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Weaving the Finest Panama Hat in History

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How much would you pay for the finest Panama hat in the world, handmade by the finest Panama hat-maker in the world? $5000? $20,000? $50,000? It’s a real question hanging in the air, as a Hawaiian-based hat dealer with contacts in Ecuador (where Panama hats are made, despite their traditionally misleading name) struggles to price the latest masterpiece from the hands of Simon Espinal, an unassuming 47-year-old artisan who spent eight months weaving an accessory the likes of which the world has never seen before.

The triumphant final product is described as “a creamy-white, silky-fine masterpiece averaging an astounding 4,000 pin-neat herringbone weaves per square inch; a weave so fine you'd need a jeweler's loupe to count the rows." As NPR reports, hat dealer Brent Black commissioned Espinal and promised him a steady salary over the long period of months as well as bonuses and a cut of the profits, which alone should stretch into five figures. He made the request not out of any desire for record-breaking profits, but out of curiosity—he wanted to know the true extent of Espinal’s unparalleled skill, and Espinal accepted in order to find out himself.

The extent of Espinal’s accomplishment is hard to grasp, even when compared to the usual standards for an extraordinary Panama hat. There are no enforced guidelines for grading Panama hats, as quality standards vary from one dealer to another. Even the commonly used term super fino, under which all of Espinal’s approximate three-hats-per-year output falls, is an unreliable metric by which to determine a subjective quality grade. The most objective measurement is the fineness of weave, or how many threads of toquilla palm straw are contained within a square inch of the hat. Black considers a hat with a weave count under 300 not worth owning, and one with a weave count over 900 to be exceptional. This new hat is off the charts. If records were kept of such things, Espinal would only be breaking his own: the previous best hats all hovered in the 3000 weaves-per-square-inch range, and most of them were Espinal’s creations as well.

Espinal’s hat was one-of-a-kind at the time of its completion and it looks to remain that way. He has no plans to ever replicate his feat, citing the physical strain on his eyes, as well as the intense mental concentration required to maintain focus on such an unfathomably delicate task. Espinal remains faithful to a cultural and family tradition, an art taught to him by his father Senovio. Until his death, Senovio was considered the finest weaver in Montechristi; now, the torch has passed to Simon. Black’s greatest hope is that Espinal’s masterpiece will end up in a museum, where it can join other truly great works of art.

[h/t: NPR]

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Want Priority Boarding On Your Alaska Airlines Flight This Holiday Season? Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
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Between steep fares and crowded terminals, flying during the holidays isn’t fun. But on Friday, December 15, a special Alaska Airlines promotion will ease boarding stress and transform packed planes into mile-high ugly sweater parties, in honor of National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the airline will offer free early boarding to travelers willing to don their holiday worst at the airport.

The promotion is good for all Alaska Airlines flights in the airline’s 115-city network, and for flights offered by Virgin America and Horizon Air (both of which are operated by Alaska Airlines). In addition to escaping the waiting crowds, passengers who share the most festive knitted looks will be featured on Alaska Air's social media pages if they tag their photos and videos using the hashtags #UglySweaterDay and #MostWestCoast. And since no plane aisle-turned-catwalk is complete without a soundtrack, “festive holiday-themed boarding music will play all month long to help get guests into the holiday spirit,” according to a press release.

Worried you’ll be the only person on the plane wearing a sequined Rudolph cardigan? Even if other passengers don’t get the memo, airline crew will also be wearing ugly sweaters—so feel free to unleash your inner Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
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For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

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