Herta Puls is best known for her association with the mola textiles of the Kuna Indians which she first began researching in the late 1960’s when she began collecting textiles from the region and exploring the techniques of reverse appliqué as worked by the Kuna Indians of the Sans Blas Islands in the Panama Canal. Her book on the subject, ‘The Art of Cutwork and Appliqué – Historic, Modern and Kuna Indian’ was published to wide acclaim and interest in 1978.
The word ‘mola’ means blouse or clothing in the Kuna language. It also refers to the embroidered panels created by the Kuna women of Panama. These stitched panels are attached to the front and back of women’s blouses, and are part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women.
A mola is made by layering between two and seven pieces of coloured cotton fabric on top of one another, tacking them loosely together. Next a design is drawn on the top layer with a pencil, then some of the shapes are cut through exposing the different layers of coloured fabrics beneath. The raw edges are turned under and stitched to the layers blow. This process is known as ‘reverse appliqué’. Some molas are embroidered on the top layer.
Herta Puls studied embroidery in England in the 1960’s and was awarded the City and Guilds Certificate in Advanced Embroidery in 1970. She taught many workshops on the mola technique, and was a member of the 62 Group of Textile Artists and the Practical Study Group of embroidery teachers.
The following is a description given by the artist herself on the Craft Council web site:
Inspiration from drawings of objects in nature and on travel is interpreted by layered appliqué (mola-work). Layered threads and embroidery, hand or machine stitched; using 100% cotton-poplin, thai-silk, hand made paper, embroidery threads, fabric-paints and dyes.
Bibliography and References:
“What is a Mola?” [Hood Museum of Art, Teacher Resources]
The Art of Cutwork and Applique Herta Puls ISBN 0 7134 0476 0
Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama Herta Puls ISBN 0 85263 942 2