The Making- Molas
What are Molas?
Originating in the Kuna’s indigenous community from Colombia and Panama the molas began with the tradition of the Kunas painting their bodies with geometric designs, initially using colours that were only found in nature. After Spanish colonization and the arrival of missionaries, the Kunas transferred these traditional geometric designs onto their clothing. At first they painted the designs directly on the fabric and later switched to weaving the patterns onto their clothes by using a reverse application technique. The molas are the Kunas’ central form of art which makes them essential in defining their cultural identity and traditions. Many of our products incorporate the molas into their design. Each mola is one-of-a-kind as their artists draw on many different inspirations to create each unique design. Nature, dreams and worldviews are among some of the many diverse themes that the Kuna use for their artistic inspiration to create their mola design. The making of each mola requires a lot a skill, patience and time as many designs can take up to six months to finish depending on the size and the complexity of the design.
How are they made?
Molas are handmade using a reverse application technique which involves using multiple layers of different coloured cloth. The design can range from two to seven layers of cloth that usually consist of cotton material and often come from parts of the Kuna women’s clothing. The best quality molas generally have a greater number of layers, which also indicates higher quality. Once put in place, these layers of cloth are sewn together and the design is formed by cutting away segments of each layer.
The largest pattern is typically cut from the bottom layer which sits on top of an uncut foundation layer of fabric which remains whole. Subsequent top layers are then progressively cut smaller to reveal the colours beneath in each successive layer. This basic scheme can be altered and adapted to create numerous variations by cutting multiple layers at once, which generates a distinctive sequence of colours.
Once the design has been cut the edges of the layers are folded under and sewn down. Often, the stitches are nearly invisible since the thread the artists use is the same colour as the layer they are working with. Sewing with blind stitches and keeping the stitches as small as possible also helps achieve this invisible effect. The finest molas have extremely meticulous stitching, made using tiny needles that best achieve these intricate designs.
Learn more about the Kuna artisans in our blog "The History Behind Molas"