Photo by R. Mickens/American Museum of Natural History

Along came a spider—well, 1 million spiders, to be exact. Using silk extracted from more than a million golden orb spiders, which are found only in Madagascar, this spectacular 11×4-foot shawl took British art historian Simon Peers and his American business partner Nicholas Godley more than four years to create using century-old weaving techniques. Another remarkable feature: The glistening silk threads are completely undyed.

World's largest shawl woven from spider silk

Photo by New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the shawl is believed to be the largest—and rarest—piece of cloth woven entirely from golden spider silk, which is known for both its intense color and strength. Only the females of the species, which isn’t poisonous, produce the silk filaments, 24 of which are twisted by hand into a single strand, then twisted again with three other similar strands to make the silk thread.

The shawl is believed to be the largest—and rarest—piece of cloth woven entirely from golden spider silk.

Roughly 70 people collected spiders daily from webs on telephone wires, then another dozen more drew silk from the spiders using hand-powered machines. Although some spiders died during production, a system was set up so that spiders being used were released every day. “We have become sort of the defenders of these spiders, something we never thought we’d be,” Godley told The New York Times. “They really are very regal-looking creatures.”

The intricately patterned shawl, which features traditional Malagasy bird-and-flower motifs, has its genesis in 19th century stories of a French colonial administrator’s attempts to spin cloth from the threads of golden orb spiders. In the late 1890s, Madagascan fishermen also used spider silk, which for its weight is stronger than steel, to create rudimentary nets and lines.

A pair of golden orb spiders

Photo by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley

+ American Museum of Natural History