Monday, February 18, 2008


While I'm recovering from Make A Blanket Day (our raffle quilt brought in $1024 for Project Linus!), I thought I'd do a post about molas, the traditional multi-layer applique of the Cuna women who live in the San Blas inslands of Panama. Unlike traditional applique, in which fabric is stitched on top of a background to make a design, molas are made by layering several brightly colored solid fabrics and cutting through to the desired layer to form the design. The top fabric is folded under and hand stitched along the edge. In the mola below, the top layer of fabric is red.

Sorry about the angle and quality of this photo and the next -- I have these molas under glass and was trying to minimize reflections when I took the photos. I love this first mola, which my parents bought for me when we were living in Panama in the 1960's. It's a very traditional one, with no embellishment; even the eyes are made by applique. There is so much playfulness in the design! Are those little donkeys reflected in sunglasses, or is that just a design? I don't know, but I smile when I see it.
I got this mola from my aunt. It's hard to tell in this poor photo (try clicking to enlarge it), but it has quite a bit of embroidery on it. What was that old TV show where the guy said, "I like it, but I don't love it"? That's how I feel about this one. It's very cool, but it lacks the warmth and spontaneity of the first one.
Molas have become quite popular and there are now many designs that at first glance appear to be molas but are not really. Some are quite lovely in their own right, but they're just not molas. I bought this vest at the Ann Arbor art fair in the mid-90's. I adore it, it has not one but two "made in Panama" labels, but it's not a true mola -- the design is appliqued on top of a black background.
I've thought about trying to make a mola, but it would be a painstaking process. Still, I think about it from time to time. I got these two books to help me. The Electric Mola is out of print, but I found a used copy for about $3 on Amazon. The author used the mola style but makes the design through machine applique. Some of them are really fun, but I don't think it's quite what I'm looking for. The other is a Dover book -- I love Dover books! This is just black line drawings of traditional mola designs, but there are some color photos in the book. It occurred to me that some of the shapes would make neat quilting patterns.

If you want to see more molas, do a google search and a zillion will show up. They're wonderful to look at!


Lazy Gal Tonya said...

oooh, your molas are fun (yeah, I have similar problems trying to photograph my textiles under glass). so lucky to have them. I've pondered trying my hands at them as well, but too much work. have you seen Be*Mused Jan's? I love the paperdoll mola in particular.

Clare said...

Well done with the Make a Blanket Day. The thought of multi-layer applique frightens me to death! Beautiful quilts though and the amount of work that goes into them is amazing.

Pattie said...

Wow! These are amazing! As a new quilter, I can’t imagine trying to tackle something like this.

What if you did something small, to try the technique and see if you enjoy it? Maybe an 8x10 you could frame when you're done? Or mail to me? :-)

Congrats on the proceeds for Project Linus!

Michael5000 said...

I've never heard of this technique. It's awesome. Now I want to see one live so I can figure out how the layers work...