Weavers Create Stunning Tapestry Made from Silk of One Million Spiders

The American Museum of Natural History recently unveiled a unique creation: a tapestry made entirely from spider silk.

If you visit New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, you may come across a big glass display case filled with a remarkable piece of artwork: a beautiful gold woven tapestry, measuring eleven feet across and four feet wide.

While the textile shows stunning craftsmanship, that’s not what makes it so special. This one of a kind tapestry was handcrafted by weavers in Madagascar—with a helping hand (or leg, rather) from more than one million golden orb-weaving spiders. Workers were trained to collect and harness the spiders, using a special machine to gather their silk. The golden hue of the tapestry is no dye: it’s the color of these unique arachnids’ silk.

Although the spiders are small and fragile, the weavers were careful not to harm them. “There’s a chain of about 80 people who go out every morning at four o’clock, collect spiders, we get them in by 10 o’clock,” Nicholas Godley, a fashion expert who helped conceive and commission the project, told NPR’s All Things Considered. “They’re in boxes, they’re numbered, and then as they get silked, about 20 minutes later, they get released back into nature.”

While the spider webs you find around your house may seem easy to destroy, the spider silk is actually remarkably tough. The spiders expel a type of material called dragline silk, which is the substance they use to frame their webs. “It’s extremely strong,” said Simon Peers, the textile maker who developed the project with Godley. “The first panel that we wove, we were quite stunned by the fact that it sounded a bit like guitar strings, pinging like metallic guitar strings. I mean, it is a very, very unusual material.”

Godley and Peers spent over $500,000 to create the spider-silk tapestry, and they weren’t sure what the result would be: because of the complexity of gathering spider silk, there’s only one existing record of a textile made from the material. It had been displayed briefly in Paris in 1900, but no one knew what had become of it.

As museumgoers can now attest, the tapestry has turned out to be a stunning success. The textile is made up of 960 lines of spider silk, which have been woven into decorative patterns. During the entire process, not a single strand was broken.

Despite the complexity of the weaving process, the entire project went off without a hitch. The most difficult part, in fact, was finding weavers willing to work with the spiders. “I think most people are arachnophobes,” said Godley. “I mean, I am, and they bite.”

See photos of the beautiful tapestry and learn about the process at the Museum of Natural History web site.

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