Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sea Silk

In the Mediterranean, there lives a type of clam called the noble pen shell, or pinna nobilis.  Its saliva, when it contacts sea water, solidifies as delicate strands called byssus, or sea silk. This BBC article discusses a Sardinian woman named Chiara Vigo who may be the last woman alive who knows how to harvest, spin, dye, and weave this precious fiber. 

Ms. Vigo does not sell her work, believing that byssus belongs to all humanity, but gives her creations away as gifts. Her daughter, who lives in Dublin, is the natural heir to this knowledge, but is torn about whether she is willing to dedicate her life to learning, preserving, and ultimately transmitting it.  

Do not miss this article.  The photographs and embedded video alone are worth viewing for those who love history and are fascinated by the history of textiles and clothing.  


  1. Thanks for posting this article. I've wondered what byssus looks like, and now I know.

    1. I'd wondered, too! And I'm sad to see that the skill to work with these extremely delicate fibers is in danger of passing out of the world.

    2. It's very sad. I can see Maddalena's perspective. She has her own life to live, and because the tradition can't be monetized she wouldn't be able to support herself. But it's a terrible thing to lose this tradition.

    3. I so agree. Maybe someone else will step in to take over the tradition.

    4. On sea silk, have a look at the open-access volume "Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD"