Hi everyone, and welcome to the second tutorial of Tutorial Week.  Today Amanda Millar from Mammal Chupie studio is here to show us all about Mola Applique.  I have to say when she first proposed it, I had a bit of a WTH? moment, which just proved it was the perfect thing to talk about, as other people might have the same problem!  Take it away Amanda:

Hello Everyone!

It’s my turn to share a tutorial during the awesome tutorial week of the 2014 Q1 Finish Along!

Mola Style Reverse Applique Technique

What is a ‘Mola’ you ask?

A “Mola” panel (usually in pairs, front and back) makes up part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women of San Blas Panama and means ‘shirt’ or ‘clothing’ in their native language. They are hand made using a reverse applique method, which I’ll explain in detail below.

It also happens to be the name of this amazing fish, a ‘Mola Mola’ or ‘Sunfish’ which has nothing to do with this tutorial other than to help you visually differentiate between the two.

Ocean sunfish (Mola mola) photo courtesy of Daniel Botelho. / National Geographic (click to read)

And these are my fabulous pillows made from traditional Mola panels (normally the front and back of a blouse) that my mother found while thrifting, which sparked my idea to write up a tutorial!

The Kuna women are extremely skilled and have developed a beautiful method of layering several pieces of richly colored fabrics and cutting away a design to stitch down often without the aid of templates or drawings. They use very thin needles, turning under the edges slowly and make almost invisible tiny stitches tacking down the outlines and revealing new colors below. Check it out!

Now, don’t be intimidated! It is really easy! I promise!
I’ve drawn up a simple little project that is loaded with possibilities for making it your own, so I hope you’ll join me and make a uniquely you “mola” style reverse applique!

Materials Needed

* (3) 9 in squares in different solid colors / cotton fabric
* 3 circles to trace in varying sizes (I used 8in/6in/4in)
* thin sewing needles, I use straw needles size 10
* thread to coordinate to your fabric color choices
* fabric marking pencil/chalk
* basting thread (I use inexpensive white thread)


Step 1

Decide in which order to layer your fabric squares, (traditional molas were usually made with black or red at the top layer) I’m using black as the top, with the green as the base and blue in between.
Once you’ve determined which square will be the top, trace your circles, one inside the other leaving a generous 1/2 inch between each drawn line.


Step 2

Using your white thread, baste all three layers together with a running stitch, at least 1/4 in. from either side of each drawn line. Knot these basting stitches on top easier removal later.

(first row of basting stitching)


(all lines basted on either side)


Step 3

Once all the drawn lines have been basted, use sharp pointed scissors and gently poke into the top layer of fabric only, cutting along your drawn line. I started with the innermost circle first and chose to not pre-cut all my drawn lines at this stage to help preserve the stability of the top layer.


Step 4

To be able to turn under a rounded edge smoothly, you’ll need to make notches about every 1/4 inch. But be careful not to cut all the way to the basting stitches! This will ensure your turned edge remains smooth.


Step 5

Gently turn under the edge at a starting point using your fingers

Knot one end of a coordinating thread and nest it in the fold crease you’ve made.

Using white thread here for easier view, normally would use black thread


Step 6

Enter the needle into the next layer in line with where you’ve come out from, go through all layers and up through the folded under edge. I use the thumb of my left hand (non-sewing hand) to hold the edge folded under. Make your stitches 1/8 in. – 1/4 in. apart to avoid points in your circle edge.

Now continue around the circle slowly and when you get close to the end of your thread, pull your thread to the back, slip the needle under a few threads and knot.

When you’ve finished with the inner circle edge, start again on the opposite side, repeating the steps of notching the circle, folding under the edge and burying your knotted thread end in the crease.

And when you’ve finished stitching down all the edges of the cut lines, it’ll look like this!

Essentially you’ll be repeating those steps I gave you for the next layer, cutting down the center of the revealed layer using caution to not cut through more than a single layer at a time, notch, fold under and stitch down.


This is a very simple pattern I’ve used as an example which can be infinitely altered, varying the circle widths, inner rings, edge patterns etc.

You can really use this technique with any design!

You might remember one of my 2014 Finish Along list projects that I’ve been working on recently is also a reverse applique, Flying Fish.

This tutorial is my technique and by no means the only way of doing reverse applique. There are many amazing quilt artists who use reverse appliques in their quilts with absolutely beautiful results. Please look over my ‘Mola Inspiration‘ board on Pinterest to ignite your creativity!

Thank you Katy from The Littlest Thistle for the opportunity to share