Chain maille is an art of armor making that is thousands of years old, and is created by interlocking individual metal rings into one of many different “weaves”, or patterns. No one knows, or can agree on, exactly how old chain maille really is. Originating in Europe, it migrated as far east as Japan. Used as armor, and commonly recognized as such, maille retains some practical use today. Its often used to create intricate and beautiful jewelry in a variety of different metals, as well as shark suits, butcher’s gloves and lumberjack leggings, where maille’s original protective properties are still used. Maille continues to be used as armor in certain groups, and more commonly as decorative costume in role-playing and reenactment groups.
The metal used in a piece varies based on the purpose, and even then can vary, but in general, armor pieces tend to be made from a steel, costume pieces from aluminum, and jewelry from a variety of materials ranging from stainless steel to gold.
In a modern world, the tools, methods, and materials are far superior to those in ancient times. Rings begin their life as wire, in one of many different gauges, or thicknesses. Using a steel mandrel, that wire is spun into a tight coil around the mandrel and then slipped off and cut into individual rings. The cutters today vary from simple bolt cutters to elaborate mechanical setups using a jeweler’s saw that produce precision cut rings. However they are cut, these rings are the basis of all chain maille.
Just as important as the rings, is how the rings are joined together. The way the rings are joined together gives definition to a piece of maille and is what sets it apart, or makes it similar or identical to other pieces. Typically this distinct pattern of the way the rings are interlocked is referred to as a weave. There are numerous different weaves, with more being invented every month, each with its own distinct properties, as well as similar properties to other weaves, which allows them to be categorized into “families” (to a degree).
Browse through more Chain Maille Basics posts or visit M.A.I.L. to learn more about this ancient, and addictive art.
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