Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spider silk textile

Ever since I was a kid, I've heard people casually say that the tendrils from which spiders spin their webs are stronger than steel wires of the same diameter. I wondered why no one tried spinning cloth from those fibers. After years of breaking spider webs while dusting, I figured that the claim about spider silk strength was just an urban legend.

Apparently, the real answer is that some spider's silk is better than others for clothmaking. Now, a bunch of people have gone to the trouble to spin a spider silk cloth, using the silk spun by a certain species of spider that lives in Madagascar. The neatest part is that it's possible to extract the silk from the spiders without killing them, using special machines. The URL for the article about the textile has been making its way around the costume-specific mailing lists; for convenience, here it is again.

Don't place any orders; this feat probably will not be attempted again. It took 70 people four years just to collect the more than 1 million spiders necessary to obtain the spider silk for the job, and 12 more people to spin the silk and weave the cloth. This is just a museum piece, literally (the textile is going to be displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City).

However, one of the purposes of this blog, for me, is as a means to collect information about textiles and costume that I'd otherwise let fall through the cracks. Most of the time, I use it to keep notes of projects I want to accomplish or questions I'd like to research. I don't want to be unable to find the URL of the news article, with the picture of the beautiful golden-colored silk the spiders helped to make, in five years or so.

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