About Molas – March/April 2006

The bird and snake in this mola are examples of the colorful and
abstract depictions of animals common in this art form.
Mola is the Kuna Indian word for blouse. The term has evolved to
refer to the appliqué panels that decorate the front and back of a Kuna Indian woman’s
blouse. For this reason, molas are often made in pairs that are variations of the same theme.
Kuna Indian women from the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama look to
many sources for mola designs. Geometric patterns similar to ancient body painting designs are the most traditional motifs. Many patterns depict
native flowers, plants, animals, and themes from Kuna legends. Modern design influences include comic books, posters, and TV cartoons.
Cotton is the preferred fabric—red, black, and orange are used as dominant colors with white as a contrast. Molas are created using a combination
of appliqué and reverse appliqué. The process begins by basting two to seven layers of various colors of fabric together and stitching a pattern on the top
layer. Starting with the largest element in the pattern, parts of the top layer are carefully snipped away. Details are created by cutting smaller designs to
reveal underlying accent layers. Raw edges are turned under and stitched down using a blind stitch.
Inspired by molas in the textile collection of the Museum of International Folk Art at the Museum
of New Mexico, fabric designer Kathy Hall of Andover Fabrics created the Mola Stories fabric collection shown at
right. The designs are brightly colored geometric shapes and pictorial images of birds and animals.

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