Textiles imitating textiles: Bhutanese embroidery

Recently I wrote about the imitation of shibori in embroideries on display in the exhibition China: Through the Lens of John Thomson at the National Textile Museum in Washington, DC (Textiles Imitating Textiles).

A few days ago, I was privileged to view the beautiful textiles submitted for Bhutan’s national textile competition and enjoyed another embroidery that beautifully portrayed textiles. 
This depiction of Guru Rinpoche in his various manifestations won first prize for embroidery:

I was especially taken with the depiction of fabrics in the robes of the central figure:


Most of the lavish fabrics depicted appear to feature designs that would in reality be embroidered, such as that with the maroon ground which resembles the modern embroidered women’s rachus.


Here are three embroidered rachus that were entered in the same competition:


So often, Guru Rinpoche is depicted wearing the simple pieced robes of a monk…

Version 2

…but perhaps this embroiderer couldn’t resist clothing the much-revered Guru in the finest examples of the embroidered designs that he has mastered.

I loved seeing a border design that recalls those regularly found woven into kushutara:

Version 2P1250508 crop to key pattern corresponds to gurus clothesP1250557

The director of the Royal Textile Academy also noted that this winning piece displayed innovative colour choices that depart from those traditionally used in Bhutan for thangkas and thondrols. I noticed that Garuda’s body is a startling combination of orange and purple:


Several blues have been used to create a graded sky/mountain/sea background to the images that from a distance appears to all be sky:


Compare this with the design and colour choices in the appliqued and embroidered thondrol of the same subject on display at Paro tsechu:


Or this piece by another master embroiderer:P1240022 from menchuna

The prize-winner has varied the hue as well as the shades of blue used to depict water, which adds liveliness,

P1250475and he has been relatively bold with his colour choices for foliage, here combining three different greens:
P1250478Did I mention the exquisite workmanship? Or the incredible amount of detail included? Finding the 8 auspicious signs of Buddhism in Guru Rinpoche’s robe is a little like Where’s Wally:
P1250484However,  I sometimes find that, in spite of it’s beauty, all that decorative detail becomes a little overwhelming, and I am drawn to something less busy. Earlier, I had visited the studio of this Master embroiderer:

His embroideries are impressive, but it was the artistry in some of his thangkas that captivated me. Again, it was the depiction of textiles in another medium that I found myself examining, this time with intricate details embossed in gold such as these robes worn by Green Tara:



Although there is an enormous amount of detail in these robes and the gold is rich and glowing, I also sense artistic restraint; there is a refreshing simplicity and sense of balance and space arising from the choice to depict the robes only in one colour.

P1240050Note: As embroidery is traditionally a man’s domain in Bhutan, I have referred to the prize-winning embroiderer as he, even though I don’t actually know the gender of this artist. If this piece was embroidered by a woman, please accept my apologies.

1 thought on “Textiles imitating textiles: Bhutanese embroidery

  1. Pingback: Textiles imitating textiles: Chinese Embroideries | Textile Trails

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