Our molas are made by Hilda Foote and her friends, all from the Kuna tribal group in coastal Panama. In their initial art form, the molas (meaning, simply, blouses) were sewn into women’s blouses, beautifully adorning their clothing. In The Art of Being Kuna, Mari Lyn Salvador writes, “Mola makers aim first of all to please themselves, along with their friends and family, taking pleasure in combining skirts and scarves as well as in designing the mola panels themselves. After wearing blouses for some time, however, some women cut out the panels and sell them to tourists or merchants.” The Kuna consider the art of making molas an integral part of their culture and important to their ethnic identity. They live in matrilocal, extended family groups. A woman’s husband usually moves into the home of her mother and lives with her female relatives and their families. For women’s meetings, village constables walk through the streets shouting, “Mor maynamaloe” (go make molas), to encourage women to come to the gathering house. Groups of women sit together sewing while listening to a visiting sayla (chief) chant about the history of mola making or to a discussion centered on some aspect of the women and their arts. 

The process of mola making, often described as appliqué, is actually a distinct technique in its own right. The basic sequence is draw, baste, cut, and sew. To make a mola, the woman draws the design onto the top layer. Next she bastes carefully along the line and cuts about one-eighth of an inch on both sides of the basted line. She then folds under about one-sixteenth inch along the cut edge of the top layer and sews the folded edge to the base layer with fine, hidden stitches using matching thread. For a mola with more overall layers the process is repeated. Molas with many colors and complicated filler motifs require additional steps, including a wide range of finishing touches 

To see our Panamanian molas (we have about 75 in stock), which we do not have photographed at this time, you'll need to come by our gallery in Goshen, Indiana. Within the coming months we hope to have some of the molas posted on this site.