Blue Monday & Ruby Tuesday Too - Mola
Mola from Panama.
Molas are a reverse applique and applique fabric part of the traditional shirts of the Cuna (formerly spelled Kuna) women. Mola means "clothing." Layers of cotton fabric, in different colors, are basted together, then the designs are cut through the top layers to show the colors underneath. The edges of the cut areas are folded under, and tiny hand stitches attach them to the lower layers.
Here you can see both the applique and reverse techniques.
These next two are the back. The first was taken with the mola held up to a lamp, and you can see how many layers were cut through for the two largest shapes. It isn't a different fabric, the lighter narrow lines are still the backing, just light shining through.
Embroidery is added for details, here on a bird. Birds often represent a soul, or are used to just fill in empty space, as empty space is an invitation for evil spirits to settle in.
Now, for many of us, this looks like a symbol of Nazi Germany, a swastika. But, it's not! Well, it is a swastika, but...
to the Cunas, this shape symbolizes an octopus, which created their world. The four arms correspond to the four cardinal directions. The swastika actually appears in many cultures and as a common religious icon, it's only in the west it's associated with Nazism. To others, it can symbolize good luck, the thunder god, or quite a range of other things.
There is symbolism in other shapes as well. The zigzags represent teeth to bite evil spirits. The many slot shapes are sunbeams shining through the traditional bamboo walls of the Cuna huts. My mola's "teeth" seem to line a simple labyrinth, a common design. Evil spirits get lost in labyrinths, so the wearer is protected. Mine does not include any plain triangles, which represent the bamboo huts.
This mola has been in my family for many years. My grandmother brought it back from her travels to Central America. She was quite a world traveler!
While I am not talented enough to try my hand at reverse applique, or any applique for that matter, when my two youngest children were home schooled, and we studied Panama, we made very pretty "molas" with colored construction paper. Actually, I think we made a mistake, or I did. I was under the impression my grandmother brought this from Guatemala, right up until I started writing the post! So, we were learning about Guatemala. She had brought back some beautiful fabric from there though.
Molas are available for as little as $20 online, which seems too cheap for something so beautiful, taking such time and talent. I wonder if the Cuna women are being paid sufficiently for their wares? Molas have a fascinating history, I encourage you to look it up and read it for yourself!