This is how a Panama hat is made

The crab is what artisans call the technique in which the Panama hat is born in a single point.
Detail of the template started from 8 strands of straw that form the crab

With the crab the Panama hat is born

The crab technique is typical of Pile, partly explains the quality of these beautiful hats

 This technique of weaving, native and exclusive from Pile, is the only one that allows to get toquilla straw hats, with more than 60 points per linear inch, which is the supreme quality in the extra fine hats world. The template, which is the circular part that covers the upper plane of the head, is up to 30 cm in diameter. The weaving begins with 8 straw strands chosen by Domingo Carranza, as a teacher chooses his best students. The fine toquilla straw hat is unbeatable, it is born in a unique and tiny point, that is the center of the figure that is denominated crab, and it is formed by the first interlaced of the 8 straws. Gradually, in each turn new strands are added exponentially, so that at the end of the hat has gone from 8 to more than 3,000 straws. It is important to emphasize that the template is the common origin of all hats, determines the grade of quality of the piece and can take up to 8 weeks of work.

Panama hat top weave

The technique of the crab is native to Pile and is what allows to reach such high levels of quality. The Panama hats are the finest among the fine ones.
Detail of the weave of the top using the template of the fine Panama hat

The top of the hat is woven after transferring the template from the flat work table to a hard wood last, which will serve as a mold to weave the vertical plane of the toquilla straw hat, intended to cover the head. The weaving of the fine hats of Montecristi, is executed with the craftsman supporting the chest in a sort of tower, which configure the bench of weaving and the lasts, situating the weaving at the suitable height for the artisan. It is based on the logic of bringing the fabric closer to the eyes and never leaning it on the body, so as not to damage the very fine fibers. This particular disposition has passed through hundreds of years from one generation to the next. It can be woven in the traditional way or in a technique called “crochet” that allows to give a fretworked finish, which makes it cooler and appropriate for very hot areas. A top can measure from 9 to 15 centimeters depending on the model.

In short, the grade of quality of a hat is determined by measuring in two different places on the top, observing how many times the straws are interlaced in a linear inch. This part of a high quality hat can take Domingo Carranza up to 12 weeks of work.

Weaving the top of a fine hat can take up to 4 months

The wing provides the character of the Panama hat

The length of the wing goes from 6 to 50 centimeters

There is nothing more beautiful than the wing of a hat perfectly ironed and molded to frame its owner's face. Weaving the wing of the toquilla straw hat is a task that can take up to 16 weeks, depending on the diameter and its length from the top. In the case of a lady's pava, it can reach 50 centimeters. 

The wing is the most delicate part of the toquilla straw hat, as it is the one that is always exposed to rubbing, twisting, pinching and other damages. However, it is the part that defines the hat’s style and provides shade, so desired in warm areas where this garment is of great help.

Double point locking

The blocking technique was exclusive of intermediaries and merchants, today also master craftsmen can market their hats directly
Detail of the double point lock, is the finish that prevents the weave from falling apart, its execution must be perfect

Traditionally, the intermediary merchants kept the knowledge of this technique away from the artisans. This is the final finish of the highest quality, which is given to the wing and makes it impossible for the woven work to fall apart. Even today it is very common that these intermediaries buy the hats raw and make the finishing process in their stores, where no hat is made, as tourists believe. Nowadays, artisans of Domingo Carranza's level, not only master these techniques, but they have adapted and improved them to make super fine toquilla straw hats.

the more strands the hat has the finer and subtler this finish is, being of an absolute beauty in the extra fine toquilla straw hats .

Domingo Carranza is a pioneer in training this technique

Removal of lint from a fine hat using a knife

Removing the lint from a hat consists of turning the piece over and trimming with a very sharp knife at the level of the weave the leftovers of all the strands of straw, which were incorporated into the weave as the diameter of the template increased. It is a slow process that requires great agility and maximum care. Any cut in the weave would ruin all the work.

All internal straws are trimmed

Azocado of the fine hat

In order to tighten the protruding straws of the end of the wing of an extra fine toquilla straw hat (azocado), the piece is taken upside down and immersed in a large container, where it rests for half an hour. The objective of this process is that the fibers are hydrated, so that they are flexible again and the weave contracts with the pressure and the exact tension that provides the artisan to each one of them. This process gives the wing a fine and delicate finish.

The Azocado was years ago exclusive of intermediaries and merchants

The sun plays a fundamental role in fixing the soft creamy hue of Panama hats.
Fine toquilla straw hat in the sun after being steamed

Steaming the hat is a process that softens the tissue

the sun acts on the hats

Once dry, the hats are taken back to the oven. There, they are exposed to the vapors of coal and sulfur, which helps them to gain softness and that whitish cream tone so appreciated in the fine toquilla straw hats. After this, the hats are let drying in the sun to fix the color.

Beating of the hat

The beating of hats is a job that only the most expert and skilled craftsmen can perform. The hats are taken one inside the other, up to 5, depending on their fineness. They are folded without being pleated in half, and then placed on a stone or trunk where they are firmly hit with a hardwood mallet. They are beaten rhythmically all over the surface, but without ever marking the fold, so as not to break the straw. Some craftsmen, sprinkle from time to time the hats with a little sulfur. This process results in a smooth and extremely soft straw finish.

It is beaten with a wooden mallet

The molding of the Panama hats is a long and very careful process, with which the form and the model that the piece will have is provided.
- Panama Hat ready to put down the wing, with the iron

Putting down the wing and molding

This is the objective of a hat’s finish, give it form and character

It is a matter of gradually ironing the wing to give it a horizontal line that distinguishes it from the top. The hats return to the wooden lasts, are fitted with a leather belt that fixes them and rest on the ironing table. The charcoal iron is heated red-hot, the hat is protected with a natural cotton linen, to start ironing gently, all the contour of the wing and go providing the horizontality of which until now lacked. It is a delicate task, where care must be taken not to burn the hat and gradually mold the incipient wing.

Pressing of the hat in hot molds

Panama hats are famous because they are made entirely by hand. They are non-industrial crafts.
Panama hats are pressed in manual counterweight presses, with hot molds

The extra fine hats and the super fine hats are pressed and shaped by hand. This, is a science; very few artisans manage to master this art after decades of experience. With the help of steam, irons, hot sand bags and wooden molds, they manage to shape a hat in the most traditional way. It is an arduous and prolonged work, with which the most valuable jewels are molded.

The fine hats are pressed in mechanical presses, where act a matrix, a mold, pressure, temperature and valuable knowledge of the craftsman who knows how much pressing needs each piece. During this pressing the tafilete is sewn by hand, the inner ribbon that adjusts the hat to the head and is also the one that protects the hat from sweat. Once sewn, the hat is pressed again so that the tafilete is ironed inside.

Fine hats are blocked by hand with the help of last, steam and iron

Hat final finish

The hat is ready to be packed and shipped anywhere in the world. Where it will reach the lucky owner of a super fine Domingo Carranza

The particular specifications of each client in addition to their measurements, are incorporated at this time. It is when the ribbons, bows or feathers, previously chosen to decorate, are sewn by hand. Additionally, the final inspection is made, which each piece passes rigorously, before being sent anywhere in the world.