The Seaweed Queen: How a Brittany Craftswoman Creates Amazing Seaweed Crafts

Looking at these items, you would never think that they are all made from ordinary seaweed. French designer Violin Buet knows how to turn natural waste into durable objects

Everyone who enters Violaine's workshop in the Breton seaside town of Auray is immediately enveloped in a sweetish iodine scent. This is dried algae – the main material with which the designer works. After drying, she dyes, sews, weaves, presses, stuffs and hardens them, covers them with embossing or engraving. In general, he uses about a dozen techniques that allow you to create a variety of products from algae: from home textiles to haute couture dresses and art objects.

Queen of Seaweed: How a Brittany Craftswoman Creates Amazing Creations from Marine Plants

If the order is large, Violin turns to the services of local farmers who are engaged in the collection and harvesting of algae. But mostly she prefers to collect the material herself: according to her, this is her favorite part of the work, since the natural structure and color already allow us to imagine what interesting things can be made from them. By the way, spring & nbsp; – from February to May – is the best season for collecting algae, since it is at this time that they grow most intensively. So Violin immediately warns that she cannot talk for a long time. Even on her birthday on February 23, she has a lot of things to do: a walk along a windy beach, work in a workshop and negotiate with customers.

Violin Buet

Textile designer from algae

Queen of seaweed: how a craftswoman from Brittany creates amazing objects from marine vegetation

Born in 1977 in Brittany. Studied in Paris. Initially, she specialized in the humanities, studied sign language. Then she graduated from the French design school ENSCI. After graduation, she left for India, where she lived for seven years.

After returning to France, she decided to focus on working with natural materials. She graduated from ENSAD High School of Decorative Arts and opened her own studio in Auray in Brittany in 2016, where she began to create textiles from local algae.

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Violaine, the first question begs itself: why algae? How did you come up with the idea to work with this particular material?

– Oh, that's not a strange choice at all. In fact, algae is a Breton specialty, on our coast you can find more than 700 varieties of macroscopic algae, which are used in various fields, such as medicine. In Brittany, their collection and harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular industry.

I honestly can't remember any exact moment when I thought, oh, algae is a great idea. The project appeared by itself from some intuitive feeling. Five years ago (in 2016 — Note by I decided to leave Paris and return to my native land to work on my own and only with natural materials. I wandered along the coast, watched the locals collect algae, began to study these biological forms myself, read several books about macroalgae, then I realized: this is what I want to work with.

Queen of seaweed: how a craftswoman from Brittany creates amazing items from marine vegetation

How did it happen that you started doing handmade work? After all, initially you planned a completely different career?

— You are right, at first I was fascinated by industrial design. I liked big factories, production technologies, that is, I was quite an ordinary modern designer. After graduation, I went to India for an internship, and then it turned out that I started a family and lived in Bangalore for seven years.

There I collaborated for two years with a small atelier that specialized in handmade items made from natural materials. I delved deeper into this process and finally decided that this was the most interesting way for me to work. Therefore, when I returned to France, I completed another course, now applied design.

It seems that this has become a trend lately: many creative people leave their corporate careers, leave megacities for the outback, master some kind of manufacturing craft, instead of relying on industrial technology. Why do you think this is happening? Is it an escape from modernity? Tired of the rigid rules of society?

I can't answer for everyone. Five years ago, I knew exactly what I wanted. When you are almost forty, you already have experience, a wealth of knowledge and a realistic idea of ​​​​what you expect from life in the future, you are not afraid to look at yourself in the mirror and talk honestly with yourself about who you are and what you are. want to do more.

I knew I didn't want to live in Paris anymore. I spent eight years in this city – this lifestyle and career did not attract me at all. And I realized that I want to work with some kind of “live” material that I can control at all stages of the process. I do not depend on suppliers, intermediaries, third-party technologists – in general, from anyone. Algae is a completely free material with unique biological characteristics that I can make whatever I want.

Queen of seaweed: how a craftswoman from Brittany creates amazing objects from sea vegetation

Have you studied seaweed techniques or invented them yourself ?

— Most of what I do, I invented myself, because I specialize in macroalgae textiles, and this is a rather rare direction. I had to experiment a lot at first, to act through trial and error. But I'm certainly not the only one working with this unusual material.

At the beginning of my journey, I met the German designer and art professor Julia Loman, she began to specialize in algae long before me. Although she creates sculptures from them, I was inspired by her work in many ways. We call each other “algae sisters”. In the end, we decided to unite and founded the “Department of Algae” society. In addition to Julia and me, there are five other artists from different countries who are experimenting with this material.

The Seaweed Queen: How a Brittany Craftswoman Creates Amazing objects from sea vegetation

Are there any general principles for working with algae? And how to properly handle such products?

– Collecting algae is not very difficult, although tedious, because it must be done at high tide, when the wave brings them to the shore alive. Then they need to be thoroughly washed and dried, so that they do not lose their structure. I work with scientists who specialize in algae to better understand the properties of these organisms. Of course, you need to understand that algae products are not for centuries. They do not tolerate moisture well, and over time they are prone to destruction. But they are absolutely waste-free, 100% eco-friendly biodegradable products.

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< p>I think it's the environmental aspect that attracts your customers in the first place. The material is free, its extraction does not harm nature, there is no waste. Can you say that in the four years that your atelier has existed, the demand for algae products has increased?

“They started talking about them more. I work for myself, so I prefer to make things to order: I don’t have an online store or some kind of showroom. But I can say for sure that the popularity of algae as an artistic material is growing. I was approached by a famous fashion house to create clothes and jewelry, I collaborate with famous artists and specialists in mesology (the science of the interaction of the body and the environment).

The Seaweed Queen: How a Brittany Craftswoman Creates Amazing Creations from Marine Plants

Do you think you've found your life's work?< /strong>

– Don't know. For me, this is primarily a job, quite difficult, but very interesting. I can’t say that I’m confident in my future, but now I’m happy with the way I live. I do not have a clear schedule, superiors and subordinates, every day is different from the previous ones, and I love Brittany. There is amazing nature, the sea, you can swim and surf. And I'm glad I found a way to create a 100% Breton product.

Aure, Morbihan Department, Brittany, France

Queen of seaweed: how a craftswoman from Brittany creates amazing objects from marine vegetation

Population of Brittany 3,374,000 people . (9th among French regions)
Population density 120 inhabitants/km²
Languages French, Breton, Gallo
Aure population< /strong> 14,155 people

Traditional dishes: Breton pancakes galettes sarrasin made from buckwheat flour, oysters and other fresh seafood, smoked pig intestine sausages, black pudding, pork stew with dumplings kig ha farz , salted butter.
Traditional drinks: apple cider, apple lambig brandy, shushen apple juice mead.
Sightseeing: 15th-century stone bridge and the ancient Saint-Goustan district on the banks of the Auray River, the 19th-century Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes chapel, the mausoleum of Georges Cadoudal, who was executed for the assassination attempt on Napoleon.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Auray ≈ 3305 km (4 hours 10 minutes flight to Paris, then 2 hours 50 minutes by train)
TIME2 hours behind Moscow


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 3, April 2021, partially updated in May 2023

Elizaveta Epifanova

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