from the interlacing of weaved threads two by two. The weaver is standing and leaning over his work. As the fibres change colour during their preparation, only ivory ones are selected, hence the absolute homogeneity of this kind of hat. The weaving is only done in the early morning and in the late afternoon, when the air is cool and humid, for avoiding breaking the fibres.


The pattern of a Cuenca (Llano) weave also results from the interlacing of weaved threads two by two, but the weaver is seated. The ensuing weave resembles a herringbone drawing. For weaving the Brisa pattern, the fibres are passed one by one and form little squares. Craftsmen can also crochet Toquilla straw. The smaller the diameter of the hook, the finer the weave.


The different steps for finishing the body of the hat involves: 

Rematado: to weave the straws back into the brim for finishing the edge of the brim.

Azocado: to adjust the fibres around the brim to prevent the hat from unravelling.

Despeluzado: to cut the protruding fibbers with a pair of scissors (or a razor blade).

Sahumado: to bleach.

Apaleado (maceteado): to pound with a wooden mallet improving its general appearance by increasing its flexibility.

Lavado: to wash with a little soap and water to remove traces of handling.

Secado: to dry in open air.

Planchado: the body is placed in a wooden block and ironed with a charcoal iron, which produces its woven size and smooth surface.

Hormado (prensado): the unique appearance is achieved by placing the body in a hat presser that uses heat, steam and pressure to shape it.


The final touches are the inner comfort band, the ribbon hatband, the knot, the labels, etc.

Traditional weaving of the Ecuadorian Toquilla straw hat was inscribed in 2012 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.