|Nell eyes up the spider silk cloak - designs in the background.|
Q: What's golden, glows in a dimly lit room, is covered in embroidered spiders (Nell found 66) but made from a material stronger than steel? The answer is a golden yellow spider silk cloak - currently the most beautiful exhibit in the V&A museum. Though as it's decorated with spiders, and harvested from spider silk I'm quite prepared for spider-fearers to call it nightmarish...
Turns out that Madagascar has had a spider silk spinning industry for more than 100 years and the skill goes back at least 300 years. In Madagascar they use the female golden orb spider - a big bodied, skinny legged fierce (canabilistic) critter. The spiders aren't as biddable as silk worms. They need to be caught, then harnessed for their day's spinning into silk milking contraptions, and then released. The first machine to caputre the silk they use for their webs seems to have been devised back in 1807 by a Frenchman keen to make his millions from Madagascar.
Now uber-craftsmen Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley have used more than a million spiders (and the skills of the local weavers) to create two dreamy pieces. The first (2009) is a brocaded scarf - so light you can't feel it in your hand but utterly golden and gorgeous. The second (2011) is an embroidered cloak that looks like a high priest's outfit and really has no wearing purpose at all. It's the ultimate unique one off, so no good asking "Where would I wear it?" and "Does Zara do a cheaper high street copy?"
For a short film on the potential of spider silk, see this TV science show on geo-enginering.
For other pieces about French speaking colonies (like St Helena) see an earlier blog post on the French Dom Toms here.
This cultural visit to Madagascar is aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com's 109th country visit. Only 87 to go.