Spider web soup or suit
February 27, 2007 3:26 PM   Subscribe

In the book 'Big Snake' by Robert Twigger, there are a couple of passages about collecting spider webs either to be eaten or to make clothes.

At one stage he is told that the webs are used to make soup. Another time, for research into some sort of high tensile material for clothing. I can find no evidence for either on the web. Did the author just make it up? Can anyone point me to something?
posted by tellurian to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
The only practical use I've heard of for spider web is reticles for bombsights.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:51 PM on February 27, 2007

Well, there's the whole Spider goat thing. I wonder how they're going with that?
posted by zamboni at 4:25 PM on February 27, 2007

The problem is that a spider web is very, very insubstantial. It covers a large area but it involves a miniscule amount of mass. Remember, a teeny tiny spider creates it entirely out of its own bodily secretions and is hardly affected by it afterwards; it cannot be very heavy.

As to using spider webs to make clothes, that also seems very unlikely. The simple lack of material is one part of that, but another part is that much of the silk is covered with an adhesive to make it sticky. The radials don't have that but the spiral does.

I think it's pretty clear that your author made it up.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:32 PM on February 27, 2007

for research into some sort of high tensile material for clothing

Welcome to the field of biomimicry or biomimetics. I believe I heard that Nike was/is exploring setting up a biomimicry division. Spiderwebs or spider silk is one of the many natural phenomenon that science is interested in being able to reproduce for commercial purposes such as rope and clothing (also bandages I believe).

As for soup - no idea!
posted by rosebengal at 5:08 PM on February 27, 2007

Here's the spider you're thinking about. I've heard about this on TV (one of those entertainment "news" shows, wasn't really paying attention) but I don't know how close any company really is to producing consumer goods. I do know there are piles of RPG geeks ready to start queuing, though, so that they can dress like their characters (I don't know why "spider silk " is actually so popular a description).
posted by anaelith at 6:17 PM on February 27, 2007

And also this which I stumbled across right after posting--very cool article.

Also useful, although only tangentially related, Wormspit (may not be for the weak of stomach) shows how to make a net-like hankie from a silk moth cocoon without weaving/processing. The same site has a LOT of very interesting information about silkworms, silk making, etc., etc.
posted by anaelith at 6:28 PM on February 27, 2007

Interesting links. Thanks. I do wonder though if there could possibly be a connection between the Indonesian tribesmen Twigger encountered and the high tech companies cited here. Shame about the soup, it seemed more likely.
posted by tellurian at 3:46 AM on February 28, 2007

Oh! and special mention to Kirth Gerson - that was an interesting subject to Google. How the hell does that work? I couldn't find anything that explained the physical mechanics of such a thing.
posted by tellurian at 3:53 AM on February 28, 2007

Yeah, my googling came up empty on that too. What I remember is that there were workers in the sight factory whose job it was to pick apart spider webs using tweezers and place the strands on the glass reticles in the correct pattern. I will keep looking for more specifics.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:31 AM on February 28, 2007

Unless you were asking about the mechanics of a bombsight.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2007

No, it was the use of spider webs in sight manufacture. I was able to find articles like this,
"The original Lee Floating Dot was actually suspended by strands of spider web. This was the finest, strongest material available. The ultra thin strands of spider web were practically invisible, so the dot appeared to float in the center of the field of view. The dots themselves were available in different sizes, designed to subtend two, four, or (I believe) six minutes of angle (MOA) at 100 yards. The four minute dot is about right for big game hunting."
but nothing about the manufacturing process like your: 'job it was to pick apart spider webs using tweezers and place the strands on the glass reticles'.
posted by tellurian at 2:27 PM on February 28, 2007

My further efforts have yielded the possibility that I may have passed on an urban legend. I found one site with hearsay support of it ("my dad helped design on that bombsight, and this woman would collect spider webs every Fall," etc.), and one somewhat more solid site that says all the Norden reticles were diamond-etched.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:22 PM on February 28, 2007

In medieval times they packed wounds with spider webs to staunch blood, and I believe they might also have been eaten to stop bleeding. I don't think it actually works, though, much like bloodletting and magic stones. I'm no historian, however(and knowing Mefi one is about to show up to correct me).
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:14 PM on March 1, 2007

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