Spider Silk Tapestry

October 4, 2009

There is a very rare and unique tapestry currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This silk250tapestry is woven from the golden-colored silk thread produced by more than one million female Golden Orb spiders found in Madagascar.

According to the museum’s website, the tapestry measures 11 feet by 4 feet and features stylized birds and flowers. It was woven based on a weaving tradition known as lamba Akotifahana from the Madagascan highlands. This type of weaving is an art reserved for the royal or upper classes of the indigenous people of the highlands.

The process by which the silk is harvested is not easy. Some 70 people using long poles collect the spiders daily from their webs which they’ve woven on telephone wires. A dozen more people draw the silk from the spiders using hand powered equipment. Once the silk is collected the spiders are returned to their perches. Unlike silkworms, spiders are very difficult to raise in captivity thus the need for this “catch and release” method. The individual threads used for weaving are made by twisting numerous spider silk filaments together. The threads are then put on a loom.  

The tapestry is on loan to the museum by its’ owners, Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley. There is an excellent video on the museum’s website which explains in detail how this truly unique tapestry came to be. Go to http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/spidersilk to check out this interesting piece!

Note: The accompanying photograph is courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.

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