The palm threads are the basis with which the Colombian artisans of the municipality of Sandoná weave hats, bags or baskets, but it is also the one that allows them to aspire to give a better life to their families.
Maria Cabrera's fingers move over hundreds of threads of plant origin with the precision of a surgeon to shape those illusions of progress with crafts that are sold outside Colombia at good prices but with little profit margin for her.
Maria heads a group of 60 women of the municipality, located in the department of Nariño, bordering Ecuador, which tries not to extinguish the tradition of weaving palm threads.
While attending tourists in her small workshop packed with "works of art", she explains that the work of the weavers began in Ecuador, but in Colombia she has taken on her own identity through more than 200 years of tradition.
"Our goal is to look for markets for products made by hand by peasant women, most of them heads of families, who know how to weave, although not all of them master the same techniques," says María.
She details that the work of the women of Sandoná demands effort and dedication, since it is an additional task to those carried out in their homes, where the family is the center of attention.
The main skill of María and a handful of other women, who have recently been joined by some young people, is the weaving by hand of the iraca, a fiber that is extracted from the palm toquilla ("Carludovica palmata").
The natural threads of iraca, which can be dyed with natural anilines, give life to its main product: "the fine", a hat that can be large or short wing, according to the taste of each one, and that outside known as "panama hat".
The geographical paradox of the name began when these hats began to be commercialized "many years ago" and the pieces arrived from Colombia and Ecuador to Panama, from whose port they went to Europe.
"A 'fine' is a high quality product that takes a lot of work, the weaver, on average, can take a month to do it, working between eight and nine hours a day," explains Cabrera, who does not consider herself a leader, but rather a weaver who seeks to improve her income and those of the other women who work with her in the workshop.
For María, that "fino" is one of the four types of hats that can be knitted and that "in the guild" are called "first thread, second thread, third thread and fourth thread".
With each strand a different type of hat is made but they retain the essence of being soft and that can be folded without the fabric breaking.
"The tradition of the weavers maintains the products and many of us want to continue making them but that we are recognized justly for our work because for a 'fine' abroad they pay a hundred dollars or euros and the weavers get less than half," she explains. .
The works of the sandwomen weavers have been part of exclusive fashion shows of Italy and France, where they are valued for having unique design and color characteristics.
In this regard, Cabrera explains that in addition to hats, women weave bags, purses, necklaces and other garments that give women a different and unique touch.
Remember that the tissues of Sandoná have the "Seal of quality made by hand", a certificate that the Colombian Government grants to handcrafted products, with parameters of quality and tradition that allows to differentiate them from those manufactured industrially, and recognize their value as an expression of identity and culture.
"Handicrafts are an art, each piece is unique and that's why I believe that those of us who are dedicated to this activity should receive a fair recognition for what we do," remarks the artisan, who also works with Colombian designers, which has "allowed her to have more chances".
While waiting for her economic reality to change, María continues to knit with her hands illusions that she hopes will become realities for the Sandoná weavers.