Stitching Buddha’s in Australia

by Rinchen Khandro Tsomo (Kerryn Coombe)

Stitching quietly on my projects today it occurred to me that I am the only woman in Australia doing this apprenticeship – learning how to make traditional Tibetan Buddhist Applique Thangka’s from one of the only Western Woman trained in the rare Buddhist art of silk appliqué thangka’s, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Leslie has “created silk Thangkas for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Namgyal Monastery, Gyuto Tantric College, Sogyal Rinpoche, and others.” How very privileged I am.

However, while I love quiet moments to learn and to really engage with the process of creating images in this ancient and traditional Tibetan art form, I also a appreciate the potential for connection. Isn’t that what makes us unique as humans – our connection with each other, our sense of community?

Leslie is passionate about the preservation and evolution of this cultural tradition and uses modern technology to teach students from far reaches of the world. She wanted her Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program to be more than just an online course. In an article featured in Fibre Art Now Leslie states “I felt like the people who were asking me to teach wanted something much deeper. They were drawn to he whole practice and lifestyle of the work. I wanted to offer them as much of that as I could.”

Leslie uses technology to ensure that the ‘Stitching Buddha’s’ as we are called, connect with each other. Students from each continent around the world connect together through video conferences, telephone conferences and one on one with Leslie, and a forum where we post our latest achievements, our challenges and our discoveries. Leslie also organizes an annual retreat where we also have the option of meeting in person and earlier in 2013 I attended the retreat in Oxnard, California. It was a beautiful house right on the canal, and walking distance from the beach. Despite the beauty of the surroundings and the fact I hadn’t been to the US before I was not at all distracted from beauty and immersion in the art we were creating. Hanging up right in front of us every day was the Thangka that was blessed by the Dalai Lama, the intricate work of which was inspirational and every day another fascinating facet of the work would catch ones eye.

More recently Leslie has taken tours of India and these tours also include visits to where she stayed and studied in Dharamsala, and also Varanasi where the silk fabrics and threads we use are made. Definitely on my bucket list of things to do!

As I sit and stitch I often contemplate how wonderful it would be to share this experience with others in Australia – I would love it if others joined me on this unique journey, to have catch ups and share experiences . Becoming a ‘Stitching Buddha’ does not require that you have past skills in needlework;  it does not require lots of time – it allows you to go at your own pace. It is also not limited to ‘Buddhists’ – it transcends all cultures and religions.

It is so much more than stitching it is a meditation practice of its own, a connection with ones own spirituality – an opportunity learn about oneself in the process.

To learn more about this art form check out my teacher Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo on her website –

you can also follow Leslie on her Facebook page

Stitching Buddha's Retreat 2013

Thangka ‘Buddha Shakyamuni’ by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Stitching Buddha’s Retreat 2013

Piecing the vase

Treasure Vase: One of the practice projects on the ‘Stitching Buddha’s’ path.

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