Saturday, November 27

Eight years and 2 m arachnids later, spider silk fabrics are exhibited in London | Museums

Tropical female spiders are the size of a child’s hand, can eat their male relatives for lunch, and produce extraordinary golden silk that can be made into textiles like nothing else on the planet.

That’s the idea. But execution of such a project it was much more complicated. About 2 million spiders had to be collected from the highlands of Madagascar and their silk was harvested for eight years to produce just four textiles.

It was agreed textile designer Simon Peers, a crazy endeavor to embark on in the first place. “For several hundred years you will find strange people who have tried to do this and each time they have been found to be insane,” he said.

“I guess we just did the same thing and somehow pushed it a little further than anyone has ever done. I hope we have created some beautiful and wonderful things. “

Three of the four textiles that Peers and businessman Nicholas Godley helped create will be exhibited in the UK at an exhibition of rare and curious objects related to the natural world.

The London show will also include sculptures of Chinese roots, meteorites and a sapphire inscribed as belonging to King Seleucus (3rd century BC).

A golden silk orb-weaver.
The spiders were collected each morning and used in groups of 24. At the end of the day, the spiders were returned unharmed. Photograph: Artush / Getty Images / iStockphoto

But the star exhibits will be the three textiles: two shawls and a lamba, a traditional Madagascan garment made from the silk of golden orb weaving spiders.

The project involved 15 years of research, which included examining the efforts of people who had tried similar things in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The eight years of production involved a team of 80 men and women trained and employed to scour the highlands of Madagascar for spiders.

They were collected in the morning and harvested in groups of 24, each placed in an individual compartment with equipment that could thread their silk into the cones. At the end of the day, the spiders were returned unharmed.

A gold cape that was produced was displayed for praise at the V&A in 2012. Sir David Attenborough wrote in the catalog: “Surely it must be counted as one of the rarest and most glamorous fabrics. Thank God the world still has wonders. “

Peers said that normally ephemeral silk had a wonderful golden translucency. “We have not done anything to the silk, we have literally taken it from the spider. We haven’t had to wash it or dye it or do anything with it except double or triple it or whatever to make the yarn we need ”.

It has a unique feel, Peers said. If you close your eyes and ask someone to put the silk in your hand, “You don’t feel anything, it’s quite strange. All you feel is the heat of your reflected hand, you don’t feel the silk. It’s almost like an invisibility cloak … it’s pretty weird. “

Spider silk has remarkable strength and elasticity properties, Peers said. “Many laboratories are working to try to replicate the properties of spider silk, but without using the spider, because the results are extraordinary.”

Peers hopes that they have managed to create beautiful and rare things that also have art and poetry.

The Natural World show will take place at Oliver Hoare, Cromwell Place, London, from September 22 to October 22.

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