Art & Culture — 25 January 2012
See what happens when a spider spins a yarn at the V&A
Detail of embroidered cape made of spider silk, made by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, 2011

Today the V&A will open the doors of its latest show, and what lies behind them is truly extraordinary.

Golden Spider Silk will display the world’s only large textiles created from silk – spider silk. It is the work of international team based in Madagascar.

Historical records tell us that on a very few occasions in the past, spider silk was successfully harvested but it is a skill that had been lost for over a century – until now.

The statistics surrounding the creation of the items on display, which include a four metre long woven robe, are truly astounding.

The silk of over one million spiders was required to produce the garments. To do this, a team of 80 people had to ‘harness’ the spiders into specially created ‘silking’ contraptions, for which they could only use 24 spiders at a time.

To say this was a painstakingly slow process would be something of an understatement. It required some 23,000 arachnids to yield a single ounce (that’s just 28 grams) of silk.

In all, to produce the silk and weave it into a finished product took the dedicated team five years. Needless to say, the robe is effectively priceless.

Amazingly, no dyes were used to create the vibrant golden hue – the colour is 100% natural.

To this day, scientists are still trying to artificially reproduce this wondrous, naturally occurring fibre, whose properties make it stronger and lighter than steel and even the latest Kevlar, yet allow it to stretch to over 140% of its own length without breaking.

Given the work required by this organic method of harvesting silk, in which the spiders were released back into the wild after they had been ‘silked’, we’re guessing you’ll have to wait for the boys in the lab to have a breakthrough of their own before you’ll be wearing your own spidey-suit.

This free exhibit, which runs from 25 January until 5 June, is open daily from 10.00-17.45 with late opening until 22.00 on Fridays.

Golden Spider Silk
25 January – 5 June

The Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road

Underground: South Kensington
Cost: Free

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