How Our Guatemalan Palm Leaf Hats Are Made

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The palm for Guatemalan palm leaf hats is harvested from palm trees on the southern coast of Guatemala where they grow wild near the mangrove swamps. Independent harvesters paddle out in their slender boats before the break of day to cut slender, un-opened palm shoots from young trees. When the trees are older, the new leaves are too high for easy harvesting.

The harvesters return to the beach where they sell their day's harvest to palm dealers. The dealers open the fronds and tear off the outer edges of the leaves which are dark green. The inner leaf, untouched by sun, is a pale yellow color. The leaves are opened up like fans and spread on the beach to dry and be sun bleached.

Braided Leaf Hats Every few weeks a family member comes down from the Quiche, in the western highlands, to pick up a truck load of palm. Back in Quiche it is soaked in water and stacked upright in small, low ceilinged rooms made of rock and mortar. Sulphur rocks gathered from hot springs is then smoldered in the corner. The sulphur smoke (sulphur dioxide) reacts with the water on the leaves to bleach them. After three days, the bleached leaves are removed from the room and taken to the local market.

hat marketOn Thursdays and Sundays peasant women gather outdoors in the front of the market to sort through the leaves and select those suitable for the type of braid they are making. The whitest and most supple leaves will be used for the braid on our hats. During idle periods when there is not other work to do the women split the leaves into narrow strips which are then braided together in a seven strand flat plait. During the braiding the leaves must be kept moist to prevent them from breaking. A continuous 52 foot length will be wound into a coil.

The women return to the market and sell their braid to hat makers. The hat makers select from the various qualities of braid offered for the particular grade of hat they are making. For our hats, a narrow braid, about 1/2" wide will be selected.

Sewing Palm Hat The hat makers take the braid home where they sew them into hats. They begin with the top of the crown. If you look at your palm leaf hat, you can see a narrow strip of braid about an inch long at the center of the crown. They then sew in a spiral, overlapping the braid as they go. At any given point, the braid will be three layers thick. When they get to the base of the crown, the hat is turned inside out. The crown is then blocked on a wooden block. The brim is then sewn. A wider strip of braid is then folded double, edge to edge, and sewn around the edge of the brim. A four inch brim hat requires 150 feet of braid. The fine palm hats require 250 to 300 feet of braid.

We have a few of the hats blocked in Guatemala, but most are shipped to us with the rounded, open crowns. That allows us greater flexibility in what we can offer to you with very fast turnaround.

Open Crown Hats We block the hats on wooden molds, using cold water and hand blocking tools. The cold-pressed hats have a richer surface texture and are more flexible than hats pressed in heated molds. Heat-pressed hats are sometimes scorched and dried to the point of brittleness. Hand-blocking also allows us to custom crease hats. While the wooden blocks allow us to produce neat, sharp hats, no two hats will be exactly the same. Handmade, as always, means unique.

We keep a stock of our best sellers creased and ready to go. We can often ship the same day or the next day on these hats. But in many cases, we will be custom making your hats to your specifications - with eyelets, stampede strings, bound edges and laced brims.