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xi PREFACE Molas, made and worn by the women of an American Indian people, the Kuna Indians of Panama, are collected by thousands of enthusiasts every year, and the mola has become the quintessential souvenir for visitors to Panama. Some mola collectors have never traveled to Panama but are nevertheless attracted by the vibrant colors, designs, and high-quality workmanship of molas. There are collectors on every continent, many of them very knowledgeable about textile handcrafts, and significant private mola collections in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Molas are also collected by the major ethnographic and textile museums in the world. My fascination with Kuna molas began when I had the opportunity to examine hundreds of molas in a private collection. I began to wonder about their origin. Why spend hours sewing intricate mola panels? Are there multiple meanings attributed to the mola by Kuna women and by Kuna communities? What changes have been made to the mola blouse since its origin about one hundred years ago, and how can these changes be explained? Why is the mola still part of everyday dress for many Kuna women, and why do other Kuna women continue to wear the mola for cultural celebrations? My research focused on two related threads: developing an understanding of how the mola originated and why the mola continues to be sewn and worn by Kuna women. The research in this book is based on the examination of molas from six ethnographic museums, selected to cover a one-hundred-year period from 1906, the date of the earliest mola found in a collection. I developed a detailed understanding of mola blouse construction by initially learning to sew the mola panels and then by taking measurements of molas from different time periods so I could sew replica mola blouses. To inform my understanding of the level of skill and the amount of time needed to sew mola panels, I took lessons, initially in Japan and later in Panama City. I gained basic skills and learned about the difficulty of reverse appliqué and surface appliqué, the complexity of the layering, and the need for careful planning of the placement of different fabric colors. For readers who are not familiar with the art of sewing molas, appendix A, at the end of this book, explains some of the sewing techniques and illustrates the level of detailed work involved in planning and sewing mola panels. Some of the Kuna names for specific techniques are included. An understanding of these sewing techniques enhances an appreciation of the complexity of most mola designs. The Kuna people live in a number of areas in Panama and in Colombia. The focus in this book is on the Kuna living on the islands of the San Blas archipelago and the adjacent coastal lands of Panama, known as the Kuna Yala. ...


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