Silk from the sea

Gossamer-fine, this is perhaps the world's weirdest and most expensive thread to be used in fabrics. Most textiles are plant-based: hemp, flax, cotton, even cactus. Sheep, horses and goats, even rabbits, provide fur and wool, and then there's the silkworm of course.

As far as anyone knew, there was no fibre that came from the sea. Called seasilk or mermaid silk, byssus can only be gathered from Sardinian and Puglian sea caves, the spinning, weaving and use of it is a dying art, known only to a handful of local women such as Chiara Vigo (above) from Sant’Antioco, an island just off the south-western coast of Sardinia.

Its beauty, sheerness and rarity makes it a greatly desired, but you will never see it in a shop or for sale anywhere unless you travel to the area where it is used. Even then you may not be able to buy any as the artisan weavers say it should not be sold.

Byssus is similar to silk worm thread as it’s the product of animal secretions. However, the producer is an underwater creature, the giant pen shell pinna nobilis bivalve clam.  

Divers often have to make several dives just to gather a small amount of byssus so it is said to be worth more than diamonds or platinum.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the history of sea silk can go to the Byssus Museum in Sant'Antioco, where Chiara Vigo welcomes tourists, school children and anyone else interested into her workshop, to demonstrate the magic of this ancient craft.

Read more about this fascinating textile of nature at .....

 
 

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