Golden Spider Silk

I’d been looking forward to seeing the Golden Spider Silk exhibition at the V&A (London) for a while, and it didn’t disappoint.

The exhibition was made up of two spider silk garments and working drawings, as well as information on the process and a display showing how incredibly strong the silk threads are. There was also a video playing showing the process of collecting the silk from the spiders, which held everyone’s attention.

I found the whole idea of harvesting a spider’s web from the live golden silk orb-weaver spider to use as a material to produce a textile item from fascinating, and had no idea research into collecting spider silk had been going on for so long (c.1620).  The two items on show were woven garments (a cape and a shawl), adorned with embroidery and appliqué.

My favourite facts from the exhibition are:

  • The spiders are cannibalistic.  If you try to breed them together they eat each other until only one spider is left, so cultivated spiders needed to be kept in individual enclosures.
  • The threads haven’t been dyed, and the golden colour occurs naturally.
  • 24 threads are twisted together to make one thread, this is then doubled and doubled again to make one warp thread of 96 individual spider threads.
  • The weft yarn is made up of two of the 96 strand threads, so 192 individual threads in total.

The following videos from the V&A show Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley talking about their project, and the process of collecting the spider silk.

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