Three years, 1.2 million Golden Orb Weaver spiders individually collected in the highlands of Madagascar and many hours of intensive labour by specially skilled workers; all employed to produce the only hand-embroidered large textile made purely out of spider silk, showcased at the V&A Museum in London (25 January – 5 June 2012). The Greek philosopher Democritus advocated that humans learned how to weave by watching spiders. It was the same admiration and awe that the British Simon Peers and the American Nicholas Godley felt after witnessing the excellent outcome of the flawless nets made by the Golden spiders of Madagascar.
Although spider silk is thought to be the finest type of silk, history tells us that there have been very few experiments and previous attempts to weave spider silk, mainly due to the difficulty in its process. The Frenchman Francois-Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire was the first to get his hands on spider silk by illustrating how fabric could be spun from it in 1709 producing a line of clothes for the King Louis XVI. In fact, the last garment made of spider silk was created in the 19th century for the Paris Exposition Universelle, yet with no samples remaining.
Wanting to revive history, exploit this precious source and create a unique conception, Peers and Godley started experimenting with spider silk in 2004. The choice of a cape was made upon the need to create a piece that would be versatile but simultaneously inspirational. And so, it took millions of female spiders, thousands of working hours and a team of 80 specially trained handlers to make the largest garment of spider silk in the world.
In order to create the textiles, the spiders were collected each morning in the wilds of Madagascar, held for 20 minutes whilst they produced between 30-50 meters of thread and then were released back in the wild - unlike the mulberry silk from silkworms in which the pupa is killed in its cocoon. Skilled handlers then took the silk to the workshop and put it in weaving cones. With regards to the cape, the main weave is made up of 96 strands, the lining 48 strands and its appliqué embroidery is made using unspun 24 strand silk. It is worth noting that on average of 23,000 spiders produce approximately 1 ounce of silk, only further emphasizing the rarity and uniqueness of these creations.
The Spider silk creation was firstly displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2009, where it surpassed all records for visitor numbers at a single exhibit exhibit and as part of the new African gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. Following this US success, Peers claims; 'We were keen to show in 2012 the spider silk textiles at the V&A as it was the most appropriate place to premiere this work in Europe. An exquisite creation, a highly admirable work that met the ambitions of its creators; at a time when it sometimes feels like it’s all been done, we wanted to produce something magical, something to marvel at'.