Silmäpako, a lace art combining local marine and craft heritages

In the year 2020 Pekka Palmu from Silmäoptikot wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rauma Lace Week by commissioning lace artwork for the shop courtyard. Member of Finnish Parliament Kristiina Salonen was there to unveil the work.

“For a woman, ‘silmäpako’ (a length of unravelled fabric in a knitted garment, especially in nylon stockings; a run) often bring embarrassing situations to mind. Often it means that the pantyhose have broken. The artist sees beauty in imperfection, in the things the rest of us sometimes want to hide. Art teaches us to look at things with new eyes. I believe that this piece will make us think about blindfolds in a new way. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary acts by extraordinary people, and we are witnessing one of them today,” Salonen opened at the launch.

The lace artist Tarmo Thorström had been working on Silmäpako for three years. First it took a long time to think about it, and then a hundred hours of work to make it real.

“The maturation of this work began three years ago. Pekka asked for some lace work to be done in the yard, but the idea for the work was still missing. But then, when Pekka offered an old fishing net from Luvia that Arvi Ellmen had received as part of the work, the idea of a lace net began to take shape. From the old fishing net, I reused the beams that once supported the net in the sea,” says Thorström.

“Pekka said that as part of his optician’s eye examination, he has used a wall in the courtyard with a house sign on it. From there, the idea began to develop that the work could be built around the signs. Let’s make a hole in the lace and leave the signs inside. Since the signs are viewed from a vanishing point perspective, and the structure that unravels is a run, the name Silmäpako went to the heart of the idea. In addition to the license plate and the street name, the work can also be used to explore visual acuity by looking at the different lace textures, to see if the different surfaces, lace grounds, can be distinguished from each other,” Thorström reflects.

The work was not created in an instant

For the work, I hand-drilled 1880 new holes in the lace boards for the nails. Before that, I drew a template on the surface of the board for the holes. The whole work, including the groundwork, took about a hundred hours, of which about a quarter was spent on the groundwork. It took eleven hours just to spool the cords into 164 bobbins,” Thorström adds.

“The work has five different lace textures (grounds in the bobbin lace terminology) in the which I varied on the surface of the piece. The textures are familiar from Rauma lace, so an experienced lacemaker will be able to identify them as tulle, brabant (aka. honeycomb stitch), needlepoint with a hole, half-needlepoint and rose ground, among others. My favourite ground to make is the brabant, because it comes together quickly,” laughs Thorström.

“It was a nerve-wracking moment when you had to start cutting the finished work. Once you’ve cut it, you can’t get it back, so you had to get it right the first time. After all, you don’t usually start cutting the finished lace in the middle, so I couldn’t be quite sure what was going to happen. For example, the work might start to unravel if the cut hit a point where many threads crossed.”

A hole had to be cut in the finished lace mesh for the wall signs. Where the hole would be in the lace was not exactly known beforehand.

The work will remain in the courtyard of the opticians shop. In the coming years it will be maintained by dipping it in a mixture of turpentine and tar. Fishing nets made from natural fibres have been tarred in the past, as it protects against algae growth and prevents rotting, for example.

Original story written in Finnish by Essi Miettinen. Shortened and translated by Tarmo Thorström. All photos under the courtesy of Essi Miettinen.