Mola – San Blas, Panama: art form

The word mola means shirt or clothing. It was the tradition of the Kuna women to paint their bodies in the geometric patterns that were part of their culture. The Kuna are from the San Blas Islands in Panama. When the Spanish colonized the area and Missionaries came, the women then started to interpret these designs on their blouses. The blouses are designed with two Molas, one on the front and another Mola on the back. The oldest Molas are approximately 150-170 years old.

The designs are incorporated into their blouses through the reverse applique technique. Two to seven pieces of cotton fabric, all different colors, are sewn together. The design is then created by cutting away the fabric, exposing the different layers. The layers are hemmed using small needles and very tiny stitches.

Mola by Venancio

Today Mola designs take on the influence of the outside world.  Authentic Molas are from blouses, that were taken apart when they grew tired of their shirt (recycle). These recycled Molas with needle marked edges (from were it was sewn into the shirt) have been washed and show signs of wear. New ones are made for souvenirs.