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Milking a Million Spiders | Real Spider Silk Cloth

Updated on September 23, 2009

Some of you may recall this little tale I wrote concerning a fellow who created invisible lingerie by weaving the silk of spiders into cloth. Well, little did I know as I was writing it that somewhere in the world, (Madagascar, as it happens,) there were some guys actually painstakingly weaving silk cloth from the silk of a million wild spiders. As usual, life is far stranger and far more interesting than anything dreamed up in fiction.

Unlike the fictional spider silk cloth, this cloth is not invisible, rather it has a brilliant golden hue imparted to it by its creators, the Golden Orb spiders of Madagascar.

From the Wired Science article:

“To produce this unique golden cloth, 70 people spent four years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar, while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids. The resulting 11-foot by 4-foot textile is the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk existing in the world today.”

Though this is a recent achievement, it came on the back of what would be considered to be a fairly disturbing device developed by a French missionary, Jean Paul Camboue who, in between converting the souls of Madagascar's heathens, built a machine capable of 'milking' up to 24 spiders for their silk.

When Nicholas Godley and Simon Peers, textile experts, heard about this machine first developed in the 1890's, they decided they should build a replica. So they did. Then they rounded up twenty golden orb spiders, popped them in the device, turned the crank and lo and behold, golden threads of spider silk emerged.

Twenty spiders was not nearly enough however, in order to make enough silk to create two ounces of cloth they theoretically needed over twenty thousand spiders. Unfortunately the project was complicated by the fact that the spiders had a habit of biting the heads off their fellow spinners, not to mention their human handlers. By the end of the project, they'd used over a million spiders.

The product of this great project is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and this may be the only place that you'll be able to enjoy spider silk cloth for quite some time. What, with the cantankerous nature of arachnids, not to mention the fact that it requires over a million of them to create 44 square feet of cloth, spider silk doesn't look like it will become a cost effective material any time soon.



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