Please note that this post is in no way shape or form supposed to be an accurate research paper on chainmail. There a lot of folks out there who know a lot more about the history, origins and applications of chainmail than me. This is just a blog. :-)
If you have had the chance to browse through my Look Book, or my Etsy Shop, you will see I have a bit of a thing for chainmail. Actually I have a BIG thing for chainmail. I absolutely LOVE it. And it never ceases to amaze me how fascinated by it people are, especially when I tell them I use it to make jewellery.
When you mention chainmail, people automatically picture a knight in shining armour, (see the beautiful illustration of a knight in shining armour drawn by my son). And you’d be right. Chainmail is a type of armour made of small metal rings linked together to form a protective cloth. The standard chainmail suit we most associate with medieval knights was made using the European 4-in-1 weave ( the most commonly used). It creates a beautifully fluid material that will mould itself to whatever shape it covers. Perfect for getting round those awkward elbows and knees. The flexibility of this metal cloth, gave knights a greater range of movement, as well as offering decent protection against sword blows and even arrows.
So in Medieval terms, chainmail was a huge development for warfare in general. You can still see ‘traditional’ chainmail used today, and not just by re-enactment groups. Divers working with sharks, wear a fine chainmail mesh to protect against sharp teeth, as do butchers (think of the metal gloves butchers wear when butchering meat with very sharp knives). NASA has even created a modern version of chainmail for use in space. It seems they plan to use it on everything: from a protective cover on objects deployed into space, through to an insulating space suit for astronauts (it seems their chainmail is slightly warmer than mine).
I became interested in chainmail when I was an archaeology student. We’ll not say how many years ago that was, but suffice to say, I’m old enough for my kids to think I was born in the Saxon Era! (I had to go and check the ingredients in my face cream after that particular comment from my daughter!)
The chainmail associated with traditional European medieval armour has an appearance resembling garter stitch (cue flashback of the kid in your class who came to a fancy dress party dressed as a knight complete with the grey wool balaclava knitted by his granny). And you would be forgiven for thinking that that was the only pattern for chainmail. But you’d be wrong.
Chainmail weaves come in all sorts of different patterns, from the beautifully simple 2-in-2 chain, to the stunning Byzantine and Japanese Daisy weaves (see the daisy earring photo below) to maddeningly complex constructions that I can only ever dream of creating.
Chainmail artists (yes, artists) have created beautiful weaves in a variety of mind-boggling patterns. Just Google it and you’ll get an idea of what can be made by linking lots of little metal rings together (or rubber rings, or even beer can tabs!).
One of the best thing about chainmail (because I’m a bit of a science geek) is that it is the perfect example of what happens when art meets science (yes, I know there are other equally perfect examples out there). The mathematics and material science used in chainmail is quite astounding. The slightest alteration in material, or the aspect ratio of your jump rings (that's the relationship between the thickness of the wire used to make your jump ring and the diameter of said jump ring) and you go from a piece that is fluid to one that is rigid.
I can spend (and have spent) many a happy hour weaving away in my studio, lost in my own special happy place and there is one thing I have learned. There are very few things that are as satisfying, or as beautiful, as a silver chainmail bracelet that has just come out of a barrel polisher.
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