Mola Work of the Kuna Indians

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Textiles enthusiasts may be interested to know the origin of the appliqué Mola Work we have on display here at Studio Préniac.

The Molas originate from the San Blas Islands, off the coast of Panama and are made by the women of the Kuna Indian tribe.

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The Molas are usually made in pairs, as they are designed to be worn on the front and back of women’s blouses, although nowadays, many are made solely for the tourist trade.

The Molas are made from deep-dyed  fine cotton layers, which are cut back to reveal colours and shapes underneath, with small pieces of fabric and very fine embroidery adding embellishment on the top layer.

The patterns used for Mola design were originally used for body painting, but after colonisation by the Spanish and encouragement of Christian missionaries to cover their bodies, the Kuna Indians transferred their creativity to cloth. It is thought that the oldest Molas are around 170 years old and consist solely of geometric patterns.

More recently, the designs have included animals, birds and fish found in the locality and the illustration of religious stories.

The women wear machine made Molas for everyday wear, and the hand appliquéd and embroidered ones are kept for rituals and best.

It is said that each hand made Mola can take over 100 hours of work and  are now becoming quite collectable.

I recently visited a local Vide Grenier sale (literally loft emptying) at Montcuq village this summer, and was lucky enough to find a Mola for sale for 15 euros.

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Our daughter recently visited the San Blas Islands as part of a tour of South America, and had instructions to send back some Molas to Studio Préniac.

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She dutifully purchased a selection and posted them back to South West France with 19 dollars worth of stamps on them, dubious as to whether they would ever arrive.

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Two weeks later, our parcel arrived at Préniac with 4 beautiful pairs of Molas inside.

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