WHAT IS A MOLA
Molas are Panama's most famous native handicraft. Mola Art began approximately two hundred years ago when Kuna women gained access to modern, store-bought fabrics. The first designs represented their culture, mythology, native animals and plants. Today's molas are still made in the traditional, geometric designs, but might also be inspired by comic book characters, advertising and political posters.
The word mola refers to the traditional Kuna women's blouse and to the beautiful, colored fabric panels sewn on its front and back, when they do not longer want to continue wearing that blouse, they remove the mola panels from the blouse carefully and sell it to Mola Collectors.
pictures above are from the 70's
The origin of the mola:
According to the first descriptions made by Andagoya in 1514 the Kuna women painting their skin (bodies) with geometric designs. They used dyes extracted from vegetable fibers, especially red, blue and yellow.
In the middle of 1600s the women worn mid-length skirt woven with natural fibers, multiple necklaces that partially hide their breasts, and rings in their noses.
In the 1700s paintings began to appear on the blouses worn by the Kuna Women.
By the 1800s they were wearing skirts, blue baftas (blouses), and head covering, gold nose rings, coin necklaces, and earrings.
In the early 1900s they were wearing the long chemise blouses with a large yoke made with mola, others had a border in the bottom of the blouse, short sleeve made of plain or print fabic and the wraparound skirt of printed fabric.
In the beginning the Kuna women wore animal skins (Heron, pelican, parrot, macaw, etc.) decorated with feathers.
When Ibeorgun arrived, he saw them wearing animal skins, and he teach how to make clothing out of Ikor-tree.
And there is comments that affirm that these art were made of leaves and thread from the palm trees, needles were made from sinyu (a tree with long torns) and the molas began to be sewn for the first time.
There were two important mytologycal figures that brought the traditional arts to the Kuna Womens grandmother, "Kikadiryai" taught them how to make long dresses, weave hammocks and make pottery and told them the name of the molas, there were no siccors. The second mythologycal figure "Nagagiriyai" (Nele), who discovered designs in her dreams, including the name of these designs and then, she taught them to the womens.
In the late nineteenth century, the women started to transfer body painting designs onto handwoven cloth. This process eventually developed into the creation of designs that were cut and sewn onto imported fabrics.
With the Spanish Colonization the womens had more access to modern fabric, siccors, needles...
When the North Americans called "Merki" in Kuna came to San Blas to collect Sand for the constuction of the Panama Canal, we started to see the first molas with modern motifs.
More about Mola (s):
Mola panels are made by selecting several layers of fabric, the last layer remain whole and uncut, this layer will serve as the base, the other layers will be place one on top of another, on these layers they will draw the design, cutting the design through, then stitching each one to reveal the colors beneath. The Kunas work with one layer at the time, layer by layer form the bottom layer up. They may also add appliques, inlay details, inserts placed under the top layer to bring more colors to the theme. The method is called reverse applique. The ones made on reverse applique are considered the best.
Some molas may have 2 layers, 3, 4 or more, the higher the number of layers means the highest and best quality. A mola can take two weeks to six months or sometimes more time depending on the complexity of the design. Many hours of careful sewing are required to create an exquisite and fine mola.
Since mola panels have been worn they can show small worn out signs, this indicate that the mola is authentic and not made solely to be sold to tourist. Remember the womens wear their molas in the blouses and they are expose to direct sun light.
Eventually the womens sell the blouses that they use for special ocasion or ceremonies and these blouses are in perfect condition.
I personally travel to the Islands and buy the blouses and remove the mola from the blouse, I make sure that each mola is in good condition with no fading, no stains, no tears, no dust, no holes. I am very careful when I select my molas. My promise is that you will receive the best molas and the best quality out there.
This art has been handed down from mothers to grandmothers to younger girls for century. Young girls begin by sewing patterns cut for them by women in the family. As they learn, they gradually sew more and more complex designs and are sometimes allowed to sew small sections of molas the women are working on, progressing eventually to cutting and sewing their own blouses.
Many women today also sew panels expressly for sale, as well as products with mola work, such as stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, t-shirts, dresses, purses, pot holders and more. The production of these items can be influenced by foreing audiences or Kuna perceptions of these audiences.
Molas are sturdy and well handsewn. They are in perfect condition and clean, there is no need to wash them again, but if you prefer to wash them, they can be safely wash in warm water with mild detergent (woolite detergent).
The small molitas are never worn, the Kunas will use the molitas in other projects such as pot holders, ovent mittens, purses, hand bags, wall hangings or they can frame the molitas.
What make a mola so special, is the mix of the striking designs, brilliant hues and meticulous stitching. A fabric crafter will be fascinated by the mixture of applique techniques (reverse, overlay, and inlay) and will recognize the hours of work that have gone into each piece.
A graphic designer will be fascinated by the variety of designs, from abstract to geometric, and from mazes to animals and plants. A home decorator will be inspired with the possibilities of delightful wallhangins, cushion covers. A quilter will be inspired by the unique work on each mola, each technique is different (applique or reverse applique), the fine stitch on each piece, the mix of colors and how molas can be incorporated into any quilting project.
Molas are one ot the hottest collectible items and the price will increase throught the years. They can be frame, made into pillows, quilt, bedspread, wall hangings, put it in a blanket, in your favorite purse, handbag, tote bags, placemats, jean jackets, vest, jeans, t-shirt, visor, cell phone holders, eye glass cases, bookcovers, chair covers, craft projects or decorate your childrens room with them.
This is an art of great beauty and mysterious origin.
----------- Inspiration for every palette. Be unique and creative -----------
"Live Art, Give Art and invite one of these pieces into your home today"