A mixing layer is formed by bringing two streams of water, moving at different velocities, together in a lucite-walled channel. The Reynolds number, based on the velocity difference and the thickness of the shear layer, varies from about 45, where the shear layer originates, to about 850 at a distance of 50 cm. Dye is injected between the two streams just before they are brought together, marking the vorticity-carrying fluid. Unstable waves grow, and fluid is observed to roll up into discrete two-dimensional vortical structures. These turbulent vortices interact by rolling around each other, and a single vortical structure, with approximately twice the spacing of the former vortices, is formed. This pairing process is observed to occur repeatedly, controlling the growth of the mixing layer. A simple model of the mixing layer contains, as the important elements controlling growth, the degree of non-uniformity in the vortex train and the ‘lumpiness’ of the vorticity field.