Overhead Considerations

Two Who Trek learn about hat tricks

Call it a hat or a sombrero but it is not a Panama Hat! Traditionally made from a high grade of straw called paja de toquilla, these hats are called Montecristi after the Ecuadorian town of the same name.  The misnomer referring to Panama dates back to the 1800s when the Spanish began exporting the hats from Ecuador via Panama.  In the 19th century, Panama Canal workers used these hats to protect themselves from the strong equatorial sun.

There are many excellent tallers or artisanal workshops creating sombreros del paja toquillas in Ecuador.  Two Who Trek visited two hat-related places in the Cuenca area.  The Barranco Hat Factory is a museum on the site of an old hat factory on Calle Larga street.  We visited Barranco with our instructors and saw the old and newer manufacturing techniques.

Entrance to Barraco Hat Factory

Antique tools for making and shaping hats

Antique tools for making and shaping hats

Antique hat shaping machine.  Notice the huge counter weight on the lid.

Antique hat shaping machine. Notice the huge counter weight on the lid.

Using a machine that beats a hat into shape and also softens the material

Using a machine that beats a hat into shape and also softens the material

Using a mold and heat to shape a hat into its final design

Using a mold and heat to shape a hat into its final design

Sewing the bands inside the hats

Sewing the bands inside the hats

Hats on display and finishing area

Hats on display and finishing area

Specially designed hats are available for purchase on the premises and the café upstairs has a great view of Rio Tomebamba and the south side of the city toward our apartment and Turi on the hill.

Hats for sale, arranged by size

Hats for sale, arranged by size

View from roof of Barraco hat factory

View from roof of Barraco hat factory

On a recent Friday afternoon, TWT visited a different hat factory, Homero Ortega.  This tour was arranged by our friends at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School.  The Ortegas have been making hats since 1899.  It takes about six months to make a hat!  We saw the different steps as we walked through the facility.

A lovely chola cuencana shows how hats are woven from straw.  In reality, the weaving is not done at the hat factory.  Women create the hats at home, then sell them to the factories for a small price.

A lovely chola cuencana shows how hats are woven from straw. In reality, the weaving is not done at the hat factory. Women create the hats at home, then sell them to the factories for a small price.

Newly manufactured hats

Newly woven hats

Faustio and Kent mug it up with a mannikin depicting the old way to shape hats

Fausto and Kent mug it up with a mannikin depicting the old way to shape hats

Newly made hats, drying and awaiting a turn in the hat forming machine.

Newly made hats, drying and awaiting a turn in the hat forming machine

An employee makes flowers out of three pieces of material.  The flowers will be used on some types of hats.

An employee makes flowers out of three pieces of material. The flowers will be used on some types of hats.

Tanks to dye hats different colors

Tanks to dye hats different colors

Hats soaking in the dye tanks. We don't think dye has been added, although these hats could be being bleached for a pure white color.

Hats soaking in the dye tanks. We don’t think dye has been added, although these hats could be being bleached for a pure white color.

Rain water is collected in the large tank and reused in the dyeing process

Rain water is collected in the large tank and reused in the dyeing process

Machinery used to recycle water and dye

Machinery used to recycle water and dye

Damp hats recently removed from dye tanks

Damp hats recently removed from dye tanks

Hats awaiting shaping

Hats awaiting shaping

Hat molds, for shaping different designs

Hat molds, for shaping different designs

We thought the hat shaping machine was so interesting, we made a video of the process:

Now to the final finishing section:

Homero Ortega Hat Factory Tour (86)

Sewing bands and liners on the inside as well as decorative bands on the outside of hats

Joe's hat being stretched on the silver mold to fit his rather large head

Joe’s hat being stretched on the silver mold to fit his rather large head

Inside band being stitched into Sherri's hat

Inside band being stitched into Sherri’s hat

At the end of the tour, there was a hat emporium where Joe found a very fine paja de toquilla in light grey with a black band.

Men's hats on display in showroom

Men’s hats on display in showroom

Women's hats and purses on display in showroom

Women’s hats and purses on display in showroom

Sherri found a looser woven hat of natural and black straw that came in handy during a subsequent tour of the Galapagos.  (Joe also found a natural and black straw purse featuring llamas that he insisted Sherri buy for herself.  Of course, she did!)

Sherri's new hat and purse

Sherri’s new hat and purse

Joe's new hat.  He didn't want a purse.

Joe’s new hat. He didn’t want a purse.

On a earlier trip to Peru, we saw similar hats.  A friend that lives part of the year in Bolivia tells us that the paja de toquilla is very popular there, too.  We are proud owners of our new hats.  How’s that for a topper?

Categories: blog, Cuenca, displays, ecuador, hat, making, manufacturing, markets, panama hat, photos, straw, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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