The Mola, or Molas, is a hand-made textile that forms part of the traditional women’s clothing of the Kuna people from Panama and parts of Colombia. The full costume includes a patterned wrapped skirt (saburet), a red and yellow headscarf (musue), arm and leg beads (wini), a gold nose ring (ondau) and earrings in addition to the mola blouse (dulemor).
Molas are hand-made using a reverse appliqué technique. Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-colored cloth (usually cotton) are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting away parts of each layer. The edges of the layers are then turned under and sewn down. Often, the stitches are nearly invisible. This is achieved by using a thread the same color as the layer being sewn, sewing blind stitches, and sewing tiny stitches. The finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles. As an inspiration for their designs, the Guna first used the geometrical patterns which have been used for body painting before. In the past 50 years, they have also depicted realistic and abstract designs of flowers, sea animals and birds, and popular culture. Mola art developed when Guna women had access to store bought yard goods. Mola designs are often inspired by modern graphics such as political posters, labels, pictures from books and TV cartoons, as well as traditional themes from Guna legends and culture. Geometric molas are the most traditional, having developed from ancient body painting designs. Many hours of careful sewing are required to create a fine mola. The ability to make an outstanding mola is a source of status among Guna women. Depending on the tradition of each island, Guna women begin the crafting of molas either after they reach puberty, or at a much younger age.