How molas are made


A traditional mola is assembled using the technique of Reverse Applique on several layers of cotton fabric and the ones made on reverse applique are consider the best.

In this pictures, You will be able to see step by step how a mola is made, the corner are folded with the purpose of showing the number of layers-fabric that were used to assembled this mola.  



Galloping Horse mola front of the Panel


Galloping Horse Mola Back of the panel

I have the opportunity to meet with some of my customers that came from Florida, they bought some molas from me through the website and once they were able to appreciate more of my molas in person, they told me that the picture on my website "don't do the justice" to described the beauty and the amazing work on each mola.

"Every mola is handstitched"  No sewing machine, all handmade, 100% Authentic and made by the Kunas of my country.


The Technique use is:   Reverse Applique or Applique:
Each mola is uniquely handmade by the Kuna women using the technique of reverse applique the process required patience, time, imagination and extraordinary stitching skills.

The basic sequence are: draw the design, baste, cut and sew.

The handwork is done in two panels, each panel has similar design but never exactly the same.

The fabric used and the sizes of the molas have evolved over time.

For a long time the Kuna used percale imported from England but now they use cotton or any cotton blend fabric available from Colombia or either a local fabric store in Panama, they preferred a material that is soft and easy to their hands, remember they use several layers of cloth and the needle has to go through all the layers.  Since mola has become a major source of income, many women's stitch up new ones in every spare moment, often at night by kerosene lamp.  (A few of the islands have generators to produce electricity).

How a mola is made

The Kunas will select several square layers of fabric, one of the layers will serve as the foundation layer, this layer will remain whole and uncut.  It becomes the background color and supports the stitching of other layers.  They will also select other layers of fabric that will be place on top of the foundation layer.

To make a mola, the kuna women draws the design onto the top layer.  Then she bastes carefully along the line and cuts about 1/8 of an inch on both sides of the basted line.  Then folds under about 1/16" along the cut edge of the top layer and sews the folded edge to the base layer using hidden stitches matching thread and a fine needle, the stitches should be small, evenly spaced, the thread should match the top layer, the design should always stand out.  On the sharp points turn under the excess of fabric into a small space and then cut away the excess of fabric, once you start sewing a mola the first knot must be hidden and to finish the end neatly, the kunas make a loop at the last stitch and bring the needle through.  This is a lenghty process, requires a lot of patience and time consuming according to the complexity of the mola.

All layers will be work on top of the foundation layer, every layer of fabric will have cuts that will reveal the colors of the layers underneath (the foundation layer remains whole and uncut).  For molas with more layers the process is repeated until the theme is finished.  Keep in mind that a mola is made with 2, 3, 4 or more layers of fabric. A great number of layer on each mola means higher and best quality.

The entire surface of the mola should be used, but any additional designs, stripes, triangles, circles, etc., additional embroidery should highlight the main subject and not overshadow it. 

Molas with a variety of colors and complicated filler motifs require additional steps, including several finishing touches.

Some of the most experienced mola makers do not use a pencil to draw the design, they cut the design directly on the square layers of fabric.

In the Islands, molas do not last very long because the salty sea air eventually destroy them.  This is a reason why there are no old "antique" molas in the islands.

Molas has also become highly collectible items and many people today are finding new uses for molas.

The origin of the Kuna people is uncertain.  They may be descendants of the Caribbean Indians, some anthropologists believe that the Kuna(Cuna) to have originated from southeast Asia six thousand years ago.

The similarities of the needlework of the Kuna and the Hmong people of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are amazing.  I personally own a few pieces of Hmong and I compare the work and the stitch is very similar, the Hmong designs are different from the Kunas designs and the panel are finished at the edges, meanwhile the Kuna Mola panels has unfinished edges.


What is the Kuna reverse applique method:

Mola Art began approximately two hundred years ago. The mola is thaught to have originated from early body painting of the women in the seventeenth century, and then applied to cloth and later on to dress decorations.

Kuna reverse applique is the method that requires the use of several layers of fabric that will be cut on intricate patterns and the cut out of the top layers will reveal the more colourful layers underneath. 

On a complex mola chanels are always cut and stitched under, revealing the underneath layer(s), also to define the edge of a figure.  These chanels may be outline with 2, 3, 5 or 6 outlines.  There are many intricate way of creating the multi outline, some involve the addition of narrow inlay.

The traditional mola measures 16" x 13", and then will be incorporated in the middle portion of a blouse, one serving as the front and the other one as the back.  When presenting together as a pair on a blouse, two molas should portray the same subject, look very much alike and differ only in small details of the designs and colors; they should always harmonize with each other.

The pattern should be balanced and proportional, but not necessarily symmetrical, as no precise measurements are used.

The word Mola, is "Morra" in Kuna language and means the outfit of the female kuna and it has a deep relationship with nature. 

The colors of these arts come from the principal colors:  the red, black and orange.

Molas has been diversified in the traditional and the commercial ones.  According to the Kuna Artisans, the traditionals are harder to make because they are made of several layers of fabric, every layer has cuts that reveals the colors below.  The commercial ones has a lot of images of animals and nature, they are easier to make because the composition is made of a lot of pieces of fabric  "Appliques".





a kuna women shows how the applique pieces are put together and basted to the foundation layer, this unfinished mola is an example of a commercial or tourist mola.



Here is an example of how a mola applique is worked on a mola t-shirt.


Two kuna women's showing her traditional mola blouses.


Since they live in the islands they have abundance of fish, birds, many molas portrait these typical motifs, others are designs are marine life, fisherman, boat, geometric, biblical, sports, events that happens in every day life, everything that sorround them or anything that they see on the tourist.  The traditional molas can be inspired by their chants, legend, mythology/cultural, dreams or pure imagination.

Their designs are their own artistic creation and sewn by them. 


Many people think that well molas are a thing of the past and that older molas are better that the ones today but that is not true.  The molas today are becoming more complex and detail than ever.The Kunas are selecting brighter colors, more details, more embroidery, overall they are an exceptionally creative piece of high quality artwork.


The art of making molas is at risk, because the younger generation are not interested in making traditional molas,  they prefer an easy applique mola, some of the younger ladies don't even wear mola blouses any more.



What is a mola:


In the Kuna's language (Dulegaya), Mola means "blouse" or "clothing". Molas are colourful panels and intricate reverse applique that are sewn into the Kuna Women's Blouse, they are Panama's most famous native handicraft, however molas and indegenous art are consider as "Panama folklore". Many of these blouses and individual panels have come to be prized collectibles, among textile enthusiasts and museums all over the world.

Molas are normally made in pair and each pair is not exactly alike.  The Kuna people believe that everything in the Universe comes in pair, but like man & women, each is dissimilar.

The first designs represented their culture, mythology, native animals and plants.  Today's molas are still made in the traditional, geometric designs:  These are the most traditionals designs, but might also be inspired by comic book, characters, advertising and political posters. 


A mola can take two weeks to six months or more depending on the complexity of the design. Molas are collected as Folk Art and can be viewed at some of the finest Museums in the world like the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.  They have become to be priced collectibles among textile enthusiasts and Museums all over the world. Molas are sturdy and well sewn.  They already been washed and they can be safely washed in warm water with woolite soap.  


How Molas can be use:

Mola Quilt

"San Blas Rainforest" Quilt

Note: The fabric on this quilt is from Robert Kaufman.


"Mola Quilt, it also incorporate mola patches"


They can be incorporated into a quilting project, frame, made into a pillow, quilt, bedspread, make a delightful wallhanging, placemats, tablecloth, you can use them to embellish your t-shirt, purse, handbag, cell-phone holder, tote back, chair covers, blanket, apron, vest, jean skirt, jean jacket, book cover, incorporate them on all your craft or Christmas projects. 

Be unique, be creative...


Why to buy a Mola:  Because is a unique piece of Art, different, ingenious, attractive.

This is an Art of great beauty and mysterious origin.  A mola should be enjoyed as a piece of magnificient artwork and that is able to express feelings (happiness, sadness, ect.).  In other words, your mola should be viewed like a painting at a proper distance of 3 to 8 feet.

What are the criterion in judging a mola, I will say that is all about your personal sensitivity, taste, however, many molas are able to captivate your eyes and your heart at a very first glimpse.


Who are the buyers of Mola Art and Craft:


We are happy to announce that beginning 2012 our new buyers are a group of Kuna Women's from San Blas Islands, they will be in charge of buying all the molas and mola items in the Islands, as well as coordinating shipping to the USA.

My Mother and me because we select all the mola blouse one by one, my mother has a lot of sewing experience and she is good at coordinating colors, she knows a lot about Panama Culture, my husband because he has a good taste on molas specially the geometrics, my son:  he love animals and would like to become an artist in the future, and Rita Smith owner of Mola Art and Craft.

I  also need to say thank you to my sister Carmen who handles all my orders in Panama, receiving all my e-mails and who normally give the final touch to every single aspect of the mola purchases. She does a great job.

I travel to Panama visit my family, and then I travel San Blas where I will go with one of my Kuna friends and she will help me shopping from one Island to another one, we normally visit the most remote islands, I love Mamitupu and of course Alingandi because my relative work there for many years, I spent about a week on the Islands, we will buy all the mola blouses, later we will return to the city, where we will get together with my mom, her family and me and start removing all the molas carefully from the mola blouses and cleaning each mola one by one.

We take some time in between to eat and I love to sit down with the Kunas because they will tell me their stories, and they also try to teach me Kuna Language which is a little difficult but if I forget any words I have my Kuna Language book, the most important is that we have a great time.


How do I select my molas:

I carefully select the blouses one by one at the time and buy molas that are made with the highest quality fabric and the stitch invisible.

I look at the desing, number of layers, the condition of the mola, the stitching, then the colors I love colors that blend together, I look at the molas with my eyes and my heart and if the mola is captivating to my eyes and heart then it will be to others as well.

Besides buying, selecting, cleaning, clasifying each mola, every summer I take my molas out, hang them in a line outside and let them air out, so you can be sure that you will always received a nice, neat and clean piece of art.


Giving back to the Kunas:


Here is our way of saying thank you to the Kunas for all the beautiful molas they allow me to buy from them.

I love to give school supplies for the children's because they really need them so I will give it to a Kuna Friend of mine that has a group that support the children's in the islands, I am a person that believe in Education.  Since I do a lot of sewing -crafts here at home, I have a lot of fabric and when fabric stores are closing I will buy all the cotton fabric, which later I will send to my supplier's and they will send to the islands, thread, etc. because I am sure they will need that.  
When you purchase Molas from Mola Art and craft you are contributing directly to their needs.  If you want to donate just contact me. To set off other cost related to the adverstising of my website I sell pollera dolls, pollera pot holders, panama hats, chacara bags, coffee, books, doing festivals in my state.
Just recently in 2012 Diane made a donation of several items for the Kuna Women's, I just want thank her for supporting the women's.



Beads, thread in a variety of colors, zipper by the yard in many colors, lots of batting, fabric 100% cotton black, solid, floral, supplies are send to the Kunas-- beautiful fabric, zipper and thread are not cheap in Panama.  I want to thank one of my customers for helping me to fulfill this goal and for donating many items for the Kunas.  Thank you, Mary Kay...



My younger Kuna friends will received beads, yes, because I love to see the Kuna working on the jewellery.  I like when they mixed their beads with glass beads and different sort of colors that we have here in the USA.  They know I love the turquoise and orange colors and they will make me necklaces, bracelets with these colors and I will pay them for all the work, later I can list the items here in my site for you.


Life is beautiful and every blessing day should be lived to the fullest.

Always, Embrace life with passion and follow your dreams, regardless of the odds...