The materials in this digital collection were part of an exhibition at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising titled Kuna Molas: Sewn Stories and the Interplay of Tradition and Change, August 18, 2014-July 31, 2015.

Molas are created through a reverse appliqué process in which two to five layers of fabric are stacked, cut through and sewn together. The term “mola” is the Kuna word for clothing, and it refers to Kuna women's traditional blouses as well as to the hand-stitched decorative front and back panels of the blouse. Made by the women of Kuna Yala in Panama, they feature original imagery inspired by local influences such as the Kuna life and worldview, as well as global influences such as tourism and pop culture.

The exhibition featured more than 70 items made between the 1920s and the 1990s, including mola blouses and panels, two full ensembles, small tourist items, a large quilt consisting of 73 mola panels, and photographs of Kuna villages and villagers. The molas, photographs, and supporting objects were donated to the Avenir Museum in 2014 by Colorado Springs textile collector, exhibition developer, and author Joyce Cheney, who collected the objects in Panama from the Kuna in the 1990s. The collection traveled for almost 10 years as part of a national touring exhibition curated by Cheney.

The largest of seven indigenous groups in Panama, the Kuna inhabit the San Blas Islands, a chain of more than 350 small coral islands and mainland rain forest stretching 140 miles along Panama’s Caribbean coast.

Recent Submissions

  • Beaded leg bands 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:undated
    Format:molas
    Two wini leg bands.
  • Reverse appliqué items for sale to tourists 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:undated
    Format:molas
    Savvy Kuna seamstresses know that the market for mola blouses and panels is limited, so they are applying their traditional of reverse appliqué techniques to other garments and objects. Quality of these trade items varies greatly.
  • Bead necklace 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1998
    Format:molas
    A detailed image of a yellow ceramic bead necklace.
  • Sea urchins (traditional design) 

    Artist(s):De la Ossa, Marianna
    Date Issued:1998
    Format:molas
    A blouse made and worn by Marianna de la Ossa.
  • Old-style mola 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1920-1929
    Format:molas
    This panel was sewn when mola blouses were loose, sewing was often less refined, and embroidery was less significant to designs.
  • Snail's path (traditional design) 

    Artist(s):De la Ossa, Marianna
    Date Issued:1998
    Format:molas
    A blouse made and worn by Marianna de la Ossa.
  • Healer or village leader's staff 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1901-2000
    Format:molas
    Detail of the head of the Healer or Village Leader's staff.
  • Funeral trade mola (commissioned trade copy of earlier design) 

    Artist(s):Misselis, Marvel
    Date Issued:1999
    Format:molas
    The deceased is in a hammock that is connected by a thread to a small, carved canoe. The deceased's spirit travels on the thread to the canoe and then floats to the spirit world. Mourners sit on low wooden stools. Cocoa ...
  • Healer (commissioned trade copy of earlier design) 

    Artist(s):Morris, Meheina
    Date Issued:1999
    Format:molas
    The sick person is in a hammock inside a house with thatched roof and vertical cane walls. Clothing is stored by hanging it from the rafters. As part of their healing practices, the healers are smoking pipes and burning ...
  • Funeral, trade mola - detail 

    Artist(s):Misselis, Marvel
    Date Issued:1999
    Format:molas
    A detailed section of the Funeral Trade Mola.
  • Machine stitched 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1960-1979
    Format:molas
    Two groups of swirls in yellow and brown, on a gray background.
  • Print cloth grid, trade mola 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1990-1999
    Format:molas
    This is an example of a late-1990's trend to create molas by adding minimal appliqué work to printed background cloth.
  • Bautista Misionera Union Femenil (Women's Association of the Baptist Mission) 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1990-1999
    Format:molas
    Design includes the name of the association.
  • Bautista Misionera Union Femenil (Women's Association of the Baptist Mission) - detail 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1990-1999
    Format:molas
    A detailed section of the Bautista Misionera Union Femenil mola, showing the stitching.
  • Boat race 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1970-1989
    Format:molas
    Boats bearing the names of different islands compete in a race.
  • Woman sewing a mola 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1990-1999
    Format:molas
    Woman sitting in a chair sewing a mola.
  • Crucifixion 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1970-1979
    Format:molas
    The designer of this mola followed a common practice of using black to indicate death. The background fill pattern is unusual.
  • Neon colors 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1980-1989
    Format:molas
    The fine lines and points, repeating patterns and use of letters and numbers as shapes are all design elements common to molas that women make for their own wear, while the neon colors are usually used for trade molas. ...
  • Fisherman, trade mola - detail 3 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1980-1989
    Format:molas
    A close look at the layers of fabric of the Fisherman Trade Mola.
  • Fisherman, trade mola - detail 2 

    Artist(s):Unidentified artist
    Date Issued:1980-1989
    Format:molas
    A detailed section of the Fisherman Trade Mola.

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