A recent story about tiny sea snail teeth that were stronger than titanium reminded me of the time I met a Sardinian woman who harvested ‘bisso’, strong silk-like fibres secreted by a marine bivalve mollusc, known as pinna nobilis or ‘fan mussel’.
Chiara Vigo is an interesting woman; a descendant of 30 generations of bisso-weavers, she has long known of the magical properties of these sea creatures, which secrete sticky keratin filaments in order to attach themselves to hard surfaces.
Today the pinna nobilis is an endangered species, so Vigo visits an undisclosed site where she dives down to a depth of around 13 metres and, without harming the host mollusc, takes around 300 grams of the bisso per visit, then heads back to her workshop where the thread is placed in ‘magic’ water that Vigo believes gives it strength and brightens the colour to a golden brown. It’s then woven into beautiful designs, such as the ‘Soffio di Vita’ (Breath of Life).
There’s a magic about her work; she doesn’t buy the thread, so never sells her work – she gifts it; when we visited she was stitching a lovely piece for a Polish girl, Anna, who was about to be married.
In spite of her skill and craft, Vigo is unfinanced.
Tip: If you’re visiting, swing by the excellent Ristorante da Achille (Via Nazionale 82).
Museo del Bisso, Viale Regina Margherita, 111, Sant’Antioco, www.chiaravigo.com