Mola are the iconic craft of Panama, made by the Kuna Indian women as part of their traditional dress. An authentic mola takes two weeks to six months to make and starts its life as part of a paired set that make the front and back panel of a dress top. They originated in the 19th century as fabrics became more widely available from colonizers and they are inspired by the traditional body painting of the Kuna. Mola are constructed with a reverse applique technique and one of the criteria by which the quality and value of a mola is judged is how many cut-away layers were used in the construction. Other qualities to look for include: originally used as a dress, not just made for tourists; fineness of stitches and evenness and width of cutouts; complexity of embroidery and stitched designs; and overall artistry of color and design.
I found a wonderful shop in the Casco Viejo section of Panama that sold antique mola that had already been made into pillows. I am on the road again and left the shop info at home but will add the specific details here at a later date (it was around the corner from the renowned ice cream shop).
(all click to enlarge)