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Noodler's Forest Green Fountain Pen Ink

Noodler’s Forest Green Fountain Pen Ink

Today we feature a short post about ink…among other things.  The other night I rediscovered my old dip pens and I was doing some doodling (more about that later).  It reminded me of how wonderful dip pens, quills, and fountain pens really are.  I did some online research and I found a contemporary ink company called “Noodler’s Ink” which is an American company which specializes in fancy inks and pigments for specialty pens.  The reason this belongs on this blog is that they are obsessed with catfish—which feature heavily on their marketing and promotional material.  Here are some of the endearing and whimsical catfish drawings which Noodler’s puts on their bottles and boxes of ink.

Various boxes of Noodler's Black Ink

Various boxes of Noodler’s Black Ink

Noodling is a sort of loose word which can be used to describe doodling, but it is also a traditional southern method of fishing for catfish where the angler uses his or her fingers as a lure.  The intrepid fisherperson reaches into promising holes and pits in the bottom of the waterway and wiggles his fingers provocatively in hopes that a catfish will mistake them for some sort of prey.  If the catfish bites the angler’s hand he then uses brute strength to wrestle the fish bodily from the water.  Below is a picture of a Lucy Millsap, a professional (?) noodler landing a monstrous flathead catfish.  It sounds like an interesting sport I guess, but I think I’ll stick to noodlin’ with paper and ink.

Lucy Millsap with a Flathead Catfish she captured by "noodling"

Lucy Millsap with a Flathead Catfish she captured by “noodling”

Pinna nobilis growing in the wild

Luxury fiber is a strange thing.  Linen comes from flax (which has some legitimate claims to being the first domesticated plant). Silk is derived from the cocoons of lepidoterans.  Qiviut comes from the undercoats of musk-oxen.  One of the rarest of all luxury fibers comes from an even more peculiar source.  “Sea silk” is produced by collecting and spinning the long micro filaments or “byssus” secreted by several kinds of bivalve mollusks–expecially Pinna nobilis (a large saltwater clam once widespread in the Mediterranean ocean).  Pinna nobilis can grow up to a meter (3 feet) in size and anchors itself to the ocean floor with an extremely fine fiber it excretes from a land in its foot.

A Pinna nobilis shell and naturally colored sea silk gloves

The fiber was mentioned in various Greek, Egyptian, and Roman sources (and an analog seems to have existed in ancient China) but differentiating sea silk made from mollusk fibers from similar luxury fibers like cocoon silk, or fine linen seems to be more a matter of context rather than of terminology.  Sea silk is finer than the true silk produced from silkworm cocoons.  It was said that a pair of ladies’ gloves made of sea-silk could be folded into one half of a walnut shell because the fiber was so profoundly delicate.  Sea silk was warm and durable but it was infamous for attracting clothing moths.  A few pieces have survived in museums including the extraordinary mediaeval chasuble of St. Yves pictured below.

The chasuble of St. Yves in Louannec (woven of byssus/sea silk)

Unfortunately the Pinna nobilis clams which are the source of byssus fibers have declined rapidly in number thanks to overfishing, pollution, and the general decline of the Mediterranean sea-grass beds.  Other fibers like seaweed based cellulose or watered silk have adopted the “sea silk” name further confusing the issue.   Today the sea silk industry only barely survives in Sardinia where a handful of aging practitioners keep it alive–more for tradition’s sake than economic reward.

Chiara Vigo, one of the last sea silk textile masters

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