Some textiles have such a unique, magical quality that it seems inevitable that they should be shrouded in mystery; sea silk, or byssus as it is also known, is one such fibre. The extraordinary golden thread spun from the beards of giant Mediterranean mussels has been known since ancient times but has always remained one of the worlds rarest fibres due to the complex nature of its production.
In recent years it has garnered quite a bit of media attention with stories of “last woman in the world” to work this precious fibre…particularly on social media. But is this really the case?
In this episode I wanted to dive into the history of sea silk; what it is, where it comes from and who the women are who still spin and weave it.
Below you can see the links to the papers and websites I referred to in this episode:
You can read more about the Sea Silk project at the Natural History Museum in Basel here: http://muschelseide.ch/
You can also read Felicitas Maeder’s fascinating paper on the etymology of the term byssus here: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1034&context=texterm
And a more general paper about byssus in the Mediterranean here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321943912_Landscape_of_Sea-Silk_Traces_of_traditional_production_around_Mediterranean_Sea
The history of Sea Silk on Sant’Antioco (blog and facebook page coordinated by Antonella Senis):
To find out more about the other women who still spin and weave sea silk:
The Pes sisters: https://www.facebook.com/sorellepes/
Arianna Pintus: https://www.facebook.com/filidiarianna/
Marianna Pischedda (an article about her work): https://www.ehabitat.it/2017/11/01/chiara-vigo-non-e-ultima-maestra-del-bisso/
Would you prefer to listen? https://soundcloud.com/user-911455131-629910622/all-that-glisters