The mola forms part of the traditional costume of a Kuna woman.
Molas have their origin in body painting. Only after colonization by the Spanish and contact with missionaries did the Kuna start to transfer their traditional geometric designs on fabric, first by painting directly on the fabric and later by using the technique of reverse application. It is not known for certain when this technique was first used. It is assumed that the oldest molas are between 150 and 170 years old.
Molas are handmade using a reverse appliqué technique. Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-coloured 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.
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 Kuna women.
We found this one when we were docked on an island in San Blas.