The world’s largest spider silk garment is on display for the first time at the Victoria & Albert museum. Spider silk is one of those ultra-exotic luxuries that crops up from time to time in fantasies, often imbued with magical powers. A spider silk cape, one can imagine, might come with Spidey powers: keen senses, near-invisibility, the ability to leap from building to building. It’s so easy to throw spider silk into the economy of one’s fantasy world, along with heart-sized rubies and mollusk-made purple dye.
However, this article shows that some things are too rare and too labor-intensive to be more than one-time novelties:
To create the cape, British art historian Simon Peers and his American business partner Nicholas Godley spent five years collecting and harnessing over 1 million spiders in special “silking” contraptions to extract their threads, 24 critters at a time.
On average, 23,000 spiders yield roughly 1 ounce of silk, making the process intensely laborious and time-consuming. It’s not hyperbole then to claim that the textiles are among the world’s most rare and precious objects—liquid gold, if you will.
Unless, of course, you have a high-tech world where they’ve figured out how to manufacture artificial spider silk.
Or they have really really big arachnids.
“Spider hunter” on that world might be an um… interesting job!
I would love to touch spider silk cloth, though. Just to see how it feels.
What about you? What rare or one-of-kind item would you like to see in person or hold in your hand for a few minutes?
Wow. I’m in awe—and trying to think of how it could be a feasible part of any society.
Only way I can come up with is the giant arachnids–or the artificial silk! It’s pretty cool, though, isn’t it!
Jo Anderton says
Spider hunter… oh that is SO a story right there!
Somehow my brain is giving me Elinor = spider hunter ??!
I think she would make a wonderful giant spider bait… I mean, hunter! 😉
No giant arachnids thank goodness – they’ve put the gene or genes for producing spider silk into silk worms, and they produce silk as usual – only it’s got the properties of spider silk.
I assume that they’ve somehow got rid of its stickiness?
What I’d like to feel is the fibre made from crab shells…
I didn’t even think of gene modification. Perhaps spider silk will be hitting the markets some time in the near future?
Crab shell fiber? I didn’t even know there was such a thing!
I’ll ask Mr Prue about the spider-silk. He read something about it in New Scientist or somewhere.
I didn’t know crab shell fibre existed either, until my sister requested some for her birthday 🙂
Apparently the shells are dissolved then extruded through fine nozzles. The fibre is very soft – so how easy it is to spin it into yarn I’m not sure.
Makes me wonder what other strange and unusual fibres are available…
Yeah, me, too! A quick Google search revealed that one person was spinning fibers from porcupine quills!
I found a bunch of articles on this stuff and the only reason they seem to say it’s not sustainable to make it using spiders themselves is because they can’t farm them. They kill each other. I haven’t found any reason though, you couldn’t just keep them in separate cages or acquariums. It doesn’t seem impossible to farm spiders unless they require some huge amount of space, and with up to 30 living in a single tree, I’m not seeing it.
Catherine Johnson says
Whatever next, how interesting! At least it’s free labour and materials 🙂
Heh. Well, they still have to catch and release the spiders! Which they did every day, if I remember correctly. 🙂