Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Dulemola (Blouse Panel) with Scissors

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Dulemola (Blouse Panel) with Scissors


Guna blouse panels are made from machined cloth and commercial thread first introduced by missionaries and now widely available. However, the elaborately cut and sewn patterns are only possible using the sharp scissors the missionaries also brought with them. This dulemola celebrates the tool that it was made with, in a clever self-referential artistic gesture.

While the Guna have long embraced new materials and tools, they also fundamentally transformed the quilting that the European women expected them to use scissors to make. In quilts, cut pieces are joined at their sides and sewn down on top of a backing textile, and decorative stitching unites the top and bottom cloth and the fluffy batting between them. Quilts often repurpose used clothing and function to keep sleeping people warm in cold climates.

However, the Guna live in the tropics, where quantities of clothing and insulating bedding are unnecessary. Therefore, the basic European assumptions of what piecework would look like and how it should function were not embraced and a wholly new textile art form was born by cutting through the imported cloth in remarkable ways.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands/North Coast of Panamá)




20th century



Credit Line

Lent by Sherry Thorup

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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