Maille, Chain Maille, Chain Mail, Chain or Mail; regardless of how you pronouce this craft it is one of the most impressive and time consuming forms of hand-crafted armour making that has been developed. Its origins are misted in the depths of time, but it is believed that it was originally created in France and adopted throughout the medieval world. True Chain Maille consists of many thousands of similar sized wire links, interwoven together to form a flexible sheet of metal. This sheet provides protection against many slicing weapons. There are no examples of medieval chain maille in existance, as they have corroded and rusted away duing the interveining years, however there are some sources of information on how maille was originally made.
In todays technological world, maille is only created by a few people, who use it in various reinactments and roleplays or to make jewelerly and other ornimentations. During days gone by, a blacksmith would 'draw' wire from metal , hammering it into shape, wind it around a mandril former into a spring, cut it using a chisel and then labouriously interlink the resultant rings into a piece of maille. Depending on the smith, the rings may have been welded shut or rivited shut. This is a far cry from how maille is made today. Ringlets can be purchased through large companies in a number of different metals and colourings and the armour maker need only interlink them together. Nearly all ringlets are made of metal that is strong enough for them to stay shut once closed, meaing that welding and riveting is not required - unless you want to!
There are many methods of interlinking (or weaving) ringlets together, some are 'historically correct' and others have been created by various modern maille makers. The most common weave is one that is commonly called "European 4-in-1". This consists of each ringlet being connected to four others. Other weaves include European 6-in-1, Japanese and many others. In addition to these weaves, which create sheet of maille, there are a significant number of 'chain' weaves, that create a length of chain, this can be used for jewelery or other applications.
As mentioned previously there are a number of modern weaves that have been created recently, such as Dragon Scale, in which a set of 4-in-1 has a layer of smaller 4-in-1 interwoven. In the correct materials and in the right light the maille appears to shimmer.
I have been maille making for the past two and a half years, and have made two full maille shirts (sometimes called Hauberks). I am currently working on my third shirt and am punctuating the time, with experimenting with different weaves and materials.
Some of my recent projects