Saturday, 21 January 2012

Spidey Skills

Genuinely astonishing stuff this - arachnophobes beware...

This week, a new exhibition is expected to draw the crowds at the V&A, London: cloth and garments made entirely from spider silk.

Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley have masterminded the project. It has taken them four years to extract the silk from more than a million golden orb spiders. The silk is completely undyed - it has a naturally occurring golden sheen.

I've personally encountered these giants, which occur throughout Australia, Asia and Africa, whilst trekking through the jungle in Cambodia (see my photo, below). They have a horrendous habit of strategically placing their massive webs across footpaths and trails, then swinging into your face just when you're convinced there's nothing to worry about. My guide explained that they have a nasty bite - apparently the Madagascans employed to 'milk' the spiders for the shawl had to be trained in how to handle them properly.

Amazing beasts, but I wasn't a big fan of them in my face

The cloth created must surely rank as one of the rarest textiles in existence. For its weight, spider silk is stronger than steel, and its properties are of enormous scientific interest.

The spiders were placed in specially designed harness, and every 24 filaments extracted were twisted by hand to create a single thread. Three such threads became the silk used to weave this extraordinary object.

Although some spiders died whilst in captivity, the vast majority were released on a daily basis, and Peers and Godley say they ended up being defenders of the species - 'they really are very regal looking creatures'.

The cloth drew enormous crowds when the piece was exhibited in New York some time ago. Catch it on show in London from Jan 25th until June.  Unmissable!

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