11 Surprising Historical Items That Were Created Using Spider Silk

Voting Rules
Vote up the items you're most surprised were made with spider silk.

Items made of spider silk have a strange but alluring appeal around the world despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that many people around the world live in terror of the eight-legged creatures. Spider silk clothing is considered the rarest type of garment, since thread made of spider silk is extremely difficult to make. Certain spiders, like the gorgeous Golden Orb Weaver whose silk is frequently used, sadly don't thrive outside of the wild, and are hard to domesticate and control.

Despite its fragility, uses of spider silk throughout history are both extensive and impressive. Some cultures have been very creative in their uses of the humble spider web, creating everything from fishing lures to violin strings to bandages to canvases for paint. Items made from spider webs have seen use in the fields of science, medicine, spirituality, and art.

Although these fascinating items from the past may have been way ahead of their time, spiderweb silk might yet be the "textile of the future." Items using spider silk are high-craft rarities and not mainstream, but fascinating uses of spiderwebs are creeping into the modern era, with scientific research utilizing more gossamer technology. There's even talk of spider-based bulletproof clothing, and more on the horizon. 

Photo: Cmglee / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

  • 1
    323 VOTES

    A Golden Silk Cape That Took More Than One Million Spiders To Produce

    In 2009, two men created the largest known piece of fabric made of spider silk from Gold Orb Weavers. It took Simon Peers, an art history and textile expert, and his business partner Nicholas Godley more than one million spiders and half a decade to complete their mission. No spiders were killed in the cape-making process: instead, when the spiders had spun all the silk they had, they were released back into the wild. Spiders start producing silk again after about one week. The final product, an 11 by 4 foot piece of cloth, is considered to be the rarest type of fabric in the world.

    323 votes
  • 2
    307 VOTES

    Greek And Roman Bandages That Could Actually Help To Stop Bleeding

    They may not have known the science behind what they were doing, but ancient Greeks and Romans learned very early on that spiderwebs make great bandages. There are three key reasons why: first, spider webs contain high amounts of vitamin K, which helps blood to clot. This meant that the webs would would stop bleeding faster. In addition, the webs of most spiders have antibacterial and antifungal properties, which helps with the healing process by preventing infection. Finally, spiderwebs will mesh with human skin as it heals, which also speeds up the healing process. Of course, an important caviat to all this is that it's important to use only the webs from non-poisonous spiders, particularly against open wounds. But with all of those benefits, it isn't surprising that people are looking to incorporate spider webs into more modern medical technology.

    307 votes
  • 3
    191 VOTES

    Telescopes With Spider Web Cross Hairs

    Telescopes With Spider Web Cross Hairs
    Photo: US Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In 1800s England, it was common practice to use spider silk as crosshairs for guns, telescopes, and other instruments of scientific observation. The threads were extremely thin, so they didn't get in the way of what the scientist was trying to observe. They also provided very accurate measurements, and could be used to form grids. As late as WWII, spider silk from black widows was being used for gunsights and bombsights.

    191 votes
  • 4
    177 VOTES

    Spider Silk Bed Hangings Made By The French To Out-Do The Chinese

    In 1898, a set of gorgeous spider silk bed hangings was put on display at the Paris Exposition. They were made by a monk named Father Jacob Paul Camboué and his business partner M. Nogué. Father Camboué was a French Jesuit missionary living in Madagascar, and they used the Golden Orb Weaver spiders that were common to the area (Camboué was also the fellow who invented a machine that could extract silk form 24 spiders at once). The goal was to prove that Europeans could produce silk as well as the Chinese and their silkworms could. Camboué's bed curtains were marvels, the first successful attempt at creating full pieces of fabric from spider silk. Sadly, they have been lost to time.

    177 votes
  • 5
    177 VOTES

    Spiderweb Lures To Catch Unique Fish In The Solomon Islands

    Spiderweb Lures To Catch Unique Fish In The Solomon Islands
    Video: YouTube

    A traditional method of fishing in the Solomon Islands, off the East coast of Papua New Guinea, involves using a lure made of spiderwebs attached to a kite string. The fish they're looking for is a Needlefish, whose mouth and teeth are actually too small for a traditional fishing lure. The solution is a clump of spiderweb, hung from a kite to create a bobbing motion on the water. When the fish takes the bait, its mouth is stuck in the web and the fisherman can pull it in.

    177 votes
  • 6
    154 VOTES

    Violin Strings That Actually Sound More Melodic And Different Than, Say, Your Catgut Strings

    Dr. Shigeyoshi Osaki, a Japanese researcher, managed to produce violin strings using spider silk in 2012. To form each string, he twisted together 3 strands made up of between 3,000 and 5,000 individual threads of silk. Violinists claim that the strings have a lovely, softer sound that is different than other tradition string materials. Dr. Osaki also used the Golden Orb Weavers' silk, and had to go through a precise calibration technique to test each strand's ability to withstand tension. He did his job well: the strings are sturdy enough to not break mid-song. It doesn't, however, make them any more viable for wider distribution.

    154 votes