Lace swept him away in Rauma

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti Photos: Julia Hannula

The lace artist from Rauma, Tarmo Thorström, is happy to challenge ossified thinking and isn't afraid to invoke emotions. He wants to encourage everyone to choose their own path. Lace has offered a great medium for self-fulfilment as well as for expressing these important factors.

Shortly after the change of the century, Tarmo Thorström moved from Central Finland to Rauma to study and become a teacher, but how did he end up with lace and lace-making?
– After I studied for a couple of years, I worked at nights in the summer so I had free time during the days. I decided to spend my time on familiarising myself with the local sights and events. One of these events was Lace Week, Thorström reminisces.

One exhibition that took place during Lace Week showcased lace and lace-making. It was the private celebration exhibition to honour the recently published book about Impi Alanko, her 80 years of age and 40 years of lace-making. Master lace-maker Alanko offered to teach Tarmo the basic techniques.
– I met with her to learn the skills once a week for a year before her condition deteriorated so much that she wasn't able to teach anymore. I managed to learn lace-making although we also spent a great deal of time sipping on coffee, Thorström smiles.

Tarmo Thorström on tuunanut myös oman pyöränsä © Julia Hannula

Tarmo Thorström has also decorated the frame of his bike with lace patterns – of course!

Old models, new applications

The spark had been ignited. Tarmo continued independent study, learning about techniques and the history of lace. At times, he took a break from lace-making altogether until he started to ponder how he could use lace in his own clothing. Tarmo ended up making a tie.
– There was no literature available to assist with designing one so I had to figure it out by doing, experimenting, trying and testing. It turned out to be addictive.

Kravattipitsiä © Julia Hannula

Tie lace.

Old patterns influenced Tarmo's experiments to a great extent.
– You learn the technique best by following old patterns. As I was studying them I felt enlightened – by doing the old I can learn something new and I can use the old patterns for completely new purposes.

An example of a new kind of application is the lace obstacles made for the hobby horse contest taking place during the Lace Week.

Over the years, Tarmo has made lamp shades, hammocks, ear rings and lace decorations for trainers, to name a few. The most recent example of a new kind of application are the lace obstacles replacing the traditional obstacles, which he made for the hobby horse contest taking place during the 46th Lace Week.

Keppihevoskilpailun estepitsi © Julia Hannula

Obstacles lace of the hobby horse contest.

Lace is not sacred

Lace is ridden with firmly held attitudes and also traditional gender restrictions that Tarmo wants to challenge.
– Grandmothers are happy when a young person makes lace and the skills are passed on but there are also surprising misconceptions about lace.

Gender is one topic that makes people wonder.
– I was making lace at an exhibition in Russia and members of the local naval war choir were horrified when they asked me whether my family had disowned me due to lace-making. They said it would have happened to them.

"In the old days, sailors might have made lace in the winter time when they had nothing else to do."

In reality, men have always made lace in Rauma.
– Lace-making has been an important source of livelihood since the 18th century, so children also participated in it according to their skills and for example sailors could make lace in the winter when they didn't have anything else to do.

Tarmo emphasises that lace-making is a technique that no one owns. Anyone can utilise it to make anything out of any material. Lace is not sacred.
– Back in the days, you might have been convicted for using colours in lace – you could be either stoned to death or burned on a stake, Tarmo jokes about the narrow-minded attitudes.

The 2010 Lace Week showcased Marko Suomi's lace penis exhibition. The exhibition, which combined traditional handicrafts with modern art, was in Tarmo's view a good way to quickly start conversations that would otherwise have taken years to get off the ground. At least the audience was ready for a new kind of introduction – the exhibition was highly popular at the Lace Week.

Yksi pitsigraffitisabluunoista @ Julia Hannula

Thorström holding one of the stencils that were used in the lace graffiti project made by class 7F of Raumanmeri junior high school. As a result, over one hundred lace graffiti decorate the main street of Rauma.

Living with the times

The only way to stay alive is to develop with the times. This also applies to lace and over the decades, this has happened.
– In the 19th century, they made lace by the metre, the hit of the 20th century were doilies, largely represented by the lace tradition in Rauma as well, and in the 21st century, arts and various installations have stepped in the picture.

Yksi pitsigraffiteista valmiina @ Julia Hannula

A complete lace graffiti.

Tarmo divides lace-makers into bearers of traditions, who are competent at making the lace used in national dresses, functionalists, who are interested in purpose of use in addition to decorativeness, and aestheticians, who use lace as a means of expression. The man himself doesn't fit any category, as he smoothly combines traditions to functionalism and self-expression.

Supporting artisanship is a choice based on values.

Supporting artisanship is a choice based on values.
– If you want a wooden butter knife or formal wear, you can choose whether you want it factory-made or hand-made.

Handicrafts are valuable also to those who make the items.
– Nowadays, many people work with a mouse and a keyboard. They are cold instruments and you don't always get to see the results of your work. When you make things with your own hands, you always make something tangible and you feel good at the same time.

This is the feeling that Tarmo wants to share with others. He continues to bring lace to the 21st century through his own projects but also by doing small-scale teaching by running children's lace-making clubs, for example.