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Hauberks for First-Timers, and Second-Timers, and Third...
Article © MAIL User: Konstantin the Red

Any mailshirt – byrnie, haburgeon, or hauberk -- is basically going to be in two sections, and you can make 'em in any order you like. Any particular recommended order? Body barrel first, maybe, for the first time -- at least, a strip the width of the rectangle that barrel will be made of, your chest measure plus ten. But if you'd rather make the shoulder straps and fill in the back and the front of the neckhole first, that works too. You can share time on both... The sleeves, by whichever method you prefer, should go on after the shoulder section is built.

The upper section is the shoulders. Most first-timers use the barrel-&-straps type of construction: it's a body barrel with a strap over each shoulder, and then some filling in in some places between the straps. It produces basically a rectangular neckhole, which may then be trimmed or modified as you like. The lower section is the body barrel. You’ll find there are more different ways to do shoulders than are really needed to do body barrels.

If your shirt is significantly shorter than mid thigh and has no sleeves or none to speak of, it's a Viking-type byrnie. If it's of light mail, goes to mid thigh, and has short or half sleeves, it's a haburgeon, whose heyday was the 1300s. If it's of heavier mail and has skirts going to the top of your kneecap, it's a hauberk, war-gear of William the Conqueror, 1066, or, with long sleeves, of the first three Crusades.

Byrnie [say “bernie”] is a very generic word with a common root meaning “armor,” in every sense from mail to armored fighting vehicles, in languages across Northern Europe from English to Russian. Hauberk [“how-berk” or “haw-berk”] comes from a widespread Northern European collection of root-words all making up a phrase about “protection” –beorg—for the “neck” –heals, thus heals-beorg. Why necks in particular, you’ve got me – maybe it saved your neck! Haburgeon or haubergeon seem to come from a French diminutive for their idea of how to spell it: hauberc was the full-sized article, hauberjon the compact edition.


My barrel-&-straps shirts all had the barrel made first and the straps added next. Very simple to do, with the body barrel closed and first one strap and then the other going straight up, bending back down, and connecting in the back -- you can easily see where the straps fasten to the body barrel -- but with one minus: you can't really wear any part of it to check it for fit. If you build the straps assembly first, you can -- at least that bit of the shirt anyway. The important thing is that the shoulders be big enough, and that's most simply accomplished by building the body barrel first. However, it's not much more difficult to do the shoulder section first if you keep the required size in mind. That's the next section.


The lower section of the mailshirt is the "body barrel." It's just a tube of straight mail; no expansions or contractions. The biggest problem with making it is that you'll get bored -- so play lots of good music on the stereo, listen to the radio, have friends over for bull sessions and to help weave. Even the most maladroit buddy you've got can preclose links for your speedweaving. The mail fabric’s resilient, stretchy dimension should be the wide, horizontal one, and the non-resilient direction should be the vertical. You don’t need vertical-stretchy, you need it horizontally so you can get out of your shirt easily. I’ll offer some notes on getting into and out of mailshirts at the end of the article (Girls dig guys in mailshirts…).

How big should this tube be? It should be as big around as your chest measurement plus ten inches, measured with the mail at its fullest stretch, and it should be as tall as the distance between fairly high in your armpit down to mid thigh. Easiest way to make it is as a big rectangular sheet. When the sheet's width is your chest measure plus ten inches, it's ready to close into the tube. Work on this sheet of mail any way you care to; there's much to be said for making up a bunch of manageable patches and zipping them together, as shoving the whole mail sheet around as it gets nearly done can be heavy. Making the entire body all at once as one big rectangle eliminates the kind of puzzlements that end up being FAQs by people who are making their first mailshirt in two body panels, folding over their heads like a serape. By the time you’ve got it closed up it’s going to be a barrel-&-straps anyway, isn’t it? I don’t think the several patterns found on the ‘Net do first-time ringharnischers and panzermachers any favors this way. (All panzermachers are maillers; not all maillers are panzermachers. Ringharnischer’s a synonym, a bit more specific about making mail.)


…is integrated with how I weave mail in general, for a body barrel or any size of rectangular piece. This is what I do: 1. I preclose a pile of links. 2. I make a chain of alternating single and double links, starting and ending with doubled links: 2 links 1 link 2 links 1 link 2-1-2-1…2. It’s a chain of fivelets that will become three columns of links because even though I’m working on this chain left to right on my worktable in front of me, it will ride vertically on my body when all is done. This chain of fivelets is as long as the distance between the bottom of my armpit and the hem of the mailshirt, say, mid-thigh. When I’m done with this I don’t have to guess how tall the body rectangle is; I know its height to the link. I smooth the chain out in front of me so its links lie flat and orderly, the doubled links lying so their edges nearest me are pointed up and off the table and the single links are lying in the opposite alignment. This makes step 3a convenient for weaving.

Step 3a. I hook two of the preclosed links onto an opened link and then weave that opened link into the nearer of the doubled links on the left end of the chain and the nearer of the next pair of doubled links and close that link. I now have a chain of fivelets with a little L-shaped tab on its left end: 3-2-3-1-2-1…2. 3b. I now take another opened link, hook just one closed link onto it, and weave the opened link into the interior corner made up of the three links defining the corner at the right-hand side of the little L-shaped tab, with that closed link occupying the lower right corner of this next fivelet of mail. The tab has now gotten fatter: 3-2-3-2-3-1-2-1-2-1…2.

Step 4. I continue step 3b all the way to the end of the chain so now I have a narrow strip of mail five columns across: 3-2-3-2…3. Everywhere I started with 2 links now has 3; everywhere that had 1 link has 2. Then I go back and do Steps 3a and 3b all over again. This generates a mail weave along the resilient direction, what I call “row-wise.” Rows go across the body, columns go up and down the body. While I’m working on these columns right to left, they will still end up being up and down. I’m righthanded and work left to right; lefthanders may prefer to work from right to left.

Now let’s draw some pictures: I’m having to do it vertically, so rotate everything you see here ninety degrees counterclockwise and ignore the dots.

…etcetera on down to the links at the chain’s end.


The body barrel may feature expansions in two main places, for different reasons: either expansion from its top edge downwards, to flare out and accommodate big ole Buddha bellies, or at the bottom a handspan above the hem because some guy thinks he needs a bit more flare to accommodate his leg motions. Or maybe because he's got the biggest -- aft -- this side of Arsenio Hall. Or maybe the other side of Arsenio Hall. Maybe it's clear across the Hall.

Okay, Incorrigible-Punster-Who-Must-Not-Be-Incorriged, that will be quite enough.

There's another spot, for either expansions or right-triangle gussets, in the lower ends of hauberks: to either side of the rider's split. Hunting around for pics of SCAdian and Living-History 'berks on the Web will show a lot of hauberks with the front of their skirts splayed wide open in normal wear. Clearly these had their rider's split made just as a slit, but on the body and in motion they hang splayed at an angle. E4:1 weaves don’t like to hang straight down in square shapes; they will assume a trapezoidal taper if they are free to do so. To fix this, insert right triangle gussets on either side of the slit, with the hypotenuses facing to the center, so the extra mail will hang to fill the gap. It's like a gusset to expand, but it's not joined up all the way around. A similar result can be achieved by starting expansions at the row where the top of the rider's slit comes to, and it will be much subtler than adding triangles.

In building hauberks, it may be best to build the body all the way down to the intended height of the riding split, and then make the skirts separately, especially if you are using expansions in the skirts. The ‘berks are already big, heavy lumps of mail from the body sections alone. Building a somewhat curved rectangle by expansions over such a sizeable sheet of mail is best done by keeping things simple – and undisturbed -- on your worktable/stretch of living room rug/garage floor/smooth spot in the dirt.

If your waist measurement is very much smaller than your chest measurement, you may wish to put in some contractions. Contractions are just expansions turned upside down; that fifth, or idler, link is on top, up in the mail fabric, rather than added on on the lower side, at the edge. The way to make them in E4:1 is to weave the central link in the contraction through 3 links in the row above it, rather than the normal two. Contract the shirt only slightly in the waist – remember you still have to get your chest, shoulders, and padding pourpoint in through there.


In the shoulders, you have two basic ways to proceed, each of which subdivides further: the straps of the Barrel-&-Straps, and its variant the 45-Degree Shoulder; then the various ways to construct a mantle, the two main branches of which I divide into the Round Top, aka Mantle-Top, whose linkrows curve, and the various patterns of Yoke Top, whose linkrows run straight for a bit and then take an angle, because they are constructed of triangles and rectangles of mail. Yoketops show seams and Roundtops don't and either one gets the job done. A roundtop can be either perfectly circular or with straight mail with no expansions inserted front and back to make a linkrow shape that's oval, like a racetrack, the better to accommodate the fact that humans are wider side to side than front to back.

Straps are pretty durn simple: as wide as the shoulder is from neck to shoulder's point, as long as reaches from the front of the body barrel to the back. They make an armhole shaped like a capital D lying on its back. Personally, I prefer to join sleeves to such a shoulder by the 90-degree join.

Unlike the rectangle that made the body barrel, shoulder straps are much taller than they are wide; they're tall enough to go over your shoulder, front to back, and connect their ends to the body barrel's top linkrow, and wide enough to span from neck to about the point of your shoulder. Their linkrows -- and their resilient dimension -- run horizontally, like the linkrows of the body barrel. Shoulder straps fasten to the body barrel a neck's width apart in front, over your chest, and a neck's width plus three inches apart in the back, over your shoulder blades.

A cloth measuring tape such as is used for sewing is the best tool for making these measurements. If you don't have one, take the measurements with pieces of string and cut them to the lengths you find and use those lengths to check your mail against. There are three measurements for the body, and one or two for sleeves: 1. Girth -- your chest plus ten, for padding, and room to move and to take the shirt off; 2. Height from armpit to mid thigh; 3. Length (actually height) of shoulder strap, from where the tape measure measured around your chest to get your chest measurement, just above your nipples, to where the tape measure goes around your back. For sleeves: 1. length of sleeve; 2. circumference of sleeve at its hem, which is always very nearly the same as the length of the shoulder strap. The joker in the deck, though, is that the sleeves' linkrows are going 90 degrees off the direction of the straps' linkrows, if you are using the 90-degree-join sleeve. With the triangular gusset, the sleeve is much wider where it joins the mailshirt body -- but it all falls into place neatly, so don't sweat it.

Once you've got the shoulder straps, if you want to connect them together with little strips of mail to make the shoulder section wearable, go for it! The only remaining thing to do to complete the shoulder section is to fill in the upper spine section between your shoulder blades and the base of your neck, where a t-shirt collar rides. I would fill this section between the straps, a neck's width plus three inches, just making rows of mail rather than trying to make a patch and insert it -- rows are simpler. Then I like to make the front of the neckhole as a V neck, so it's easy to tell front from back. If you want to, you can fill in the two back corners of the neckhole with small triangles of mail, rounding off the corners a bit. Build the triangles by rows, don’t go to the fuss of making the triangle and then trying to stick it on.

The bit with the shoulder straps being three inches farther apart in the back than the front is for giving the arms better freedom to go forward and across, since the arm is freer to swing forward and across than to the rear. It's particularly obvious in building the shoulder section of a barrel-&-straps shirt. The body barrel isn't changedby this; its circumference is still the wearer's chest measurement plus about ten inches, the mail at full stretch. This all by itself allows the wearer's shoulders to get through the shirt and up to where they need to be. It's really the only critical measurement in a haburgeon -- everything else is really "to taste."

The 45-Degree Shoulder is a variation on the shoulder strap, where each shoulder strap becomes two right triangles, the bases attached to the body barrel, the heights going straight up the shoulder, the heights to the inboard side of the strap. The hypotenuses face outboard and the entire sleeve joins these hypotenuse faces. The top end of the sleeve is a triangle, and the whole affair amounts to raglan sleeves for a mailshirt. There are issues with shirts built this way not allowing one to raise one's arms easily, but maybe somebody can come up with a construction method that will allow plenty of slack around the armpit to ease an arm-raise. Until somebody does that -- I think part of the secret is to keep the actual 45-degree join short and well inboard -- I don't recommend offering this kind of sleeve join as an option. A 45-degree shoulder is the bridge between the shoulder-straps type top and the yoke-tops: the entire shoulder section, completed, amounts to two trapezoids, the front one with a notch taken out of it, and two large triangles, these perhaps with their tips truncated so they become trapezoids after all, all mitered together with 45-degree joins.

The Mantletop/Roundtop is all about expansions -- like expansions go into every second row. You can tailor things by picking where you put the expansions, as in the racetrack-row mantletop variant, or putting them in or leaving them out simply anywhere you may require. My one mantletop I made with a V notch in the front of its neckhole to make sure I could get my head and glasses through it. Apparently, one does not need a particularly big V notch to guarantee this, so don't get crazy with the V; it may only need to be five or six linkrows deep. I start a mantle with a strip of mail, built rowwise (along the resilient dimension, and perpendicular to the way I usually build straight mail), of three linkrows. It is convenient to make a big stash of preclosed links, then grab a fistful of opened links and speedweave the strip together, two closed links lying on and making up the edges of the strip and the open link hooking everything together, the center of the fivelet. Now I go around the outer edge, inserting an expansion link every five links around the periphery, then I weave two more linkrows normally. I speedweave these two rows, taking one open link and hooking a preclosed link into it before weaving the open link into the rest of the fabric. I complete this entire course around the periphery, weaving normally to incorporate the expansions I've already inserted in that third linkrow from the inside edge. I now have a collar sort of thing that is five linkrows broad. Again I run around the periphery, inserting more expansion links every five links. Then the two more rows thing again, then the expansions go in. Regarding the expansions, the inner third of the mantle needs them the most, the outer third the least. In the inner third, I put them in every 5 regular links. The middle third of the band you are making into a mantle needs rather fewer links, so I put them in every 7 links around the peripheral linkrow when I get to the middle. The outer third gets expansions every 9 links. It seems that each row that gets expansions inserted gets about the same number of expansions per row, because the rows are getting longer as the mantle's diameter grows, naturally enough. It will also look as if you're not making much progress as you approach the finished size of the thing -- because each couple of rows is that much longer than the previous couple. I think the mantle should be big enough when it reaches from your neck to just over the points of your shoulders. (Mine's bigger than that; it covers my deltoids too -- perhaps a bit much?) If you decide on a racetrack-oval mantle, I suggest you start first with the expansions in the first five linkrows, putting expansion links in every 5 links as described above, to get things started, and only then do you put in the straight mail rectangles front and rear. All your expansions will then be concentrated on the shoulders rather than any being on the centerline, of course. The rectangles need not be especially wide -- five fingers' breadth would do it, surely no more than seven.

Putting sleeves in shoulders in the curving linkrows of a mantle-top shirt is a bit different; a matter of finding the location of each quarter of the periphery. Once the mantle top's four cardinal points are located and marked (twist ties are good for this), center front, center back, and center of each side, you can set the sleeves a bit forward of center side when you are ready to join the mantle top and the body barrel. Mantletops are very easy to attach sleeves to, as the mantle's linkrows curve around the shoulder to present themselves conveniently to attach the sleeves.

Yoketops are constructed out of various arrangements of triangles and rectangles. The simplest yoke that’s really a yoke (and not a 45-degree shoulder) has four rectangles laid out in a cross, joined with 45-degree joins by four equilateral triangles, as tall as the rectangles [having the same number of linkrows, that is] filling in the corners. This sort of thing may be varied and subdivided any way you like -- and it is. The Bladeturner pattern, IIRC, features four rectangles and eight right triangles set hypotenuse to hypotenuse, so each linkrow makes three angles to get around by 90 degrees at each corner, thereby thoroughly softening the angling needed to go there. Lots of seams in that boy. If you want to make it with eight little rectangles alternating with eight right triangles, who's to stop you? I sure won't. Trevor Barker’s Modified Square Yoketop (he doesn’t call it that, but the type needs a name and I’ve never seen anything else like it) basically starts with an oblong, a rectangle, draped over the shoulders, with the additional breadth across the back being given by a long, slim right triangle gusset inserted in the middle of the mail on each shoulder, so that when the whole thing is finished off, what began as a rectangle has been stuffed, as it were, into a trapezoid shape. With the right and left sides pushed out of parallel by the gussets, you now have the forward bias needed for the sleeves, which in the original Barker pattern hang with open weave, but a 90-degree sleeve could easily be used instead.

So – anybody figure they could make slice-of-pizza sections by expansion weaves instead of straight-weave triangles and substitute these arcing sections-of-a-circle for the triangles in a yoketop, just to be different? Mwahahahahah….


Sleeves and shoulders interrelate: the construction of the sleeve is often influenced by the type of the shoulder to such a degree that a sleeve often must be thought of as an integral part of the shoulder section. The short and the half sleeves are mainly rectangles of mail, closed into tubes. In the armpit, things get modified.

Shoulder straps have the most obvious different choices available in sleeve construction – either extend the straps’ linkrows outwards, or join a rectangle onto each strap with their respective linkrows running 90 degrees to each other: the 90-degree sleeve.

45-Degree shoulders blend into sleeves raglan-style. They end up quite like a yoke-top reduced to its simplest form, the panels mitering together in a manner that makes the sleeve linkrows – the resilient direction – go around the arm.

Yoke- and Mantle-tops bend or angle their linkrows to make the sleeve linkrows that join the tops go in the resilient direction around the arm.


For short sleeves there are two ways to go: either just extend the shoulder straps' linkrows out and down the arm, which is the easy way but makes a sleeve whose weave hangs open, or wrong-way. The other way is to make a rectangle for each sleeve and attach the rectangles to the shoulder straps with the 90-degree join. Personally, I think the latter way makes a sleeve that works and fits better. I think it's also easier to make a closed armpit with this kind of sleeve, utilizing a triangular gusset.

The closed armpit is made by making an equilateral triangle of mail; that’s the gusset. Attach the base of the equilateral to the top linkrow of the body barrel under the armpit. The point of the triangle will be pointing down the inside of the bicep, down the sleeve. The sleeve rectangle joins to both sides of the triangle with 45-degree joins. One secret: the triangle will reach all the way to the end of the sleeve if it has as many linkrows in it, base to point, as the sleeve rectangle does. Rectangle and triangle will be of the same height if laid out flat together on the worktable.

Some people like to make a diamond-shaped gusset of two equilateral triangles sharing a common base linkrow: start with one link, go up to whatever, then taper back down to one. The linkrows are horizontal, just like the linkrows in the body barrel. Fit the bottom half of the diamond into a slit in the body barrel directly under the center of the armpit, and join it with a 45-degree join. Now the top half of the diamond gusset joins the sleeve rectangle as described in the previous paragraph, also with 45-degree joins. One important thing: don’t make this diamond gusset too large. The one time I’ve tried this, I used a 20-row diamond gusset, and I’ve got plenty of room in there, but when I lower my arms the mail bunches uncomfortably. I’ve got a lot of extra and I’ve clearly overdone it; I should reduce this gusset to something smaller, perhaps only ten linkrows top to bottom.

LONG SLEEVES: Okay, but you have to want ‘em

Long sleeves are for the highly motivated – people doing Crusader portrayals, or who will be pleased with nothing less than a full-blown 13th-century hauberk like in the Maciejowski Bible, with its integral coif and mail mufflers armoring the hands, so the mailed aristocrat of the era was armored from kneecaps to bald spot in a single piece of equipment. The Maciejowski ‘berks, btw, are all drawn like mantletops, which are the most convenient type to have integral coifs built into them.

Long sleeves need diamond shaped gussets to make slack over the point of the elbow. The gussets’ resilient dimension is point to point rather than angle to angle like an armpit gusset, and is woven into the rest of the sleeve by hole-row expansions. The gussets extend from the outsides of the elbows to the insides.


Mail is unlike any other fabric on Earth – it’s tremendously heavy but has no body to it, doesn’t wrinkle though it may fold in a large, soft roll, and it wears like iron in every sense! With all this, it acts a bit peculiar when you go to don and doff it. Putting a mailshirt on is like putting on a pullover sweater that weighs twenty pounds. Making sure that the front of the shirt will end up on the front of you, burrow your arms into the body all the way up to the shoulders right where the sleeves start, your hands on either side of the neckhole, bunching the shirt on your forearms. Now impersonate a forklift and pick the whole thing up over your head, get your head inside the hem, and pull your elbows in to let it drop over you. Get your hands into the sleeves and let the sleeves slide down over your arms as your head pops through the neckhole. One useful thing: whatever you are wearing under that mailshirt should have long sleeves. Short sleeves will get dragged by the mailshirt’s sleeves right up into your armpit – then you have to stand there like some dope, picking at your armpits for ten minutes. Mail has a lot of friction and things get stuck on it. Use long sleeves; they’ll stay where they belong.

For haburgeons and hauberks, it is good to put a stout belt around your waist and cinch it tight. This takes some of the weight off your shoulders and puts it on your hips. Blouse the body of the shirt a bit, Dunlap’s-style (Dunlap’s Disease: my belly done lapped over my belt buckle), for freedom of movement; you’ll need it to be comfortable. The belt may hold a belt pouch and a dagger. Your sword, however, is much more conveniently carried on a belt of its own so you can easily shed it when you sit.

Comes the end of the day, a trip to the swimming hole, the end of the demo, or other occasion to take a load off, and it’s time to get out of the shirt. Remove the belt, and bend over parallel with the ground. You will notice the mailshirt falls open to its fullest stretch and there’s now quite a bit of room between your belly and the front of the shirt. Crossing your wrists in front of you, hook your hands into the sides of the neckhole. Bend down a little further, getting your hiney right up in the air. Pulling on the neckhole with your hands to start the shirt, do the shimmy. Gravity is your friend; the shirt will slide off you and end up a puddle of silver links right in front of you. Stand up and wink at any girls who were checking out your hiney while you were wiggling it. Creative Anachronist girls like dating impressively armored and garbed Creative Anachronist guys who know to shake their money maker… the non-Anachronist girls may need a little more discussion first. But I leave that to you.
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