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Threads of Awakening

Cover of the book Threads of Awakening by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

Blurb:

What if you set out to travel the world and got sidetracked in a Himalayan sewing workshop? What if that sidetrack turned out to be your life’s path–your way home?

Part art book, part memoir, part spiritual travelogue, Threads of Awakening is a delightful and inspiring blend of adventure and introspection. Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo shares her experience as a California woman traveling to the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India to manage an economic development fund, only to wind up sewing pictures of Buddha instead. Through her remarkable journey, she discovered that a path is made by walking it–and that some of the best paths are made by walking off course.

For over 500 years, Tibetans have been creating sacred images from pieces of silk. Much rarer than paintings and sculptures, these stitched fabric thangkas are among Tibet’s finest artworks. Leslie studied this little-known textile art with two of its brightest living masters and let herself discover where curiosity and devotion can lead. In this book, she reveals the unique stitches of an ancient needlework tradition, introduces the Buddhist deities it depicts, and shares insights into the compassion, interdependence, and possibility they embody.

Thoughts:

A travelogue/memoir, this turned out to be an informative as well as an enjoyable read. Rinchen-Wongmo describes her journey to learn the art of Tibetan fabric thangkas. Her interest in it began on a visit to Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Although the book is largely on this rare textile art, it has a lot of Buddhist philosophy and ritual practices. This is natural as the art form usually depicts a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Rinchen-Wongmo explains it all in a simple, interesting manner.

I liked its structure. Like the fabric thangkas the author creates, 58 chapters are each labelled a ‘piece’. They are grouped into seven parts with titles, such as fibers, threads, warp, weft, etc. It makes for a nice flow that weaves her experiences into a unique story.

Rinchen-Wongmo has managed to include the basics of geography and history necessary to make the audience aware of the significance of the subject matter. A detailed appendix about the process of making thangkas is given at the end of the book. There is also a glossary of words with Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Hindi origins.

Given that the content mainly refers to Tibetan sacred icons it must have been difficult to maintain a fine balance between being respectful and engaging. Her writing style is both.

I would recommend it to anyone interested in textile art, crafts, Buddhism, and accounts of people pursuing lives off the beaten path.

Note: BookSirens gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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