When a friend shows you a fashion exhibit that can be visited in a single day trip, I highly recommend going. This exhibit, Fashioning Identity: Mola Textiles of Panamá, and The Cleveland Museum of Art were both amazing!

There seems to be a small debate on if clothing is art or craftsmanship. There is no denying that these beautiful Mola’s are spectacular pieces of wearable art. Guna women have been sewing Molas since the turn of the 20th century as powerful symbols of their culture and identity.

These garments are created by using a technique called reverse appliqué. Reverse appliqué is taking colorful layers of stacked fabric, making slashes in the top layers that are then peeled back and then intricately hand stitched with the raw edges on the inside. To add detail, embroidery stitching is also sometimes added. Most Molas have picture motifs on the fronts and backs.

These Molas are actually so much more than a colorful and wearable piece of art! They are statements about politics, women’s rights, and even sacred issues.

The women of Guna lived so close to the Panamá Canal that they had many opportunities to be introduced to other cultures. Adam and Eve, and I believe, Jesus was on the back of this Mola.

Earlier pieces.

Later pieces. I love how the scorpion looks like it’s smiling. My photos do not do this work justice.

This was my absolutely favorite!

This exhibit is up through January 9, 2022. It is free to get into the museum and well worth the trip.

Behind the scenes~

I loved these pieces so much I tried to make my own large scale reverse appliqué dress inspired by this trip. Stay tuned I will share how I did this and only spent $4 as part of our Local groups ReFabrication Challenge!


Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew it!



Tracy McElfresh
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