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Within my setting, there will be a race of spider people, and they will have the ability to create "metal silk", which is basically taking any type of metal, realistic and fantastic, and dissolving it in silk. The result is a cloth that is soft, supple and flexible as silk, but as strong as the metal used to make the metal silk.

What kinds of armor or clothing could they then be able to create, and would they be very effective?

To explain more about how the metal cloth would be like, if you were to take a piece of the steel cloth and stretch it taunt over a target, then proceeded to slash or thrust at it with a iron sword, the sword would be unable to cut through the cloth. Although, if you upgrade the sword to steel, it will still be unable to cut through the cloth, but a thrust may pierce through.

One obvious problem I can see with this metal cloth would be that even if weapons would fail to cut you, you would still receive a whole bunch of bruises. As such, any armor would then need to try and be hammer-resistant to be effective, altough unlike in Feaurie's setting, these people, who are not giant, and are in fact of a slightly smaller frame than humans, will be more worried about much simpler maces, hammers and swords rather than war golems

My go to solution at the moment is the Gambeson, made of the metal silk, and possibly padded with more metal silk. I am also toying with the idea of how well a metal silk Hijab and face veil would work.

Notes on the setting

  • Late Medieval-ish tech levels.
  • There will be reasonable amounts of magic
  • Armor and clothing for both wartime and peacetime scenarios
  • They will be fighting each other, other humans, and possibly other races of varying sizes
  • They will also be allied with some humans and those other races.
  • This metal silk is fairly common among the spider people, but much rarer among the humans and other races, although rich humans can afford to get this metal silk as well

EDIT 1: The armor need not be COMPLETELY made from the metal silk, they could wear plate, and have extra cloth over it

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  • $\begingroup$ To note kevlar are made of fibers, it can be bullet proof but not needle proof because a needle can slipe between the fiber $\endgroup$ – jean Feb 7 '17 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ "but as strong as the metal used to make the metal silk." - which strength do you have in mind? There are many of them. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jul 11 '17 at 20:27
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It could actually be less effective than you think.

Consider chainmaille, which is similar in nature, but heavier. It has a few weaknesses, but it forms a real-life basis to compare against.

Against bladed weapons, I would layer metalsilk with some padding cloth. A single layer of metalsilk would not really stop a blade very well. The cloth would simply fold around the blade and become a very thick blade. Given that the edges on many European swords were dull by today's cutlery standards, the silk would likely do little to nothing. However, layer many layers of metalsilk with interspersed layers of cloth, and you start creating something thick enough to provide defense.

Piercing would go straight through a layer of metalsilk like it isn't there. All woven fabrics (chainmaille included) are weak to piercing because you don't have to cut a fibre, you merely bend them around your blade. Defending against piercing would require many many many layers (think kevlar vest). More likely, you'd hybridize: put a layer of leather over your metalsilk/padded cloth sandwich. Leather is really good at handling these kinds of strikes. Bamboo is also popular for stopping arrows.

As for crushing weapons, it would provide zero protection... nada. If you want protection from crushing weapons, you'll have to look elsewhere. The layers of cloth in your armor stack will have more effect than the metalsilk will.

As Samuel mentioned, the real answer is to focus on fighting style. The big advantage to cloth is mobility. The oriental nations focused greatly on mobility, so consider patterning it after their armor rather than European armor. A metalsilk tunic under some bamboo armor (to stop arrows) would be a remarkable improvement over what the Japanese Samurai had. to work with.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pray tell, whom did you hear of actually using bamboo armour? $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Feb 27 '15 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ They weren't that dull compared to modern standards... $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang Jul 17 '17 at 8:14
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Actually, I don't know why you't need metal silk. Regular silk is incredibly effective as body armor all by itself. Mongols and others have used silk as armor for a long time. Some of it was 30 layers thick. Tests prove that if Ferdinand had been wearing his silk body armor vest the assassination attempt on him would have failed.

Silk is actually comparable to steel in many respects, and it is much lighter, so while I think it's a cool idea to spin 'metal' cloth from spider silk, using regular silk would be just as good and likely weigh less. Of course with any fabric you still have crushing blows to deal with and while 30 layers of silk will provide some padding and protection, a direct blow from a mace is still deadly. but no armor is perfect protection from every weapon.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: silk is better, and no magic is necessary. Even linen armor would be useful (and lighter) than metallic cloth: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linothorax $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Feb 6 '15 at 0:57
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There isn't much more you can do with cloth armor than what you've described already. If you're able, you'd want to get as close to plate armor styling as possible. The whole point of plate armor was to deflect blows. The angled surfaces will guide impacting force away from the wearer.

Aside from that, which it seems you already knew, with cloth armor your main advantage is mobility. Your main focus should be on fighting style rather than armor style. Being nearly impenetrable (but not uncrushable) is like having a mithril shirt. You want to maximize glancing blows. I would imagine if you have any melee fighters, that they would be a rogue class, preferring quick weapons and sneaking.

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If you wanted to make your metasilk super effective, rather than simply making it impenetrable, give it a property that makes it highly conductive to force.

Imagine that a spider has made a web, they need to feel every movement of a creature that is caught in or touching that web. Consequently the silk it is made from is designed to take any type of pressure on the silk and translate it into a message travelling along the silk to where the spider can read and interpret the feedback and choose whether or when to attack.

Now if the silk was originally evolved for this purpose, fabric made from it might be exceptionally good at turning force received on the side of the fabric into force moving along its threads, effectively diverting the kinetic energy of impacts around the wearer. This may be more interesting than being purely impenetrable as it would make a brilliant under-layer to armour designed to stop slicing or penetrating attacks. As a side-benefit, wearing it would make training with blunt weapons far safer, so groups that had access to it would potentially be able to train harder at lower risk to themselves, allowing them to become better in battle.

If it can convert transverse into longitudinal force, we might also expect it to be least effective against blows struck directly against the line of fabric, whereas glancing blows are easily absorbed. This would probably affect the design of armour created using it. Possibly it would need a certain amount of space around it in order to work correctly, due to the way it flexes on impact, so it would work better under other armour than over it. I imagine that maybe the experience of wearing it would be that when the wearer was struck, they would feel the blow but all of the fabric would vibrate as the energy passed around them. It might even have a distinctive sound when this happens.

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  • $\begingroup$ highly conductive to force, what exactly does that mean, in physics terms, and how would I describe that? $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 5 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Well I'm no physicist ( as any physicist reading this would probably have gathered ) but I guess what you are looking at is that it is excellent at converting transverse into longitudinal force, so force striking against the side is translated into force along the surface. Around this point I would start applying handwavium unless I was writing hard SF. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Feb 5 '15 at 13:52
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Hmm, it really depends on the weapons its designed to stand up against. Against cutting and piercing weapons, it might be far more effective than many would thing. A padded gambeson made of layered linen was surprisingly protective against swords and arrows and lightweight, which is why it was a mainstay as armor for many. Not as effective as a good brigandine, jack of plate, or riveted chainmail, but still more effective than many think. And that's when made from linen, other cloth fibers and/or materials, like silk, could be even more effective.

One of the things that many people often fail to take into account is the thickness of the armor matters. A single layer of kevlar, our closest equivalent to your metalsilk, isn't very protective. Even a kevlar vest has several layers to it, and often has pockets in it to allow for the insertion of steel plates in many modern ballistic designs to stop bullets, but the kevlar vest's primary role, in the military sense, wasn't in bullet proofing, but in protecting against shrapnel, which is far smaller and lighter than a bullet. In an environment with magic, you have something that even a couple of layers could provide some shrapnel protection, as many settings seem to like using mages as artillery.

And you can't dismiss the protective qualities of silk armor, which also has a high tensile strength, and as some have said, a sufficiently thick armoring of silk can stop a handgun bullet rather easily by bleeding off its momentum. Against thrusting weapons, a good idea would be like a brigandine (riveted plates between separate layers) or a jack of plate (sewn in plates between layers) for close in work, but a sufficiently thick garment would be more effective against arrows than many think, so long as they're not fired from relatively close range, or have heads that are designed to punch, or cut through the armor. Even then, it would depend on the draw weight of the bow, and military bows had a draw weight that was far heavier than most sport bows in use today. Against a crossbow? Better to not get hit or have something to use as cover to hide behind.

For resistance against weapons designed with inflicting blunt trauma in mind, that's a bit harder. Weapons like hammers and maces were highly effective against armor specifically because of their forward center of balance making them very effective at directing the force of their weight onto a single point without having to rely on the penetration power of a thrust. Making it so that a person wouldn't get hurt when being hit would require the armor to be either too thick to move easily in, or too heavy to move easily in, and armor wasn't designed to make it that someone couldn't be hurt, so much as it was designed to ensure that the person getting hit was more likely to survive or not take a lethal injury.

Most armor designs are compromises, as they have to be strong enough to increase survivability and reducing the chance of taking a lethal injury, while still being light enough to move in.

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This concept sounds neat and would create cool visuals. However, having made and worn gambesons I have a few concerns. How do you sew it? Does the needle go between the woven strands or is it pressed out like aluminum foil? You might need some specialized needles to do the quilting.

This metal silk sounds like it would hold in heat like a space blanket. Real silk keeps heat in as well. I think you might have to design in some ventilation.

Gambesons need to be washed or they smell horrible. How do you wash a metal garment? Does it rust?

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Silk width metallic fibres aren't going to be that useful against heavy slashing weapons; they'll break individually, like if you ran a knife against the edge of a piece of taut cotton, so even a thick quilted jacket of many layers won't be that effective and anything less will be pointless as battle armour. Against blunt weapons like cudgels even a thick jacket that would stop the first couple of sword blows will be completely ineffective. Forthe same reason sword blows against this kind of armour, those that don't break through to cut the victim, are still going to break bones because the "steel silk" is far more flexible than plate or chainmail and will transfer, rather than dissipate, more of the energy of the blow than such armours. Heat buildup in a quilted jacket of silk would be even worse than in a suit of plate leading to rapid heat exhaustion and death (which can be a major problem when fighting in plate in hot weather anyway).

Having said all of that this material is not at all useless or pointless, as a measure against an assassins knife or a poison dagger this material would have many of the characteristics of a light mail lining to normal formal clothing but be less cumbersome, more attractive, and more comfortable. Material quilted until stiff made entirely from such silk will still be lighter than a similar thickness of steel and much much quieter making it ideal for situations where stealth is paramount but protection in the case of failure is still important.

I'd have a look at the special material guides for D&D and look at what they do with the magical silks they have in there for some ideas as to the relative role of such a material.

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From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_silk ...

"Weight for weight, silk is stronger than steel, but not as strong as Kevlar. Silk is, however, tougher than either."

For non-crushing classes of weapons, layers of organic silk can be equivalent or even superior to metals. Historically the Chinese and ancient Persians used silk armor extensively.

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