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London museum displays textiles made from golden silk of millions of spiders

By Nancy Szokan,

Oh, what a golden web they weave

The golden orb spider (Nephila madagascariensis) spins a unique silk, naturally gold in color. Last week, it made a memorable debut in the fashion world.

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum put on display a remarkable cape woven from silk extracted from about 1.2 million female spiders in the highlands of Madagascar, an island off Africa’s southeastern coast. The project was the work of English textile expert Simon Peers and U.S. designer Nicholas Godley. For three years, dozens of workers collected spiders every morning and harnessed them 24 at a time into special “milking” contraptions that allowed workers to extract their silk. The museum notes that it takes about 23,000 extractions to create one ounce of silk thread.

Animal lovers, note: At the end of a day’s milking, the spiders were returned to the wild.

Under Peers’s and Godley’s direction, the spun silk was hand-woven into fabric, then elaboratedly embroidered with a design inspired by 19th-century illustrations featuring — what else? — spiders. (A video on the museum’s Web site, www.vam.ac.
uk,
shows the process.) The result is a cape 13 feet long, which was modeled at the museum last week and will remain on display until June 5. Undyed, it has an intense, sunny yellow color and is described as much lighter and softer than fabric made from the silk of silkworms.

— Nancy Szokan

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