An American Woman’s Journey to Tibet’s Sacred Textile Art – Buddhistdoor Global

Image courtesy of She Writes Press

Part travelogue, part spiritual biography, and part artistic chronicle, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo’s Threads of Awakening: An American Woman’s Journey to the Sacred Textile Art of Tibet (2022) is an eloquent work that is both adventure and homecoming; transformation and grounding. Leslie is a textile artist, teacher, and one of the few non-Tibetans who has mastered the art of silk appliqué. Thank you. In this book, to be published on August 23 by She Writes Press, Leslie tells a tender human story of how she came to this artistic calling, full of emotional richness and raw honesty. A very useful and interesting appendix points out some of the fundamental stitches and shapes that Leslie has deployed over the decades to make Tibetan-style appliqués.

There are two general outlines to this six-section book: the personal journey of spirituality and self-discovery, and the learning and mastery of silk application. Thank you. Within each theme are many stories that place us alongside Leslie as she meets her first appliqué masters, she falls in love, or she receives the Dalai Lama’s assignment to make non-Buddhists, in fact, Christians, Thank you. Highlights abound; anecdotes about her personal life set in larger cultural contexts that defined her as a Western convert to Buddhism. There are many subsections, but broadly speaking there are seven parts, each denoting an aspect of the weave: “Fibres”, “Threads”, “Warp”, “Weft”, “Pieces”, “Bow” and “Buddhas” . with subsections called “Parts”. The book can be compared to a kind of tapestry of her life. But it’s a story that can’t be told without looking at the individual components, just like her. Thank you they are never complete without paying attention to each of the threads that, initially, seem to be disconnected from the other parts and sections.

Image courtesy of She Writes Press

The book begins with Leslie’s early background as an intellectually curious young student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, meeting Tibetans in exile, and her first meeting with the Dalai Lama on campus. The “official” beginning of this journey is a 1988 trip to Nepal and New Delhi, where she formally entered the Buddhist path:

Just as a wedding ceremony does not create a marriage, the refuge ceremony does not create a Buddhist. But there is power in public declaration. . . . For me, taking refuge with Geshe Sonam Rinchen and Ruth was a way of declaring to my own mindstream that the direction of my life’s journey, through whatever mundane events would follow, was towards inner freedom and understanding, using Buddha’s teachings as a path. guide and compass.


In piece 23, Leslie traces a brief history of Tibetan weaving, from the early days of imported silk from Tang China to the Tibetan Empire to how “thriving production has reemerged among the exiled community in India and Nepal, and some large Applications Thank you have been made within Tibet itself, including the giant Tsurphu Thank you project in eastern Tibet, managed by Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple”. (115)

One of the distinguishing advantages of this book is the amount of detail that Leslie goes into regarding the sewing process, Tibetan style. This unique discipline, which she outlines, is worth generously citing. As she describes:

When you wrap that stringy silk thread around a scaly hair on a horse’s tail, the fibers of the thread get caught in the scales of the hair. They cling, and the sheer force of that attachment binds them. The thread remains safely wrapped around the hair. No adhesives required. Now, I have to admit that it took me weeks of practice to wrap the hair in yarn. It was a disaster the first time I tried it.


His discussion of highly technical, far from dry, processes is relatively unknown in volumes discussing Buddhist art, since textiles are covered less often than paintings or sculpture. Also, this is tibetan textiles:

Tenzin Gyaltsen [Leslie’s teacher] he showed me how to stabilize the cloth by rubbing the wrong side of the cloth with raw meat and melting its fat into the fibers with a hot iron. The fat from the meat gave the flimsy cloth just enough stability to hold its shape as we sewed curved cords along its linear weave. He introduced me to the Tibetan way of sewing by hand, pointing the needle down along a vertical path, rather than crosswise, as Westerners tend to do. I adapted quickly, almost as if he had done it before. Each stitch formed a loop that held my new horsehair cord to the surface of my meat-stabilized fabric. Loop after loop, stitch after stitch, I attached threads to the fabric following the lines of my drawing.


Apart from highly developed motor skills and a technical knowledge of textiles, Leslie found her life in Asia inextricably linked to the revival of the textile discipline among the Tibetans. This is especially important in parts four, five, and six, which are especially unique among Tibetan art publications thanks to Leslie’s unique insight into silk art. In piece 39, Leslie vividly describes a year of intense engagement, six days a week, with the motifs and designs of Tibetan art:

Bird eyes, snake eyes, deer eyes, snow lion and dragon eyes. Garlands of severed heads hung from angry shoulders. Humans and animals crushed under angry feet. so many faces so many eyes All helping someone to see more deeply into reality, to examine more closely the nature of their experience. Faces so small they sit comfortably in the palm of my hand. Day after day, eyes, eyes and more eyes.


From her personal understanding of the basics and her eventual growth as a mentor in her own right, Leslie’s subsequent development as a teacher mirrors the learning about life and sewing she experienced decades ago. For example, she founded the Stitching Buddhas® Virtual Learner Program in 2008, a workshop that connects students from multiple countries and across the US to learn Tibetan applications for six months (271). Not everyone will go to Nepal, India and Tibet for a life-changing trip. Few will have the commitment, time, or drive to truly master a discipline like Leslie did. However, as your students progress in subtlety, they may decide to enter a membership program that will offer projects of increasing difficulty until, after a few years, they manage to do Thank you like his teacher.

awakening threads it is a book with multiple threads, so to speak, each of which must be pulled slightly to see where it leads. There is one that will tell the story of a Western-born woman who found her spiritual path after a gradual journey that led to a fundamental realignment of her life’s priorities. There is another story about a professional woman who threw herself into the unknown world of sewing and threading, she became intimately acquainted with it and reinvented herself with a new vocation. They are all part of the same tapestry, although they have their own unique hues and vibrant colors. Leslie’s spiritual autobiography may technically be about herself, but her engaging and insightful presentation stimulates introspection about our own journeys, whatever they may be.

Join Leslie for a Zoom chat on August 28 at 6:00 p.m. PST, “Threads of Awakening: When Your Detour Becomes Your Life’s Path” as she discusses her upcoming book. Threads of Awakening: An American Woman’s Journey to the Sacred Textile Art of Tibet (2022).

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Threads of Awakening: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

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