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Chiara Vigo: The last woman who makes sea silk

Chiara Vigo The last woman who makes sea silk BBC News


Silk is usually made from the cocoons spun by silkworms - but there is another, much rarer, cloth known as sea silk or byssus, which comes from a clam. Chiara Vigo is thought to be the only person left who can harvest it, spin it and make it shine like gold.

The bracelet is made of an ancient thread, known as byssus, which is mentioned on the Rosetta stone and said to have been found in the tombs of pharaohs. 

Some believe it was the cloth God told Moses to lay on the first altar. It was the finest fabric known to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and one of its remarkable properties is the way it shines when exposed to the sun, once it has been treated with lemon juice and spices.

Another is that it is extraordinarily light. Chiara Vigo asked me to close my eyes and extend my hand. I knew what she was going to do, but still I could not tell when a small square of the cloth touched my skin.

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Chiara Vigo is the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who can make sea silk. Wow.

The saliva of a CLAM!?!? I thought I knew a lot about textiles but this is a new one on me. Pretty sure they could genetically engineer goats to make the stuff in their milk, like they do with spider silk.

The saliva of a clam is no less strange than the oyster secretions we call pearls.

Genetic engineering of sea silk in goat milk sounds fascinating. 


According to Vigo, the skill was brought to Sant'Antioco by Princess Berenice, great-granddaughter of the Biblical Herod, Herod the Great, during the second half of the First Century.

Her family remains Jewish, unlike many others in southern Italy and Sardinia who converted to Christianity long ago, but continued to set a table for the Sabbath on Friday evenings well into the 20th Century, without knowing why.

According to Gabriel Hagai, professor of Hebrew Codicology at the Ecole Pratique des Haute Etudes in Paris, Vigo is "the last remnant" of a combination of Jewish and Phoenician religious practices that was once far more widespread in the Mediterranean.

Whoa. I wonder when the last time was a Phoenician was alive. 

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