molas + reverse applique

Recently, my grandfather made the difficult decision to move into an assisted living facility. He is 86 and up until last October was out on the golf course every day the weather was permitting. Since then, he’s had a series of health setbacks, and although he is doing much better, he decided it was time he needed a little more help. We are all so glad, because we don’t have to worry as much about him, since he’s not living on his own.

Assisted living meant cleaning out his apartment though, which was full of stuff that he and my grandmother had collected over their 30 years in the Air Force and which was NOT going to fit into his new space. But, we all pitched in to help and in the process we discovered treasures that we wanted to hold onto. Things that held sentimental value for us.

For me, it was the molas they had collected from the San Blas Islands in Panama in the 1950’s. I already had a few that my grandmother gifted me one birthday many years ago, but now I have 2 more to add to my collection. I look at them and I remember the stories I heard about bugs as big as your head, Quonset huts, the monsoons and more.  My grandmother was an especially good story teller….she was also a writer and a librarian.

In addition to memories they evoke for me…

I love the colors, the themes and the technique of the molas. They are made by the Kuna Indians, who utilize a multi-layered reverse applique technique. Usually 2-7 layers are used and the more layers, the more involved and beautiful the mola turns out.

I am fascinated by reverse applique and someday (when my sewing skills progress beyond sewing on buttons and hemming pants) I will tackle my own project. In the meantime I thought you might be interested in trying your own reverse applique project. Don’t worry these are not as complex as the mola!

Reverse Applique Tutorials

  1. Reverse Applique Thanksgiving Placemats at The Purl Bee
  2. Embellish A Tote With Reverse Appliqué at Lazy Girl
  3. Zippered Pencil Case with Reverse Applique at Sublime Stitching
  4. Reverse Applique Pillow at Martha Stewart
  5. Reverse Applique Quilted Heart Coasters at Sew, Mama, Sew!
  6. Reverse Applique Beret at Crafty Stylish
  7. Reverse Applique Tote Bag at Crafty Stylish
  8. Mend using Reverse Applique at Craftzine
  9. Reverse Stars & Skull T-shirt at Alabama Chanin
  10. Messy Ribbon Reverse Appliqué at Sew a Straight Line
  11. Loved Reverse Applique T-shirt at Crafty Stylish
  12. Bow Reverse Applique T-shirt at Mad Mim

Here are some images of molas to get you inspired. The 1st 3 are my own.

mola 1

mola 2

mola 3

by lathem.jenkins

by rodrigo gambassi

by gabriel kalup

by r0maing

by TravelsWithDan


  1. Thanks for sharing our lovely molas with your readers 🙂

    As a Panamanian I feel so proud of them. We are world famous for these technique + designs; and we should be. The labor + love that the San Blas girls put into them deserves the attention + respect.


  2. I’m totally jealous of your molas. I grew up in the Air Force and spent three years of my childhood in Panama. We left the area quickly, without taking many mementos. The molls are a vivid reminder of that time in my life.

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