Closing a mail ring with inner diameter of 6mm using a dome rivet. © Lonnie Colson 2020.
It started innocently enough. I bought a nice riveted mail standard, or collar, made from 6mm blackened mild steel rings from Mark Hale at Cap-a-pie. It came without a liner or method of closure. I commissioned a hinge clasp designed by Josh Davis of Davis Reproductions, based on period artwork and surviving examples, and stitched my own lining from a couple layers of linen and topped it with red leather. However, it still needed something to set it apart, so I decided to add a couple rows of brass rings. It was a very satisfying feeling.
Crocheting with steel was rather addictive, and I soon needed more. I decided it was time to make a new fauld, or skirt. Many years ago, my first one had been a simple over-sized hoop of butted mail that was closed with a drawstring. The extra girth meant that it was much heavier than it needed to be, and I had to wriggle into it and hold it all in place while trying to tie it securely around the waist. I had later "upgraded" to a rectangular design made of 10mm wedge-riveted rings stitched to a thin leather belt that closed in the back. Unfortunately, that method left a large section of 'me' exposed. I ordered quite a few bags of 6mm flat rings with round rivets in both blackened mild steel and brass.
Not knowing how to begin, I reached out to the well-renown expert Nick Checksfield. Nick has been making and restoring mail since 1992, meaning he has handled the real thing. He is currently an educator at Windsor Castle but has worked in the past as a mail restorer at the Wallace Collection. Nick has also been seen as a mail subject expert in documentaries such as "Going Medieval" with Mike Loades. He very patiently explained how to start with a rectangular section of mail that just fits the waist and close it into a loop, leaving a long list at the top to allow the wearer to slip into it. He then explained how to add any number of V-shaped expansions to allow for ease of movement. I finished it off with several alternating rows of brass round-riveted and solid punched rings
My current project is what many refer to as a collared half-shirt or half-vest. It will have a front closure with integral collar to alleviate the need of a separate standard. The tailored short sleeves will fit inside the upper cannons of the vambrace (bicep plates). It should both reduce the overall weight of my maille undergarments and make them easier to don without a lot of assistance.
History of Maille
Maille, or mail, was probably invented by the Celts circa 3rd century B.C. It was manufactured all over Europe; however, towns such as Cologne and Nuremberg were widely regarded as specialists. A single, knee-length mail shirt, or hauberk, could contain as many as 50,000 links and require up to 100 days to construct. To some extent, mail could be 'made to measure' in order to fit under the upper and sometimes lower cannons of plate armour.
Mail offered good overall defense. It was very flexible and was effective against cutting and slashing blows. It was less effective against piercing and percussive blows, such as arrows and maces. For that reason, mail was normally worn over quilted garments to absorb some of the blunt force trauma.
During the 14th century, plate armour began to supplement mail. Eventually plate armour became more enclosing and supplanted mail as the primary form of armour. In Italian states, many men-at-arms continued to wear full mail shirts in conjunction with faulds, or skirts, under their harness. Men-at-arms in many other regions abandoned the hauberk and began to use lighter-weight sections of mail, sometimes stitched to an arming garment.
Images of modern reproductions of mail by Erik Schmidt and Phil Parkes.
Mail history information obtained from the Royal Armouries.