Saturday, September 17, 2011

From the Collection: Molas!

The Kuna, native Americans who live on the San Blas Islands off the coast of Colombia (but are part of Panama), are artists.  Textile artists, in fact, doing some of the most amazing & difficult handwork I can think of...reverse applique.  I don't even like applique, much less reverse.  So I thought I'd share with you some masterpieces collected by the Roommate's grandmother back in the 1960s and the item that got me thinking about this particular blog item, a gift from a Panamanian friend who lives in Abu Dhabi, but spent some time in her home country this past summer and sent me a beautiful present that she knew I'd love (she was correct!).

It is believed that molas (literally "clothing" or "dress") originated as body painting for the Kuna.  When Europeans brought fabric, thread, needles & scissors (and Christian morals), the artistry was transferred to material and the women began wearing their creations.  BTW, the Kuna are a matrilinear society; land transfers from mother to daughter & a husband moves in to live with his wife and her family after the marriage.

Though we have been to Panama, we haven't been out to the San Blas Islands (disfortunamente!), so our two oldest and most authentic molas were collected by Marc's grandmother back in the 1960s.  However, no one knows where she got them; she did make a trip to Central America, but we don't know where she picked these two up.  You can see in the detail photos the variety of color and layers that go into one of these pieces.  They are hand sewn (tiny stitches) and I am pretty sure they didn't use iron-on stabilizer so the cut fabric didn't unravel!  ;-)

I know you'll want to see what the women who make these look like, and how they wear them.  I borrowed some pictures from Casa Coqui's blog.  The molas are sort of like a bodice, then sleeves and the upper portion of the top are added on, usually in plain fabric.

I love their elaborate leggings & arm coverings--they are beads, but are patterned to look like their intricate geometric molas!  Take a look at the leggings this woman has on--at first glance they look like they are fabric, too.  I think coming up with a beaded design like this must be at least as difficult as reverse applique!!

If you want to find out more, check out these websites:
The Mola Museum
Wikipedia's Mola page
Sherry Thorup's How to Make a Mola

You can read more in Karin Tice's book from 1995, Kuna Crafts, Gender and the Global Economy.

Finally, here's a photo of the gift my friend sent me from Panama.  It's a cosmetic bag & you can see why just about everything in Panama seems to have a mola on it now:  it's bright, geometric & can be any size or shape.

Let me know if you try out the reverse applique technique--and send me photos, too, please!

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