Golden tapestry woven from spider silk goes on show

Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:11pm EDT
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By Ben Gruber

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A tapestry woven with the silk of more than 1 million spiders has been put on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York as scientists struggle to artificially replicate the strong, ductile material.

It took about 80 people around four years to produce the piece of golden fabric measuring 11 feet long by 4 feet wide which creators Nicholas Godley and Simon Peers describe as a unique work of art.

They said the only other known example of a spider silk tapestry was last seen on display in Paris more than a 100 years ago. It was subsequently lost and has not been seen since.

Godley, an American fashion expert, and Simon Peers, a textile maker who lives in Madagascar, took on the challenge after studying the work of French missionary Jacob Paul Comboue.

Comboue worked with spiders in Madagascar in the 1880s but had limited success with weaving their silk, also known as gossamer, as he tried to make silk in much the same way that silkworm cocoons have been used for centuries.

Godley says they studied Camboue's writings and improved on his methods for extracting silk filament from golden orb spiders but they faced plenty of challenges along the way.

"Once we got started the big challenge was a logistical challenge, figuring out how to get so many spiders and doing so in obviously a sustainable way," Godley told Reuters Television.

"The female spiders are cannibalistic, so they eat each other. So we originally tried to raise them which didn't work. We started with 20 in the morning and the next morning we had five left. So collecting was the only option."   Continued...