Arachnophobe ‘Milks’ 1.2 Million Spiders Over Seven Years To Make Cape From Their Silk
An arachnophobe and historian led an audacious project, ‘milking’ 1.2 million spiders over seven years to make a massive cape.
In 2012, US fashion designer Nicholas Godley and Simon Peers, a British art and textiles expert, revealed their Golden Spider silk cape at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
It was the result of a seven-year project in Madagascar, where the pair had been living for quite sometime. Alongside a team of 80 people, they harvested the silk of millions of spiders in the name of fashion.
Godley explained to CNN: ‘The idea of using spider silk to create garments goes back 300 years. The last significant attempt to succeed was at the turn of the century, when a French Jesuit priest based in Madagascar, Jacob Paul Camboue, experimented with ‘milking’ spiders for their silk.’
Despite working with them so intimately, Godley added: ‘I am fascinated by them, but still frightened of them: Spiders are poisonous, and they bite people. I am slowly trying to overcome it, but it hasn’t stopped.’
In order to create their ‘spidery’, the team used long poles to collect female Golden Orb spiders – the only ones capable of producing silk – and scaled up a tool for harnessing and harvesting the material. However, they needed to be kept apart as they’re cannibalistic spiders, so they’d just eat each other.
We were amazed – you stand there watching it happen and you start to question your sanity. Is this really happening, or have I lost my bananas? We had 24 spiders harnessed up, the spindle was going, and silk was coming out. That was our eureka moment. We were over the moon, but it was just the beginning.
At first, they produced a four-metre-long brocade scarf, first shown at New York’s Natural History Museum in 2009. ‘We wondered what to make next, and I really liked the idea of a cape, because of the fact that spiders cocoon their prey, wrapping them up, and I was intrigued by the thought of being cocooned in spider silk,’ he said.
Then, 6,000 hours of embroidering and millions of spiders later, the cape was complete; it’s apparently so weightless, people couldn’t tell they were holding it.
The cape itself is like an invisibility cloak, you almost wouldn’t know you were wearing it, and it has this mystical, ephemeral quality, just like a spider’s web, but also a permanence. A spiderweb is here today and gone tomorrow, but we have found a way to harness that and turn it into something lasting.
However, Godley explained: ‘From a fashion perspective, it’s impractical. It’s a natural fibre, and it shrinks, so you can’t wash or dry clean it, and obviously it is hugely expensive to produce, so how would you begin to price it?’
It seems it’ll be a while before a slew of spider silk attire hits the web.
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