Friday, October 2, 2009

What a golden web we weave....

Today's Fashion Friday post isn't SF-local at all, but it is personal. When I was a kid, my father had a research grant to study spider silk. This meant that our kitchen was filled with spider cages, in which garden spiders spun beautiful orb webs. We would feed them crickets from the bait shop and spray water on the webs. Periodically Dad would harvest the silk, and the spiders would immediately start spinning new webs. Occasionally one of our spiders would have babies (small enough to escape out of the cages), which was always a little disconcerting.

Why study spider silk? The American Museum of Natural History sums it up nicely (and a lot like Dad would):
For its weight, spider silk is stronger than steel, but—unlike steel—it can stretch up to 40% of its normal length. Scientists are trying to produce this intriguing material artificially on a large scale for possible uses on the battlefield, in surgery, for space exploration, and elsewhere. Since raising spiders has proven difficult, researchers are investigating ways to replicate spider silk to avoid harvesting. However, spider silk is difficult to mimic in a lab because the silk begins as a liquid in the spider's gland, becoming a remarkably strong, water-resistant solid after following a complicated course through the spider's interior.
Why bring it up in a design blog? Today I saw THIS. Some eccentric genius has created a fantastic modern silk weaving made completely of spider silk.
That golden color is undyed--the natural color of the silk. The process of harvesting, spinning, and crafting this piece of textile art is fascinating. Here are some vital stats:
  • total # of people involved: ~80
  • total # of spiders involved: 1 million
  • # of wild spiders captured per day: ~3000
  • length of a single spider's silk: up to 400 yards
  • # of silk threads that broke on the loom during weaving: zero
  • length of project: 4 years
  • total cost of the project: over $500,000
  • size of finished textile: 4 ft x 11 ft
You can read much more and see a video of the process at the museum's website, and the NY Times has a great interview with the mad geniuses behind the project.

Images from The American Museum of Natural History, courtesy of Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley. Thanks to Ecouterre for the tip.

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