Making A Chain Mail Shirt

How to make a custom tailored a mail shirt.

You can find a lot of tutorials about mail, yet only few of them manage to give an idea about how to shape a mail garment to perfectly fit a body. There was much more knowlegde about this in ancient times. This article is just an approach to make you understand what determines a good shaped hauberk.

Relief Marseillaise on Arc de Triomphe, Paris. You can see mail shirts with two different alignments of the European-4in1 pattern.

The picture shows the Relief Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It contains both kinds of orientation of the 4in1 weave pattern. The left person wears it the “normal” way. Like this it contracts around the body and allows vertical blows better to slip away. The person to the right wears the weave turned by 90°. This way it spreads and blows can get stuck in the weaves. Last orientation was therefore rather uncommon. In mostly saw it on pieces of art and not on a real mail garment.

European-4in1 pattern with much and little tension on the weave

Because of the contraction, the normal orientation bears the question, how far it should be measured around a body. In the picture, you can see how two pieces of weave in the same orientation but different compression look like. The left one is contracted less than the right one. It seems to be best, to construct the weave very close fitting and not to allow it to contract much, which would give an advantage in weight. Yet this comes along with less agility and also with less protection. The chance of blows to get stuck increases and the forces of an impact can be distributed less within the weave. I prefer a weave with a density between both pictures.

Rows and colums in European-4in1 pattern.

To give the hauberk an appropriate density all over the body, you need to stop simplifying it to a model with the shape of a cylinder. That means depending on the wearer, rows should be longer around the breast and the hips than at the belly. You also need to give more space for the shoulders to stay agile. Sleeves should become less thick towards the hands and can be constructed with an angle at the ellbow. The picture is to explain, what rows and collums in a mail weave are.

There are two possibilities for the sleeves. They can be either constructed with rows running along the sleeve or around it. It is worth a not measured that the left person on the relief has got both: His left arm shows rows running around the sleeve whereas the right arm has rows running along the sleeve. It is the artwork of the 19th-century sculptor and does not accomplish the needs of battle armour. It is difficult, to depict mail, especially around the armpits and schematic drawings like the following one can easily lead to misunderstanding. So don’t derive only from that how to construct the armpits.

Both ways of aligning the pattern on the sleeves are historical. The construction with rows along the sleeves is easier to build, but the weave spreads when the arms point downwards.
The construction with rows around the sleeves legitimates its complexity with some advantages. They are all about the fact, that weave can be reduced to a thinner width along the columns in an almost invisible manner, whereas reducing along the rows creates seams. Thus this construction allows reducing the sleeves towards the hand with expansion rings spread all around and no visible seam. Furthermore as depicted there are rows running around the neck, which make it easy to attach a coif or a collar. During rising the arms, there is can be a lot of tension in the armpits. A good shaping of this region in the manner of the rows-around-the-sleeves type can prohibit that tension concentrations single rings, without adding much additional weight. The picture on the right shows, how I solved this. It is just one of several options. You can as well connect parts in a 90° seam.
I recommend not to align the expansion rings in a line but to spread them all around the parts, which avoids seams.

Two types of hauberk with coif attached, with rows of the mail pattern leading around the sleeves. left: with visible 90°-seams. right: with segments inserted and less visible seams.

There are two ways known to me, how to construct a hauberk with an attached coif, that has rows running around the sleeves. The first type is what I found on mail garments of other mail makers. I call it the 90°-pattern. A piece for the chest is connected to a piece for the belly and stuck pieces for the arms. The arms are connected seamless to the chest-piece, but there is also a small 90° seam, where they connect to the belly-piece. Unfortunately, tensions tend to concentrate at the point, where this seam begins.

Therefore I developed another version. I call it the segmented pattern. In this construction two segments are added to the front side of each armpit and another two at the backside. This results in less noticeable seams. Even the 90° seam in-between the segments is less noticeable than the 90° seam in the 90°-pattern. It is because the segments are orientated in a 45° angle towards the seamline. For the 90°-seam-construction there is a 90° angle of the sleeves towards the seamline, whereas the angle between chest-piece and seamline is 0°.

The figures show just the front parts of each version. They are connected to similar back parts at the black lines. The back parts look almost the same, yet there is a difference in expansion-rings on shoulders, belly and hips. The coif is an exception. There’s just a hole for the face on the front side. A flap for the face is not depicted due to clarity reasons.