• Layers of plain coloured fabrics are cut away to expose different colours
  • Raw edges are turned under and stitched in place
  • Surface stitchery is of secondary importance
  • Designs feature plants, birds, ritual symbolism, scenes of everyday life and legend.


The Kuna people lived on the northern part of the mainland of South America, but after the Spanish colonized the area in the 16th C, they started to move north to the islands. An independent people, the Kuna are very determined to preserve their customs and traditions.

Sans Blas appliqué consists of layers of plain coloured fabrics which are cut away to expose the different colours. Applied fabrics and ground are equally emphasised. It is the interplay of flat pattern and colour which is of interest rather than the stitchery. Designs are concerned with traditional body painting and ritual symbolism, sometimes interspersed with images from the Christian Church, plants, animals, birds and scenes from everyday life and Kuna legend.

Appliqués can be simple to very complex and obey strict rules of procedure in their order of cutting and exposing layers. The more skilled the maker, the greater the variety of plain colours used and the more layers of fabric in the design.

Traditional dress is still worn by the women, who choose it in preference to modern western style dress. This consists of a knee-length, wrap around skirt, a red and yellow headscarf and the distinctive blouse with brightly coloured rectangular appliquéd panels, similar but different on the back and front. These panels are attached to a yoke with short sleeves and have a short pleated frill around the bottom edge. The blouse is often referred to as a ‘mola’ from the Kuna word for cotton cloth-though this name is now used to refer to the appliquéd panels rather than the complete garment.

There is no real evidence of the existence of ‘molas’ until the early 20th C.


Batsford Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques, Batsford, London, 1984
Crabtree, C World Embroidery, David Charles, 1993

© Valerie Cavill 2011