Published on September 29th, 2009 | by Becky Striepe


Fab Fabrics: Spider Silk

[Female Golden Orb Spider. Creative Commons photo via quintanaroo]

It is in the name of Fab Fabrics and Halloween that I’m trying to put my fear of spiders on the back burner so I can tell you about the spookiest natural fiber I’ve ever heard of: spider silk.

This is not a fabric that’s available commercially, but it did feel like it was worth a mention over here. According to Wired:

To produce this unique golden cloth, 70 people spent four years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar, while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids. The resulting 11-foot by 4-foot textile is the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk existing in the world today.

It takes about 14,000 female golden orb spiders to yield an ounce of the silk. It took collecting the spiders and harnessing them to the extraction machine (which they say does not harm the creatures) to produce the 11 x 4 foot piece of cloth and over one million spiders. A million spiders! That is my nightmare!

Right, but setting my arachnophobia aside, spider silk is pretty amazing stuff. Textile expert Simon Peers, who co-led the spider silk project says:

Spider silk is very elastic, and it has a tensile strength that is incredibly strong compared to steel or Kevlar. There’s scientific research going on all over the world right now trying to replicate the tensile properties of spider silk and apply it to all sorts of areas in medicine and industry, but no one up until now has succeeded in replicating 100 percent of the properties of natural spider silk.

So what do you guys think? Is spider silk an eco fabric or just my nightmare fuel?

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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

7 Responses to Fab Fabrics: Spider Silk

  1. Bob says:

    This is a whimsical comment but really the action of making this cloth must have cost more than a million dollars to make the 11 foot by 4 foot fabric. That’s a pretty whimsical act.

    So, what we do is genetically design a dog to excrete this silk out of a few glands, someplace where the dog can’t constantly get at it and eat it.

    Then once a day we feed the dog one morsel of food at a time for about a half an hour. When the dog eats you attach the spider web “milking machine” and get the web material. Then all your clothes can be made from this material.

  2. Esther says:

    wow, genetically modifying a dog? That might be a bit overkill. Bacteria might be a better fit (or third world orphans, as suggested by Mom in Futurama).

    But I tend to agree. When we think about the energy used to make a product that should include manpower. If all those people were producing food, for example, that would have been energy better spent (…although that presupposes that they had alternative work sources…)

  3. Live For Truth says:

    Do you honestly believe extracting the silk does not hurt the spider? Does the same go for hooking up the cow to the milking machine, or mass production of chicken eggs to the point the chicken’s uterus falls out. The word “extraction” does not sound very natural. Anything taken in excess is not natural & immoral. Just because you can’t hear a spider scream, or think it does not show emotion, does not mean it does not.

  4. I agree with Live For Truth. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the forced extraction of milk, eggs or silk. The product may be natural and eco-friendly indeed, but the process….very unnatural. I think we’ll stick to selling fun spider novelty fabric instead! http://bit.ly/1H6R1A
    Thanks for the interesting info.

  5. Esther/Live for Truth – Good points! I’m sort of leaning towards nightmare fuel.

  6. Mainerd says:

    Quite an amazing and interesting process. But does it still catch bugs?

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