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Last Edited: November 27, 2012, 10:21 am
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Chainmail Shirt; Construction
Article © MAIL User: Chainmailbasket_com
After you learn the basics of how to make chainmail, you will probably want to make a chainmail shirt at some point. A shirt takes a long time to make and is generally not a good first project. One reason for this is chainmail burnout. When you first learn to make chainmail, you are generally pretty slow (as with almost any hobby). It is important to get your technique down and concentrate on quality at first. If you start with a shirt, it might seem like it is taking forever to make and you might become bored with making chainmail (not a good thing!). So I would recommend starting with smaller chainmail projects. You can develop good chainmail skills by constructing a chainmail dice bag or a coif. You could also make a few pieces of jewelry to learn some of the basic and some of the advanced chainmail weaves.
Once you have decided that you are ready to make a chainmail shirt, you must decide a few things. What will the shirt be used for? If you are making a shirt for combat, you will want something that is fairly strong. If the shirt will be for wearing to clubs or casual wear, or even for costuming purposes, you will likely want a lighter weight shirt that will be comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. The shirt would also not necessarily have to be as strong.
Some of the common choices of material for making a chainmail shirt include:
-turns dull grey over time because of oxidization
-easy to find
-somewhat heavy (comparable in weight to galvanized steel)
-very low maintenance - does not tarnish or rust (except under extreme conditions)
-very light (about 1/3 the weight of steel)
-oxidizes, but is easy to clean
-weak (use a good alloy and thick wire diameter)
-can be coloured through anodization
-quite light (about 1/2 the weight of steel)
-very low maintenance
-can be coloured through anodization
-very heavy (10 - 20% heavier than steel)
-tarnishes to a dark brown colour
-strong (depending on alloy and hardness)
-can be used just as trim
You will have to use some kind of sheet weave to make a chainmail shirt. A sheet weave is a weave that can be expanded two ways to cover an area. Listed below are a few of the sheet weaves. Don't feel that you have to be limited to only one weave, you can mix weaves up if you're up to the challenge to give you a 'different' looking shirt. Some people like to use patches of European 6 in 1 in a European 4 in 1 shirt for more protection in certain areas for example.
- European 4 in 1 - European 4 in 1 is by far the most common weave used for making a chainmail shirt. It is a very easy weave to learn, provides ideal flexibility, and has excellent protective qualities.
- European 6 in 1 - European 6 in 1 is not as common for a chainmail shirt. It is a more dense weave, but it is much heavier and takes a lot more work. Flexibility is more of an issue.
- European 8 in 2 - European 8 in 2 (King's Maille) will make a very strong and fairly flexible shirt. But it will be heavy.
- Dragonscale - This weave is pretty slow to put together, and has strange flexibility. It might not be the best weave for a shirt, but it looks very nice.
- Japanese 6 in 1 / Japanese 12 in 2 - It is recommended that you use two ring sizes to make a shirt out of Japanese 6 in 1. Using smaller rings for the vertical rings will make the weave look nice. Japanese 6 in 1 has very nice flexibility.
- Japanese 4 in 1 / Japanese 8 in 2 - As with Japanese 6 in 1, it is recommended to use two different ring sizes with this weave.
- Japanese 3 in 1 - Japanese 3 in 1 is a very "open" weave. It goes together quite quickly and can be used to make a very light chainmail shirt.
- Half Persian 3 Sheet 6 in 1 - This weave has a tendency not to form rectangles, but parallelograms instead. It has interesting properties, and is not terribly flexible unless a large aspect ratio is used.
These are just a few possibilities. Any weave that can be made into sheets could potentially be used to make a shirt.
Armour Chainmail Shirts:
If you are making the chainmail shirt for combat, it will have to have a good strength to weight ratio. You will want something that will be protective, and also be flexible enough in which to properly maneuver. European 4 in 1 is probably the best weave to make a chainmail shirt to be used for armour. It provides great flexibility, and can be made at any of several different ring/wire diameters (in your chosen metal type) to achieve different levels of protective qualities. Some of the more common ring size combinations for armour using the European 4 in 1 weave include:
- .063" (16 SWG / 2.03mm) 1/4" (6.35mm): In either of galvanized steel, stainless steel, bronze, or titanium (depending on alloys, and hardnesses).
- .080" (14 SWG / 2.03mm) 5/16" (7.94mm): In either of galvanized steel, stainless steel, bronze, or titanium (depending on alloys, and hardnesses).
- .080" (14 SWG / 2.03mm) 3/8" (9.525mm): In either of galvanized steel, stainless steel, bronze, or titanium (depending on alloys, and hardnesses).
- .104" (12 SWG / 2.64mm) 3/8" (9.525mm): In aluminum (use a good strong alloy).
.080" 3/8" rings using the European 4 in 1 weave seems to be the de facto standard for most reinactment groups like the SCA. It provides a fairly strong mesh that is easy to put together and won't take forever to build. .063" 1/4" European 4 in 1 will take considerably longer to build because of the higher number of rings. It is said that this weave is better because more rings and a tighter mesh are better for absorbing more of the energy emitted by a blow. Each of the two aforementioned ring/wire size combinations make a weave of about the same weight. .080" 5/16" will provide you very strong armour, but it will be heavy. .104" 3/8" European 4 in 1 made out of aluminum will make a good protective shirt, and the use of aluminum will keep the weight down a bit.
One other thing to mention here is that you should always wear some thick padding under a chainmail shirt for armour. It will help absorb more of the blow and you will get fewer bruises.
This is not to say that you cannot use a weave other than European 4 in 1 for armour. It is just not an extremely common practice to use other weaves because European 4 in 1 offers among the best flexibility to protective qualities for chainmail armour.
Non-Armour Chainmail Shirts:
If you are making the shirt for non-combat applications, the shirt will probably not have to be super-protective. You can use a more "open" weave which will decrease the weight of the shirt. The one thing you must make sure of is that the weave you decide to use must be strong enough to support its own weight. If you use rings that are too weak for their wire size and metal type, the shirt might pull apart under its own weight.
Types of European-weave Chainmail Shirts:
When you're working with the European 4 in 1 weave (or European 6 in 1 for that matter) to make a shirt, you can put it together in either of a few different ways.
- T-style shirt
There is the "T"-style shirt, which is where there are no seams and the weave hangs in the same direction over the whole shirt. The sleeves hang "open" using this method. This is the most common form of chainmail shirt.
- 45 degree sleeves
There is also the 45 degree sleeve patterned shirt. This allows you to have the weave hang the opposite direction on the sleeves. You have to use 4 seams to do this, one at the back and one at the front of both shoulders. One problem with a shirt constructed with 45 degree sleeves is that when you lift your arm, it lifts the whole side of the shirt. The reason for this is because the angles aren't exactly 45 degrees. This causes the wearer of a shirt with 45 degree sleeves to not be able to maneuver as easily which is generally only an issue if they are in combat. An advantage of the 45 degree sleeve shirt is that you can use knot row contractions to decrease the diameter of the sleeves gradually, and knot row contractions are generally more aesthetically pleasing than hole row contractions.
Another type of European 4 in 1 shirt which is much less common is the "mantle style shirt". The reason it is called this is because you basically construct a chainmail mantle and then you build a shirt onto the mantle. It is somewhat more difficult to make a shirt in this manner because you have to use weird connection types between the mantle and the torso portions of the shirt.
Coverage refers to the amount of the body the shirt covers. A few technical terms for chainmail shirts include byrnie, haubergeon, and hauberk.
A byrnie is a vest; to the belt line, perhaps with shoulder overhangs, but no real sleeves.
A haubergeon is a mid thigh length chainmail shirt, with sleeves reaching anywhere from 1/2 biceps, to 3/4 sleeves.
A hauberk is a chainmail shirt reaching anywhere between the knee and hip and including 3/4 to full length sleeves.
Whether or not to add sleeves, and how long to make the sleeves is one consideration to make. Sleeves tend to add quite a lot of weight to a chainmail shirt. Short sleeves are easy, because you just extend the chainmail out from the shirt a little ways where the arm holes are. If you are making a European 4 in 1 "T" style shirt, the weave in the sleeve portion of the shirt will go in the same direction of the shirt which will cause it to hang open quite a bit. You have to use 'hole row' contractions to taper the sleeves on a T style shirt, unless you want the sleeves to hang open substantially at their final length. It is generally not advisable to use a lot of hole row contractions above the elbow, so you should only use them if you are making a long sleeve shirt. Adding sleeves to a 45 degree sleeve shirt will be simple because if you need to contract to gradually taper the sleeve, you can easily use knot row contractions.
It is generally a good idea to make the back of the shirt about four inches wider than the front. Also the top of the back of the shirt will be higher up than the front of the shirt. You can add gussets (which is basically extra material that is added to increase flexibility) at the tops of the shoulders and at the elbows to make your shirt fit your form better. They can be tricky. Experiment.
It is very common to want to make a chainmail shirt look more fancy. A few things you can do to achieve this are using trim, dags, dangly things, an inlay, etc. Trimming the neck line, sleeve ends, and bottom hem of a shirt with a metal of a different colour usually adds to the overall attractiveness of a chainmail shirt. Bronze, brass or copper makes great trim on an aluminum or steel shirt. You can even get really creative with colours if you use a metal that can be coloured through some kind of process like anodizing. You can buy premade anodized aluminum or titanium rings. You can get them in just about any colour. A different weave can be used for trim too. Half Persian 3 in 1 or [weave=Box Chain] makes great trim on the bottom of a European 4 in 1 or 6 in 1 shirt if you use the right ring sizes (you might find the need to use a larger ring size for a trim of a different weave if it tightens it up too much).
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