Mola tutorial 06: A three-layer Mola: The reverse applique technique

Three color molas are made with three complete layers of fabric. Kuna women drew the design  with a pencil directly onto the fabric. The more experienced one, could even start a mola without the need to sketch the design with a pencil. They simply started stitching and cutting the fabric.

In this tutorial, you are encouraged to sketch the design directly onto the fabric, without the need to print and copy a pattern. I think that by using this technique, the mola will become unique and you'll have the opportunity to research in practice the authentic reverse applique technique.
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1. Select three pieces of solid color fabrics. I have selected the following contrasting colors:

  • Black
  • White
  • Light green
pieces of fabric

2. Lay the pieces, one on top of the other with their edges aligned. Baste them together with tacking stitch. 
baste fabrics, tacking stitch.

3. Cut their edges if necessary, with scissors or with a roller cutter, to align their edges. 
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4. Draw with a pencil directly on the fabric the outline of a turtle. Then draw a second outline creating a channel of about 1/4'' width. Tack stitch the outline of the turtle. It is also advisable to secure the edges of the fabrics with a blanket stitch. 
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5. Draw with a pencil a few closed shapes inside the turtle, leaving an in-between space of about 1/2'' and then tack stitch these shapes. You've created the carapace of the turtle. 
note: In three color molas the top layer is cut and stitched to form a channel of about 1/2 inch in width. This reveals the middle layer of fabric.
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6. Draw two closed shapes inside the back legs of the turtle. You can even adjust the outer outline of the turtle if the legs are two narrow. 
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7. Add more detail to the front legs of the turtle. To make the design more interesting you can create stripes instead of islands. 
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8. With scissors, pierce the green layer at the point the photo indicates and cut a few inches across the channel.
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9. The cutting will reveal the middle white layer. Snip the tacking stitches of the outline, and start folding the edges of the top layer under. 
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10. Fold the edge of the green layer under, and start stitching with small invisible hem stitches (whip stitch) and with thread which matches the color of the top layer from right to left through all the three layers. 

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11. Continue cutting along the channel, folding under and stitching with hem stitch. Usually we cut with a 1/8 inch allowance. This means that in some areas you'll trim away and discard a narrow section of green fabric. 

12. Continue working, until you complete the inner edge of the turtle. 
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13. After finishing the one side of the channel you can start with the other side. The head and the carapace of the turtle will start to take shape. 
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14. With the scissors cut the green layer in-between the shapes. Fold the fabric and stitch. If the channel is wider that 1/2 inch you might need to trim away and discard a narrow section between.

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15. Complete the green layer, inside the outline of the turtle. 
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16.  When the top layer is complete, the middle (white) layer is slit within and the edges are folded under to reveal 1/4 inch of the foundation fabric underneath. So, start slitting the middle layer. 

17. Take a white thread and repeat the process of folding under and stitching. The black outline will start to take shape. 

18. Cut about 1/4'' apart from the green outline. You might need to trim away and discard narrow pieces of white fabric. The middle layer forms outlines between the top and the foundation layer. The result is a channel made of three outlines. 
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19. After completing the white layer start adding more detail inside the turtle's body. With a pencil draw outlines inside the "islands" and tack stitch above those lines.
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20. With the scissors cut the green layer with the usual 1/8 inch allowance, but keep the piece for later use.

21. Fold the green layer under and stitch with hem (or whip) stitch.

22. Cut the exposed, white layer with an 1/4 inch allowance. Fold the edges under and stitch, forming the usual outline of white 1/8 inch in width.

23. Inside it remains a black, large area. However, molas do not have large empty areas, 
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24. Place the small green piece you've previously removed in the center of the shape, fold under the edges and stitch. 

25. In this small piece, you'll use the technique of applique and not reverse applique. 

26. Follow the same procedure for all the shapes, inside the turtle. 
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27. In mola designs, any empty fabric area is usually filled with geometric maze shapes. Draw with a pencil some of labyrinths around the turtle, leaving enough allowance between the lines. 
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28. With tacking stitches shape the channels (1/4 inch in width). Adjust, the labyrinth shapes if necessary.
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29. Follow the same instructions (cutting-folding-stitching) to complete the green layer. 
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30. Follow the same instructions (cutting-folding-stitching) to complete the white layer.

How to shape the eye. 
  • Cut and stitch a small circle through the green fabric 

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  • With black cotton thread embroider the eye details.

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  1. Thank you for this tutorial step by step.

  2. Excellent tutorial. Looking forward to try it out.

  3. I am curious, given time to practice, about how long would it take to turn out a square similar to the gorgeous turtle shown in the tutorial? I imagine the first square would take me about a month...hopefully I would pick up speed, but for an experienced artist, roughly how many hours per square?

    1. It is certainly time-consuming. After all embroidery is probably the most time consuming human craft. I must make a video to show the technique better.

  4. Look at the back of an authentic solid layers used. Best designs are geometric.

  5. Can you convert this to paper?

    1. Do you mean to draw the motif on paper or to cut several layers of paper and arrange them one on top of the other.

    2. Yes , you can see the site:

  6. Please may I use your tutorial to save re-inventing the wheel? - I have a quilting class coming up and we will be in Panama City for one day. One of the techniques I will teach them is the Kuna Mola quilting. I would give you full credit for the article.

  7. thanks it's really clear and I think I'll try it very soon.

  8. Very clear instructions and examples. Thank you very much. Your tutorial is a great motivator to try a molas.

  9. Oh my what wonderful work. Thank you for such a detailed tutorial.

  10. where can I find the same turtle pattern?