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Ecuador: The Art of Weaving Panama Hats: Part I

The art of weaving -- whether it's a tapestry or an article of clothing -- represents an important livelihood for many men and women in Ecuador. In particular, the small village of Montecristi is internationally renowned for the high quality it's weaving -- of "Panama Hats". And before you think this is a typo, believe it or not, Panama hats have always come from Ecuador...not Panama!

Lying at the foot of a large hill called Montecristi, the small village of the same name has a lot to offer visitors in addition to Panama hats. Among the many attractions are ex-Ecuadorian President Eloy Alfaro's estate, the Hermanas Largacha Museum, and the Monserrate Sanctuary, where thousands of Ecuadorian and foreign pilgrims traditionally come to meditate, reflect and search for the meaning of it all. Another place of interest is La Pila, where artisans make a variety of sculptures and replicas of Pre-Colombian ceramics.

But its Panama hats that draw a constant stream of on-lookers. Montecristi, boasts a handful of master weavers -- the creators of the finest straw hats in the world. Hats so fine - or so its said - they almost defy description. Montecristi panama hats are made from toquilla straw, hand-split into strands not much thicker than thread and woven so finely, at first a panama hat appears to be made from linen. Masterpieces of detail, the edges of these panama hats are woven back into the brim never trimmed and sewn like lesser quality panama hats. Each Panama hat is woven by a single artisan, hand-blocked, and takes months to complete.

But to those who appreciate and understand the technique, weaving Panama hats is a dying art form. In its heyday, there were nearly 2000 artisans in Montescristi, today there are less than 50. Like a lot of handcrafts, the future of the "industry" lies in the hands of the younger generation who hopefully have interest enough to embrace it.

You can easily reach Montecristi by bus from the city of Quito. Check out the tours link on Ecuador.com for points-of-contact with tour agencies who can coordinate a day trip (or longer) to this fascinating city.

 



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