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Mari Solja

The story dictates the kind of costumes Mari Solja makes. Each individual costume is carefully woven into the fabric of a perfect theater experience.

Mari Solja is a seamstress, dresser and costume maintenance assistant at the Helsinki City Theatre. She knows how to weave each individual costume into the fabric of the overall story. A six-month effort always culminates with the premiere.

With her six years at the Helsinki City Theatre, Solja explains how making each costume is always a new and different process. Before making a costume, Solja goes through the designs and patterns carefully with the costume designer and familiarizes herself thoroughly with the character. Each costume should flawlessly fit the story and the character’s persona.

“We use a lot of special techniques and materials. Back when I joined the theater company years ago, I found myself sewing armors from cellular plastic. You really have to enjoy learning and problem-solving, and that’s why I like to work here.”

The costume has to be extremely durable but also practical. In addition to sewing, Solja works as a dresser behind the scenes. That gives her insight into making well-working costumes.

“With some costumes, you have to get in and out in 15 seconds. That’s why an actor’s costume is rarely what it appears. What looks like a man’s suit, for example, can very well be jumpsuit with a zipper in the back. It allows you to dress up in just a few seconds.”

”There is still magic in the theater, even if you just work here.”

Growing up in a creative family, Solja attended the Kallio Upper Secondary School of Performing Arts, already making costumes for school plays at the time. She knew from early on that she wanted to work at the theatre, so she studied to be a dressmaker and then a journeyman seamstress.

“My mother is a music therapist and my father a carpenter. I’ve been going to the theater and opera from an early age. I like to sing and dance, and creativity has always been important to me.”

Dyeing fabric is a field of expertise and a major interest for Solja. Clothes are tinted and surface-treated often to keep them perfectly in tone with the other mood-creating elements such as lighting and set design.

“The audience may not pay close attention to the particular tone of an actress dress but fine-tuning the details is part of the process. To make the result look polished and professional, various smaller elements need to match.”

The process of making costumes starts at least six months before the premiere. Typically, one week is allocated for making one fully-realized costume. For Solja, the premiere is always the finale and the culmination of a project.

“I’m proud of all my work even if I often spend premieres with my eyes fixed at my costumes, thinking what I still want to improve. It’s the small things that no one notices but I’m not satisfied before I’ve made those final adjustments.”

Beaming with passion for her profession, Solja says that the same can be said for all the talent working at Helsinki City Theatre.

“There is still magic in the theater, even if you just work here.”

Who is Mari Solja?

A dressmaker and a journeyman seamstress from Helsinki. She draws inspiration from folk dance, craftsmanship techniques
and theater.