The byssus, from fish to sea silk thread


Equated to gold by its rich history and appearance, sea silk is a fiber that is worth the detour. Very little known to the general public, marine silk has many advantages as a textile fiber. It comes straight from the abysses thanks to the byssus present on certain marine mollusks. Let’s discover together the characteristics of this fiber as interesting as amazing.

What is byssus?

Sea silk is made from a set of fibres secreted by certain molluscs which enable them to adhere to their support: the byssus. More commonly, these are the filaments that can be seen at the base of certain molluscs, particularly on the large mother-of-pearl. These are extremely fine brown silky threads that turn golden and can be harvested. And if there is thread, there can be weaving! This is how, as early as antiquity, men used this fibre to create the most luxurious clothes of the time.

The revival of a past fibre?

Byssus and marine silk have a reputation for being highly coveted throughout the ages and for being so precious. It was mainly used to create golden fabrics for luxury cloths. It was known as “the gold of the sea” or “the silk of kings”. The richest and most powerful people wanted to obtain this rare marine fabric at any price. After all, it can only be harvested in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the harvesting of byssus and its weaving have lost their splendour: there are only a few workshops left offering the manufacture of this exceptional fabric. However, this craft still exists in France, notably in Marseillan, where a company wants to promote this natural, environmentally friendly fibre.

From fishing to sea silk

The process to achieve the silky, golden fabric is very complex. After being separated from their support and fished with special tools, the byssus threads are washed, dried, combed, spun and soaked in a lemon juice solution. Their golden colour then emerges from this process, more beautiful than ever, and they can be woven into many eco-responsible textile products. Sea silk can be used to make embroidery or accessories such as gloves or hats. This marine fabric also has interesting properties due to its natural adhesiveness and remarkable elasticity.

Byssus Tricoté
Photo Credit: Chartier Jules Michel – Byssus Tricoté

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