Molas come from the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. They are used in the Cuna women’s native dress. The women’s blouse is made from a pair of very similar moles, one on the front and one on the back. The technique is called reverse appliqué and the complex designs are famous. A stack of rectangular pieces of cloth, preferably cotton, and of different colors is made first. Then the artist cuts down to the layer of color she wishes to expose in the design and turns under and stitches down the layers above so as to show that color. In a layered color design, each layer is turned under a slightly larger amount until all of the colors in the stack are visible. This technique requires skill and fine, precise, invisible stitching. Some pieces are ornamented with embroidery on the surface.
There are two groups of molas here. The first group (marked NEW) is in perfect condition and was made for sale to people outside the Cuna (San Blas Islands) culture. The second group (marked USED) was bought by one person directly from the Cunas in the 1980's and is unusual because all molas in that group were actually worn by Cuna women. Most of those are more primitive in design and show varying degrees of wear and many have some stains. These molas have all been carefully washed, but stain-removing agents were not used for fear of damaging the textile or color. Fading, soiling, and wear are noted. Crocking is a textile term which means the wearing off of color from one fabric or surface to another. Many have fabric layers which are prints rather than solid colors and this is something I have never seen in molas for the trade. These printed fabrics add an exta dimension of vitality to those molas. These used molas would be great for use in sewing and textile projects and designs.