HOW MOLAS ARE MADE - an overview

Step-by-Step instructions for making a Mola.


Custom Search


Tools: Tread, Pencil, Thimble, Small Sharp Scissors.


Tools and Supplies: The tools and supplies needed to design and make a Mola are simple and basic: cotton fabric, thread, a pencil, scissors, a thimble and a needle. In the 1970s, the Peace Corp arrived in the San Blas Islands with treadle sewing machines. Their purpose was to help the Kuna Women in their Mola making by teaching them how to use these machines. The artists quickly rejected the automation and returned to the simple needle and thread process to accomplish their intricate work. A sewing machine is sometimes used to secure Molas to garments, purses and other commercial items. A collector will occasionally find a machine stitched Mola from the '70s. (Click on the photo for a closer look at the tools.)




Sketch image on top layer

Image is cut away.

Baste inside and outside of image. If you are going to use the positive image in your Mola, cut away as you do the needle-turn technique.

Construction and Design: A Mola panel can have two to seven layers of cloth. The layers of fabric, cut in rectangles from a variety of colors, are basted together, one layer at a time, and a design is sketched with pencil on the top layer of cloth. The design is cut away, turned under and stitched. With each layer, the artist cuts away another part of the design, turns the edges and stitches to the lower layers. This continues until the final image is achieved. Small cigar-shaped appliqué and/or embroidery stitching can be added to fill blank areas and further embellish the panel. Some of the more experienced Kuna women can work without sketches. The fabric most often selected for use in making a Mola is cotton. Red, black and orange are the dominant colors used, however, every color imaginable can be found in the accent fabrics used. (Click on the photo for a closer look at the pencil sketch.) The Indian artists are inspired by everything when determining a theme for their Molas. The dominance of realistic objects in Mola motifs stems from an observance of nature in everyday jungle and village life; to the other extreme, images conjured from dreams, fantasies and pure imagination, including abstracts of monsters and devils.

Nature unquestionably dominates the Mola theme: birds, animals, sea-life, plants and flowers are the subject of many pieces. Tribal teachings, superstitions and village life are also recorded in the fabric panels. The influx of North Americans after the construction of the Panama Canal gave the Kuna women even more subjects to sew into their blouses. The wealth of graphic images from magazines, comic books, trademarks, labels and advertisements offer endless ideas for Mola design. Of course, traditional geometric cut-outs remain popular.





A Mola will have between two
and seven layers of fabric.

Cutting and Sewing: Fabric is snipped away, closely following the design, to reveal the lower layer of fabric. The cut is made through one or more layers to reveal the selected accent color. The raw edges of the cut section are notched to avoid bunching, turned under and stitched, permanently exposing the lower layer of fabric and creating the intended pattern. The artist of the Mola on the left used three full layers of fabric in traditional reds and black with several smaller sections of fabric in primary colors for accent to create her design. (Click on the photo for a closer look at how the cloth is layered!)

Note: When a color is chosen for a small section of the Mola, the artist often inserts a small piece of fabric in only the area where it will be used. If you look closely at Mola-20, you can see the outline of the middle layer of cloth (black fabric) used as an accent color in this predominantly red, yellow and blue Mola.


CLICK on this image to see a
variety of stitches: Machine,
embroidery, hem stitch, etc.

Stitches: The more traditional Mola is pure appliqué, however, some artists of late are using embroidery stitches to enhance their work. Most of the Mola is sewn with a blind stitch or hem stitch. Sewing machines were used for a brief time in the 1970s and are used to attach the finished Mola panel to a garment when constructing the whole blouse or for other commercial items. (Click on the Mola for a closer look at the various stitches used.)

Photographs by Sherry Thorup

Send questions and comments to
Copyright1996-2009  by Sherry Thorup. All rights reserved.

Photo Index | Molas | Home Page