Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Couching Stitches

The Future Maitreya (detail) Norton Simon Art Foundation

The Future Maitreya (detail)
Tibet 1793 – 94
Silk appliqué 22’ 4” x 14’ 9”
Norton Simon Art Foundation

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, caretaker of a Tibetan applique tradition, creates silk thangkas and passes the skill on to others through her Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program, and in workshops. 

I was fortunate to be able to take her introductory class at the Norton Simon Museum over the weekend.  Leslie's love and enthusiasm for her subject flows into her lively teaching.

Leslie Rinchen Wongmo demonstration
Leslie talking about the Thangka

We were given materials to couch a flower bud from the 8th Dalai Lama's Thangka, which has been on exhibit at the Museum (ended August 25th). See circled buds above the buddha.

The Future Maitreya (detail), buds circled in red.

Leslie showed techniques to stitch comfortably.  It was tiny detailed work, sometimes frustrated by lack of good light in the workspace, as the cords were sewn down over the design lines.  

flower bud in progress
flower bud in progress

flower bud in progress
completed bud

As you see above, I used contrasting color of thread to couch the pink horsehair cord... Leslie suggested this so we could see our stitches.  Normally thread would be matching to hide the couching stitches.

Leslie also gave a demonstration on wrapping horsehair by twisting and turning hair and strands of silk thread together.  She made it look easy... yet I know this would time to master were I to try! 

Leslie Rinchen Wongmo demonstration
wrapped cord

In Tibetan applique, outlines are created with silk wrapped horse hair cords that are attached by couching to the material following pattern lines.  The edges are turned under and attached to neighboring sections, building the image piece by piece.  There is no backing piece, which makes this form of applique unique.  The buds we made would actually have been in 2 different colors of fabric (one for the bud, one for leaves), then attached together.

Great to be on the receiving end of Leslie's teaching.  It was fun to experience the process to better appreciate the work behind this sacred art.  Other students, including experienced and novice stitchers, all seemed to enjoy themselves.  Good to see the amazing Thangka once more before the exhibit closes.  It may be another 10 years before this piece is shown again at the Museum.  Learn more about the special needs in displaying such a large textile in this podcast.

Detail of thangka
Detail of Thangka

Visit Leslie's Threads of Awakening website to learn more about what she offers.

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