Before anyone asks, no, it’s not bulletproof. But that doesn’t mean that the glistening yellow cape—the world’s largest garment made entirely from spider silk—isn’t a massive feat of engineering to be marveled (it is and you should). Now on public display for the first time at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the textile gets its unearthly gleam from the undyed filaments of the golden orb spider, a species of arachnid commonly found in Madagascar. Girl power can be taken literally in this instance: Only the females produce the coveted silk.
ALONG CAME A SPIDER
To create the cape, British art historian Simon Peers and his American business partner Nicholas Godley spent five years collecting and harnessing over 1 million spiders in special “silking” contraptions to extract their threads, 24 critters at a time. But unlike mulberry silk from silkworms, in which the hapless pupa is boiled alive in its cocoon, the spiders were released into the wild at the end of each day.
On average, 23,000 spiders yield roughly 1 ounce of silk, making the process intensely time-consuming.
An 11-foot-long prototype of the spider-silk textile debuted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2009, where it broke all records for most number of visitors to a single exhibit. On average, 23,000 spiders yield roughly 1 ounce of silk, making the process intensely laborious and time-consuming. It’s not hyperbole then to claim that the textiles are among the world’s most rare and precious objects—liquid gold, if you will.
Gossamer light with hardly any heft, the cape features intricate embroidered and appliquéd motifs that “celebrate the spider in myth and metaphor,” according to a press release. Visitors to the museum can view the exhibit from January 25 to June 5, 2012.