By J Robertson Miller, 2023
What is called the Panamá hat is actually from Ecuador. Various stories tell how this mis-naming came about.
However there is a hat, made in Panamá, called the Pintao hat or the sombrero pintada.
Only a few hundred artisans practice the craft of making these hats. In 2017, UNESCO declared that this is an endangered intangible heritage in need of protection
The name sombrero Pintada comes from La Pintada distract of Panamá where many of the artisans live and work.
To make one of these hats, you start by collecting the plant material. Five plants can be used. Unfortunately, these are becoming increasingly difficult to find or costly.
After you extract the fibers, you bleach them by boiling and drying for 8 days. The whiter the fiber, the more valuable the hat. Natural dyes are used to color some of the fibers for the next step.
The white and colored fibers are then braided together into long narrow strips creating patterns. The braided strips are called vueltas. The more vueltas, the better. There can be up to 21 vueltas in the finest hats.
Now you have these braided strips, you are ready to start forming them into a hat. You use a wooden block of the size you want the finished hat. At the top center you press the starting braid into a coil and sew each turn to the one before. Around and around you sew, always keeping each braided strip flat against the block. Then you work outward to create the brim.
The narrower the vuelta, the more difficult and time consuming for the artisan to make the hat, thus raising the price. It takes about 2 weeks to make a regular hat. Finer quality hats take longer.
After visiting the archaeology museum (in another blog post) and stopping to eat in Penonomé, we stopped at a new shopping center. While there, we met a woman who makes these hats. She showed us the materials she uses and two hats she is currently making. I bought one of the hats she made previously. This woman did lovely work and the hat fits me beautifully.
I was told that you wear your sombrero in different ways according to your mood. Most people wear it with the front brim turned up. This says “I´m in a good mood today” or “I am not yet taken.”