Making Thread from Spider Webs

There are many ways to make rope with Stone Age technology, but the ropes are all pretty thick, which makes them not well suited to certain tasks, so I wondered how Stone Age people made thread. The obvious material of choice would be wool or cotton yarn, but Paleolithic people did not have agriculture, so they would not have been able to do large scale shearing of sheep. Wild cotton does grow in several places around the world, but without cultivated cotton fields the supply would have been pretty small. So, while they may have made some type of yarn out of wild wool or wild cotton (and it is hard to know if they did because those materials degrade very quickly and are rarely found in the archaeological record) it would have been rare.

One thing that is more abundant and easy to find in the wild is silk. Many insects and arachnids make silk of some kind, which can be spun into thread. There is some evidence I found of stone age silk (again it’s hard to find because silk degrades very easily over the course of so many millennia) so I decided to make silk thread.

In order to do this I had to get over my squeamishness and start taking down spider webs. Below is a video of me making a small strand of thread from a spider web. It was not a usable piece since the web was so full of debris, but that makes it easy to see on camera. Most of the pictures and videos I took didn’t turn out because spider webs are hard to see on film.

 

So, besides my awkward commentary in the video, the technique is right. When there is an intact web with very little debris you start taking it off its supports one at a time so it folds in on itself, then twist it into a thread. It’s difficult to get the hang of and took a lot of tries to get right. If you want it to be thicker, then fold it in half and twist again. If you want it to be longer, then twist another strand onto the end. It’s sticky enough that it will stay together like that. I rolled my strands around a stick like a spool so I can save them for later use.

I assume you could also use any kind of silk found in the wild, but spider webs are very readily available and easy to find so they provide the best supply for making thread.

 

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