The wonders of spider silk

The extraordinary cloth that took three years and over a million spiders to produce

Golden spider silk clothAt some point, most of us have probably paused to marvel at the beauty and strength of a spider’s web. And the silk that makes it is something that has fascinated researchers for many years – light and flexible yet stronger than any metal, could it have the potential to create the ultimate fabric?

Unfortunately, the likelihood of picking up a spider silk shirt on the high street is infinitesimally small. Spiders aren’t quite as accommodating as silk worms when it comes to being farmed for silk – in fact they develop such cannibalistic tendencies that housing them together is virtually impossible. This means spider silk is incredibly hard to mass produce.

Amazingly however, it has been done. A team led by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley not only managed to harvest spider silk but have produced the only known spider silk garments, a beautiful cape and shawl, from the rare silk.

Golden Orb spider

These garments have been on display at the V&A as well as the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They are both unique and awe-inspiring. Gathering the material for the cape involved 80 people, who went out into the Madagascan highlands in search of the orb-weaver spider. Once found, these spiders’ silk was gathered, turned into thread and then woven into the cloth. This took place everyday for three years, catching and releasing over a million spiders in the process!

Spider silk capeSo, was it worth the effort? The finished result is stunning. The vivid golden colour has not been treated or dyed but is the silk’s natural pigment, and it almost glows. The cloth looks incredibly lightweight and the dedication and craftsmanship that has gone into its production is clear to see.

Speaking about the finished result, Simon Peers said ‘This isn’t about fashion, this is about creating something extraordinary and magical, and it’s something which is unique’.

The properties of this super silk have fascinated scientists due to the fact that it is so strong, flexible and naturally antibacterial. Indeed, a Japanese company, Spiber, has developed an artificial fibre based around it.

Synthetic spider silk dressThey believe this synthetic spider silk could have a huge range of uses from artificial blood vessels to high-end fashion. And their first creation from this wonder textile is a stunning electric blue cocktail dress.

Although most of us are extremely unlikely to ever wear real spider silk clothing, its synthetic cousin may impact our lives in the future. These inspirational garments are illustrations of the ingenuity of nature and the determination of man, both are inspiring and truly suspend disbelief.

Learn more about Golden Orb spiders and the fascinating production of spider silk

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