Monday, October 1, 2012

Spinning spiders

It may have gone unnoticed by you, but the art of weaving spider silk into fabric has been perfected. In my previous post about the technique, used to produce a 4m-long tapestry (see Gossamer), I mentioned how labor-intensive it is, which elicited the following amusing comment from my arachnophobe sister: "The idea of forcing spiders to work in sweat shops is sort of deliciously sinister." The spiders have now been enslaved a day at a time to make a brocaded cape of the same signature saffron color (photos here and here, detail above), and the process is no more efficient. Trained handlers catch and harness 24 female golden orb weaver spiders at a time and return them to the wild after their shift. The cape took a labor force of 80 humans and 1,200,000 spiders 5 years to make. The work was done in the highlands of Madagascar, to which the designers Englishman Simon Peers and American Nicholas Godley each have ties. This odd use of spider silk is not unprecedented, though historically it was reserved for royalty. Frenchman Francois-Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire made a suit of clothes, a pair of gloves, and a set of stockings for King Louis XIV in the 18th c. and Spaniard Raimondo de Termeyer produced stockings for Emperor Napoleon and a shawl for Empress Josephine in the 19th c. The 21st c. contributions to the forgotten art were on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum earlier this year (see press release) and the designers demonstrated a peculiar quality of the textiles to journalist Denna Jones, who was unable to feel the woven silk touch her hand. "It's like an invisibility cloakbecause you can't feel spider silk," says Godley. Peers adds, "If we hadn't made the cape, this silk would be webs in the wind. That's part of the magic. It's something so ephemeral and yet somehow we've managed to capture it."

Thanks, Chase!
If you dare...

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