Design History 101: Bird Mola
Molas are like sculptures in cloth. They are the indigenous folk art of the Kuna women living on the Caribbean islands off of Panama. Molas are created in panels using a reverse applique technique that incorporates several layers of bright, cotton fabric. When completed, these panels are fashioned into blouses with each mola panel telling a story.
Mola design motifs range anywhere from abstracts to flora and fauna, to popular culture, but it has not always been that way. Before the Spanish arrived, the Kuna's decorated themselves with geometric patterns using body paint. Then with the introduction of cloth, the islanders gravitated to the brightly colored fabric as their new medium of choice. Naturally, their original motifs centered around their former body art designs, but now are more commercial.
If you are interested in collecting molas, the lady in the following video is an "expert". A bit of a hard sell, but very informational. Or you can visit the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles's website and see a video of their past exhibition: Fabric Tattoos, The Spirit of the Mola.
Molas are now sought after by textile art collectors and designers.