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135 MOTIVATION The Process of Mola Making W hile the mola blouse is an integral component of a Kuna woman’s dress ensemble, the mola panels are not displayed as part of dress, and thus the motivation for sewing the panels is a conundrum. This is the first of three chapters to look at the factors that motivate Kuna women to sew molas.1 The focus of this chapter is on the process of sewing molas and the time devoted to sewing molas, commencing with the close examination of sample sections of mola panels from the last one hundred years. The high level of detailed work involved in sewing a mola panel requires skill, concentration, and commitment. I gained an appreciation of these factors when I learned to sew molas. Some techniques are more difficult to cut and sew than others, and some styles of designs are more complex.2 I also experienced the tactile qualities of the fabric as I held it, the rhythm of sewing, and the sense of time passing slowly, whether I sewed alone or in a group. In addition to the time and patience required to create the best of the designs, there are high demands on a sewer’s eyesight, especially for some of the embroidery stitches used. In this chapter, following consideration of the level of detailed sewing involved in producing a pair of mola panels, I explain how sufficient time is made available for sewing in the daily life of Kuna women. time intensity in sewing a mola panel The total time to complete a mola relates to the size of the panel, the number of layers and the additional pieces of fabric applied between and on top of layers, the amount of embroidery, and the size of the stitches. A pair of mola panels requires many days of sewing time. Many Kuna women sew molas every day and continue to expand the number of mola blouses in their possession. The initial step in the creation of a panel is to determine the design, which requires conceptualizing the finished pair of molas since they are always sewn as a pair. Visualizing the interaction of a number of layers requires good spatial perception skills. Not all Kuna women have this skill, but those who do are highly valued.3 Once a design is determined, the fabric is arranged, and the layers are cut, the work involved in sewing a mola blouse relates to the reverse appliqué, the surface appliqué, and the embroidery chapter four 136 Introduction Chapter Four sewn on the pair of mola panels. Most blouses also have some decoration on the band joining the panels to the yoke, and some also have appliqué, embroidery, or commercial braid sewn on the sleeves, shoulders, and neckline. Salvador describes the time-intensive reverse appliqué process thus: The basic sequence is to draw, baste, cut, and sew. To make a mola, the woman draws the design onto the top layer. Next she bastes carefully along the line and cuts about one-eighth of an inch on both sides of the basted line. She then folds under about one-sixteenth of an inch along the cut edge of the top layer and sews the folded edge to the base layer with fine, hidden stitches using matching thread. For a mola with more overall layers, the process is repeated.4 Careful, precise work on a mola takes longer to perform. It also requires a high level of skill that can be acquired through experience. Nevertheless, high-quality workmanship alone will not result in a visually striking mola. The design is important, especially the color placement, and may compensate for mediocre stitching. Kuna aesthetic preference is for molas with high visibility, generally achieved by placing contrasting colors adjacent to each other, which enables the design to be distinguished from far away. At home women wear old molas or molas with simple designs, which take less time to sew. Women choose simple molas or old molas for trips to the mainland to harvest crops or collect natural materials used for weaving, medicines, and household objects. For social visits and some ritual ceremonies, more elaborate molas are worn. Thus women sew a wardrobe of molas and make the appropriate selection for each situation. Molas may be made specifically for a special event. Sometimes Kuna leaders will suggest a theme for the design or a color scheme, and often a kinship group of women will sew similar molas for an event...


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