ANCIENT ART OF SEA SILK / by Britt Howard

One of Chiara Vigo's embroideries using sea silk. Image: Pietro Melis

One of Chiara Vigo's embroideries using sea silk. Image: Pietro Melis

It has the makings of a fairytale: off the coast of Italy lives Chiara Vigo, perhaps the last person to harvest, spin, weave and embroider, sea silk, also known as byssus. Vigo spends the early mornings diving into the sea and harvesting this rare material from large clams which remain unharmed during the process. The sea silk is treated with lemon juice and spices, giving it a golden tone.

In Vigo's workshop, "The Museum of Byssus" nothing is for sale. Vigo asserts that selling this sacred thread, which her family has harvested and worked with for generations, would "...be like commercializing the flight of an eagle." Instead, she embroiders, weaves, and gives the thread away to her community. She calls bysuss "the soul of the sea." Explore more of Vigo's fascinating story in this BBC article. 

Chiara Vigo with a clam shell that is home to bysuss. Image: Andrea Pasquali 

Chiara Vigo with a clam shell that is home to bysuss. Image: Andrea Pasquali 

It can take up to 400 dives to collect less than half a pound of sea silk. Image: Pietro Melis

It can take up to 400 dives to collect less than half a pound of sea silk. Image: Pietro Melis