Medellin Day 1C

FYI: I probably won’t get around to posting the archives entry today. I’ve been up since 5:00 AM writing today’s two entries and have to leave for a tour of the city at 10. Please forgive any crude editing, awkward phrasing or bad spelling as I’m pressed for time. I’ll clean it up later.
I found two sources at ColombiaModa that I’m really excited about. Both are supported by agencies funded by the Colombian government. One is for molas and the second -which I’ll talk about first- is for organically grown and cruelty free domestically produced silks. Based on information I gleaned elsewhere, the total proceeds from sales go directly to the artisans. Infrastructure costs such as administration and marketing are paid with agency funds.

I had no idea that silk was produced in Colombia, did you? It is an artisan operation supported by the Cauca Corporation for the Development of the Silk Industry (Corporacion para el Desarrollo de la Sericulture del Cauca), originally brought here by Chinese and Korean masters. Cauca is a department, we’d call that a state in the U.S.. Departments are different from states in that they’re not independent. Anyway, although in relative (design) infancy, the products may be a fit for some of you. By the way, the organization is certified by many agencies, some unknown here. They are registered organic by the USDA, certified hand-made (Hecho a Mano), by BioTropical (an ecological production standard), by an organic farming agency (Organic Farming) and JAS. They were very interested in becoming certified by Co-op America once they learned of it. Below is a photo of the very charming young lady attending the booth holding a cocoon.

They gave me a video showing the production process in detail. It’s quite fascinating. I have permission to upload portions of it but this requires some editing first. The video contains images from a designer named Carlos Valenzuela and I don’t have his permission to release that footage. He wasn’t around to ask but I’ll contact him later. The video is translated into English. I’ll work on this when I get back and announce when it’s ready for viewing.

I think their biggest issue is creativity in the potential application of their products. Currently, they’re focusing on shawls, scarves and wraps. The thing is, they can do yardage -and have. Moreover, it is so incredibly inexpensive, I was certain I was being misquoted or I misunderstood the currency exchange. Since they’re used to working with shawl dimensions, I got a quote of $15 USD for a selection that measured 26cm by 160cm. They do two basic kinds of fabrics. One is traditional wovens, dyed, natural or with dyed stripes. This silk isn’t fine blouse or dress weight; it’s crisper, almost like a linen. It had a very pleasing hand. I could definitely imagine these goods in a woman’s (or man’s) suit or tailored jacket. They had a sample men’s sportshirt (by a leading Colombian designer) to show but the fabric seemed wasted in such rendering. Since there’s so much variety in jacket items, I’d refine it by saying these goods would work as a linen substitute.

As I was saying, they have two types of goods, one woven (above) and the other various patterns in an open weave, probably closer to tying (I’ll need you textile experts to correct me please). The skeleton of the pattern is woven but top threads are tied. There’s two varieties, with threads cut and uncut. The cut threads make for a fluffy wrap. Below is a sample of a dyed shawl with the cut thread variety.

And here’s a close up of the weave (below)

Below is a swatch of the uncut variety. This I loved. If I had a modicum of creativity myself, I’d buy some to make a jacket. For the kind I have in mind, it’d need another fabrication underneath. That’s my sticking point.

Maybe the organization could sponsor a design competition? Who knows. Oh I forgot. They also have their own line of products called YuUSXA. I have no idea how to pronounce that. More info is found at Corseda. My contact’s name is Dayse Delgado. Feel free to contact them and do mention I sent you. By the way, I don’t know why green DEs like to play coy or be ambiguous about their referral sources. Are you sourcing or playing a self-imposed sourcing IQ competition? No one (but you) cares -at least for the reasons you do. If people can’t track the return on their marketing investments, they’re not likely to continue to attempt outreach and so, a loss is incurred to all concerned. No offense, but being coy ends up being a bit selfish. In this case, you’re hurting the artisans. Besides, in staying mum, you’ve lost the weight of the influence of the person who gave you the referral. It’s a no win situation. Now where would you be if I were as stingy with my information?

Lecture dispensed with, the second artisan source that may interest some of you, is Mola production. This group is supported by Gobernacion de Antioquia, another Colombian supported agency. This agency supports other forms of artisan produced goods including traditional garments and full package. I didn’t think to get the contact info but the Mola people (two associations, AmaiTule and AsoiMola), for whom I do have contact info, will likely put you in touch if you want garments produced. I don’t find a web address at this moment but my contact’s name is Erika Guann for Incubar Uraba. Phone is +828-8810. I didn’t have the time to do it but if one of you wants to do a search and refine that phone number, that’d be great. There is no address or rather, it’s likely commonly known locally so it’s not needed but that information is Caiman Neuvo (street or town zone?) in Necocli Antioquia. Necocli is the town, Antioquia is the department (“state”). I should mention to them that they could provide a bit more contact info convenient to outside sourcers :).

Again, every dollar in sales goes directly to the artisans who produced it. I’m really excited about the source although the demand for it is limited because previously, one had to acquire molas via for-profit intermediaries and in spite of all the protests to the contrary, one never knew how much of the money the artisans really got. Just imagine, guilt free mola sourcing!

The first thing I learned was that Mola production isn’t limited to points north, nor to the Kuna indigenous peoples which is what I thought. Rather, mola making is also employed by another indigenous people called the Tule who are spread over the Caribbean basin and northern Colombia. The work was phenomenal. You’re not supposed to do cash and carry at a show but I did. I bought a baseball cap (like I’d ever wear one of these) that was completely covered in molas. I also bought some tee shirts. Yes, tee shirts. The work was exquisite. The molas were applied directly to the medium. Here are some photos.

A bag:

Another bag (back pack):

A mola bikini:

Here’s the image from one of the shirts I bought:

I really liked the above design because it showed design creativity in departing from the traditional mola application (as seen in the mola bag above) but not the process. You probably can’t tell from the photo above, but the design placement is somewhat asymmetrical and it was deliberate. It works.

I bought two tees and those run $15 USD each. If you wanted to buy the molas themselves, not applied to a product, pricing is based on size of course but run $7 to $14 USD. Below are two pillows with mola insets. Since these molas are designed for these pillows, they are slightly smaller (maybe an inch all around?) than the stand alone, small $7 sized molas.

Actually, the molas designed for the pillows are smaller than the $7 ones.

Again, they will produce these on goods of your choice, that either they or the other cut and sew operation in the organization provides to order, or on goods you supply and just charge you for the mola application. The parrot mola on the tee above would also have been $7 so I ended up paying $8 for the shirt.

Lastly, here’s a photo of one of the artisans at work. She is indigenous Tule and her name is Ana Ribertina Bernal. I don’t know how old she was but looked to be about 13 years old. She couldn’t have been of course. She was tiny and fine boned. She was very shy about speaking to me but had no problem looking me in the eye or writing her name for me.

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  1. Nadine says:

    Kathleen, these posts are SO interesting! I’m in New Zealand, so my knowledge of Colombia is vanishingly small – I’m really enjoying your reports.

  2. dosfashionistas says:

    Kathleen, please define a mola for us. I thought the term referred to a reverse applique, where the colors sat below the base fabric which was then cut away and stitched down to reveal the under layers. I am asking because on the t-shirt, this does not look to be the case. Is what I am describing only one type of mola? Or is the construction on the tshirt different from what I am assuming?

    Don’t get me wrong; these is gorgeous handiwork. I would love to get hold of some of it for myself, and maybe for use in something to sell.


  3. J C Sprowls says:


    Molas are charms, icons, talisman, totem. They come in a variety of mediums (i.e. wood carvings, fabric, sand paintings, jewelry, etc.).

    But, as far as fabric and cutwork go, each tribe could, potentially, perform the task, differently.

    The Quechuan are known for heavy hand-knit (knit-in-the-round) sweaters. Mola motifs appear in the yokes of those sweaters – it’s an example of preserving tribal heritage and identifying who did the work.

  4. Eric H says:

    Sarah, I have Kathleen on the phone from Miami. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in a week*, they put her on a much later flight (giving her the “opportunity” to explore the Miami and DFW airports at length, etc.), and hasn’t gotten an internet link since it went down as she was trying to Skype me yesterday.

    She says, “Technically, she is right, as far as I ever knew. I had the same definition that Sarah did.” She also bought a hat with the reverse applique but did not post pictures of it.

    The people who are doing this (the girl above, for example) are calling all of these “molas”, and who would know better than they? Maybe they’re simplifying it for us. This is the danger of importing words from other languages: sometimes we lose the nuance, or we add new meanings, and then are surprised when the native users “misuse” the term. (see for example Teijo’s comment about using Japanese terms in the “poka yoke pattern making” post)

    I once heard an Englishwoman, who had spent a whole week or month or year in Texas near the border, insist that “tortilla” was something that Mexicans only brought out on special occasions and not, as I thought, a staple. Goodness knows how she got this idea, but I suspect it had to do with the fact that the name sounds so much more exotic than “flat bread” (and now that I am thinking about her, I am reminded of Linda in the Malpais in Huxley’s Brave New World). Incidentally, there are more brands of tortilla in the local Wal-Mart than there are of bread, and probably more sold by weight, so if she is right, there are a lot of special occasions going on here every day that I don’t know about.

    * I see … the future … it’s a trip, any trip — no, ALL trips! — to Latin America … and there is a jar being packed … it looks like … Nescafe Clasico? … Yes, yes it is. You’d never know they grow the stuff there. But they do seem to have milk cows.

  5. Beverly Robinson says:

    How enlightening. The only molas I had seen previously were ones made by the Hmong (sp?) people of Vietnam. Or am I way off on this? I bought some at the Houston Quilt Show some years ago and have never used them.
    I have a good friend who is from Columbia, I could ask her about some of the names/places that have left you puzzled.

  6. sharon ramsay says:

    The Hmong produce true reverse applique handwork, beginning with 2 pieces of fabric, then adding hand stitching embellishment. The molas from Central America can be reverse applique, true applique or combination of both. I have several examples of each. I have used a of them as appliques on a washed jeans jacket, stitching them on with a satin stitch–sometimes following the outline of the mola, sometimes just using a rectangle for applique with a satin stitch.

  7. Mia A. says:

    I just did a search for Tule indians and lots of results came up for Kuna indians with the word Tule in parenthesis. They must be the same tribe.

    And this is from wikipedia:
    Kuna or Cuna is the name of an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. The spelling Kuna is currently preferred. In the Kuna language, the name is Dule or Tule, meaning “people.” The name of the language in Kuna is Dulegaya, meaning “people’s language.”

    I had to look this info up because it was driving me nuts. I’m from Panama and I had no idea that there were Kunas (Tule) in Colombia.

    BTW, those mola garments and accessories are much like a clothing line called My Name is Panama that started in the late 80’s (I think) and is still around at

  8. MINERVA says:

    En Colombia la Mola (que significa “Blusa de mujer”) es originalmente una forma de arte hecho sobre dos o más capas superpuestas de tela de diversos colores, que se cosen a mano y en donde priman los diseños coloridos y complejos, de tipo geométrico, curvilíneo o angular, con motivos abstractos o figurativos -antropomorfos o zoomorfos-; los indígenas buscan en su elaboración hacer una representación de su mundo, de las fuerzas de la naturaleza, de su pensamiento cosmogónico.

    Uno de los grupos étnicos que tienen como parte de su cultura la elaboración y uso de las Molas es el pueblo Tule (se escribe Dule y significa Persona), que son conocidos como Kunas o también como Gunadule (se pronuncia Kuna Tule). Algunas de sus comunidades se encuentran en parte del Urabá Antioqueño (Necoclí y Turbo) y en el norte del Chocó. El gran pueblo Tule quedó geográficamente dividido entre Colombia y Panamá, luego de la separación de estas dos Naciones, pero ellos siguen siendo un mismo grupo étnico que conserva sus costumbres ancestrales y su lengua perteneciente a la familia lingüística Chibcha, así como, sus atuendos y creencias.

    Las Molas surgen de la tradición de las mujeres Tule de pintarse el cuerpo con diversos diseños que eran primordialmente geométricos y elaborados con diversos pigmentos naturales que, después de la colonización, pasan éstas figuras a ser dibujadas directamente sobre la tela, y posteriormente, se realizan utilizando varias capas de tela con la técnica del aplique en reversa.

    Las Molas se pueden adquirir directamente (sin pago a intermediarios) con el grupo de indígenas Tule de Necoclí … con gusto los puedo contactar con ellos directamente.

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