Tropical female spiders are the size of a child’s hand, can devour their male cousins for supper, and create magnificent golden silk unlike anything else on the world.
That’s how it works. However, putting such a project together proved to be much more difficult. To create only four textiles, over 2 million spiders were captured from Madagascar’s highlands and their silk extracted over an eight-year period.
It was a ridiculous undertaking to begin with, according to textile designer Simon Peers. “You’ll find strange people who have tried to do this over several hundred years, and every time they’ve been discovered to be insane,” he added.
“I guess we just did what everyone else did and pushed it a little further than anyone else. I hope we’ve made something lovely.”
Three of the four textiles created by Peers and entrepreneur Nicholas Godley will be on display in the United Kingdom as part of an exhibition of rare and unusual items related to the natural environment.
A sapphire labeled as belonging to King Seleucus will be on display in London, together with Chinese root sculptures, meteorites, and a sapphire (third century BC).
The three textiles produced from the silk of golden orb-weaver spiders will be the main displays, consisting of two shawls and a lamba (a traditional Madagascan garment).
The project took 15 years to complete, and it included looking into the efforts of individuals who tried similar things in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A crew of 80 men and women were trained and hired to search Madagascar’s highlands for spiders over the course of eight years of manufacturing.
They were gathered in groups of 24 in the morning and put in separate compartments with apparatus that allowed them to thread their silk on to cones. The spiders were returned undamaged at the conclusion of the day.
In 2012, the V&A displayed a golden cape that was created to great acclaim. “It must surely be counted among the rarest and most glamorous of fabrics,” Sir David Attenborough stated in the catalogue. Thank God, there are still wonders in the world.”
The usually fleeting silk had a beautiful golden translucence, according to observers. “We have taken the silk from the spider and done nothing to it. We haven’t had to wash it, dye it, or do anything with it other than double, triple, or whatever we need to produce the thread we require.”
According to Peers, it has a distinct vibe. If you shut your eyes and ask someone to place the silk on your palm, you won’t feel anything, which is strange. You don’t feel the silk; all you sense is the heat from your palm reflected back. It’s almost as if you’re wearing a cloak of invisibility… it’s strange.”
According to Peers, spider silk has exceptional strength and elasticity. “Many laboratories are attempting to duplicate the properties of spider silk without using the spider because the results are so remarkable.”
Peers believes that they have been able to produce beautiful and unique items that are also works of art and poetry.