Today I want to discuss a subject that is near and dear to my heart: chainmaille. Those of you who found me through writing may not realize that my primary occupation is actually that of a chainmaille artisan. I don’t create combat ready armor (but I hope to add that to my list one day), but instead focus on beauty and costume. I love the colors and the possibilities. I thrill at seeing a pile of rings become something beautiful and unique.
As many of you know, chainmaille was originally used for defense purposes. The flexibility and strength was unmatched at the time, leading to far fewer deaths. Variations of chainmaille were used from Europe to Japan with some of the patterns still used today named after their country of origin. Unfortunately, chainmaille failed to provide adequate protection against bludgeoning weapons. Scalemaille, developed to have curved scales, protected more against damage, but lacked the flexibility that chainmaille provided. However, even once plate armor was developed, chainmaille still had a place on the battlefield because of its minimal cost and improved dexterity. The Society for Creative Anachronism is a fantastic resource for those wishing to delve deeply into the history of pre-seventeenth century European society, including chainmaille.
People still wear armor for various purposes (historical reenactments, LARPing, cosplay, etc.). A mixture of chain and scalemaille can be found in many places requiring costumes of some kind. One of the pieces that I’m most proud of is a Wonder Woman scalemaille cosplay that I created for Mrs. Slank Cosplay.
That isn’t all chainmaille is though. Fabulously intricate handmade jewelry in various metals and colors are at our fingertips. Different ring sizes, in both width and wire size, allow us to create a host of different weaves. There is nearly infinite potential in chainmaille and I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Decorating your body with chainmaille is just the beginning though! Why not your walls? Your desk? Your car? Your cat? The point is to let your imagination go. It requires patience and strong hands. Some say I’m obsessed, but I’m pleased with my obsession.
How to/Rings and Rings and More Rings
When I’m at shows, I frequently describe what I do by picking up a bag of rings. I explain that I have dozens and dozens of bags just like this one, and that I open and close each one into the pieces that they see before them. Their eyes usually widen at this point, and I don’t blame them. I would feel awed from the outside too. Sometimes I still am. What they don’t see, however, is the variation in each ring. The gauge, or wire diameter, of the rings along with the inner diameter of the ring determines its aspect ratio (AR). Each weave has a range of ARs that it can take, resulting in a very loose to very tight final result. For instance, my preferred byzantine ring size is 18 gauge, 3/16”. It has an AR of 4. A fairly similar ring size, 18G 5/32” with an AR of 3.3, is too small and the weave just doesn’t work. The untrained eye may have some difficulty seeing the difference between these two rings at first glance, but that little difference can change everything. Unfortunately, there is also some variation between manufacturers, so I try to keep to the same company.
Next are the tools of the trade. Different metals require different pliers. If you choose to work in aluminum, pliers with teeth will mar the soft metal and create an inferior product. Smooth tipped pliers are the way to go, but you still need to watch out for slippage to ensure that your don’t scratch the anodized layer off your colored rings. If you’re just trying it out, there are many options at the local craft store that will work, but for the benefit of your hands, I recommend getting yourself better pliers. Some great options are the Lindstrom Ergonomic Pliers and the Xuron 486 90 Degree Bent Nose Pliers. Click on the names to see them on Amazon.
Now that you have you your rings and your pliers, you’re ready to make your weaves. There are tons of YouTube videos or website tutorials out there. Google to your heart’s content and have fun.