Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and as a gig writer way before it was hip.
It Started With A Passion For All Things Medieval
My husband has been making a chain mail shirt from coat hangers for about 15 years now. The chain mail shirt has been in the works for so long because his interests are varied, and this is just one of his many projects. But it is usually the one that comes up first at the dinner table when we are feeding the missionaries for our church. Usually while we are heaping the hot steaming food on the missionaries' plates, we make small talk about our lives. The missionaries joke with and tease the small children, then begin with the usual questions. What do you do? How did you meet your wife? Where did you get married?
Not halfway through dinner, my husband is going back to the bedroom and pulling a large sweater box from underneath the bed, where he keeps his masterpiece. The mail shirt is well-constructed and very heavy. It lacks sleeves, but already weighs over thirty pounds and reaches to my husband's waist. He is a trim man, about 6 feet tall. The shirt has literally thousands of links, all completely handmade—from coat hangers.
Making Chain Mail from Coat Hanger Wire: The Technique
There are several methods for making chain mail. My husband's method focuses on ease and the tools he has on hand. The most time consuming part of his hobby is making the metal rings that he later links together into a suit pattern. To make perfect round rings, he has developed his own clever and straightforward technique. I don't know if his technique is similar to medieval armorers, but it really seems to work for him.
First, he unwraps the coat hanger, and straightens the wire as best he can. Next, he uses a metal rod he got from a cast iron fireplace cleaning set we once owned. We kept the base and rod from that set, so it stands up vertically, and is heavy enough to withstand the twisting and turning that comes next. Next, using a pair of pliers and plain elbow grease, he tightly wraps the rings around his metal rod, creating 30 or more perfectly circular rings of a uniform size. Then he uses a pair of wire snips to cut the wire into individual rings.
He keeps his completed rings in a plastic box with a tight lid. When he is ready, he links them together using the common 4 in 1 pattern that is often found on armor from knights in western Europe. This pattern links four rings to one ring together. You could think of the armorer's craft as a sort of extreme knitting.
Now dinner is forgotten, and the missionaries move with my husband into the living room, while they take off their ties and reach high into the air so they can try the shirt on for themselves and get a photograph to send home to their girlfriends (or mothers, if they aren't so lucky). Usually their missionary companions joke around and take snapshots with their digital cameras.
My husband isn't a prideful man, but he enjoys drawing out the fun, so usually, due to my husband's overdeveloped sense of modesty, I'm the one who then says, "Go on honey, bring out the sword and shield AND helmet too."
And they leave full of good food uttering the now familiar words, The folks at home are never gonna believe this!
My husband has a degree in medieval history, and has an avid interest in heraldry, medieval warfare, and arms and armor. He is the kind of guy who does things not because they are useful, but to see if he can. He isn't a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, but between you and me, I think he'd join, if only he had enough time.
Knight's Armor and Chain Mail Lingo
This information is accurate for the high middle ages, generally considered to be the 13th century.
Knight—A member of the upper classes in medieval society who has been knighted.
Page—The first level of knight training, usually beginning at the age of 7 and ending around 14. Pages learned how to serve, play chess, and learned complex rules of etiquette.
Squire—The second level of knight training beginning at age 14. Squires began the military part of their training, including learning to joust and wield a sword, and they accompanied their masters in battle.
Hauberk—One of several medieval terms for a chainmail suit, usually referring to a knee-length, long-sleeved suit that included an integral hood and mittens for neck and hand protection. Buying a hauberk would cost the modern equivalent of purchasing a house!
4 in 1—The standard Western European pattern of linking rings to make chainmail. Each ring is linked to 4 others, hence the name 4 in 1. However, this name is modern, because the medeivals just called it "mail".
Armorer—Someone who makes armor, swords, or weapons. Amorers were craftsmen, and though their products were pricey, they did not enjoy a high position in medieval society.
Ventail—A chainmail "skirt" that hangs from the back of a helmet in the 15th and 16th centuries.
True Depictions of Knights in the Medieval Ages
Why Coat Hangers?
To make a chain mail shirt you need wire, and lots of it. Chain mail can be constructed from varying weights or gauges of wire, but like in knitting, the heavier the material you use to construct the garment, the fewer links you will need to complete it. My husband is using coat hangers because we are the ultimate funky frugal family, and he inherited a large number of them from his mother-in-law, who was so happy to give them away, that they started to multiply in our closet when we were sleeping at night.
Coat hanger wire is heavier gauge than the metal that was used to make chainmail in medieval times, which is why it is so heavy. But my husband has a day job too, and he admits that his goal is mainly to look good and not to be completely authentic.
Medieval armorers had an exacting trade and were getting paid to link thousands of rings together. My husband's rings are "butt-jointed", which means that ends of the wire in the rings just butt up against each other. In authentic medieval armor, the ends of the rings overlap, are riveted, which gives the armor superior strength and durability. But it takes about 5 times longer to make!
How to Make a Simple Box Chain Mail Pattern
The pictures of the knights in this hub come mostly from illustrations in the Maciejowski Bible. The Maciejowski Bible is a picture book created in the 13th century by an unknown source in France. It is named for one of its recent owners, Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Kraków, who lived during the 17th century. As an interesting aside, After Maciejowski gave the bible to the Shah of Persia, the bible was annotated in Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.
The Maciejowski Bible is now owned by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, and it has several other names, including the Morgan Bible, the Crusader Bible, and the Book of Kings. It is considered one of the best sources for accurate information about clothing styles, armor, and weaponry during that time period. It illustrates stories from the Bible using contemporary costuming to depict the biblical characters, but it did not contain any text, originally.
My husband visited the Pierpont Morgan Library on a business trip to New York City not too long ago, but unfortunately, this priceless and precious object was not available for display at the time. However, the library has a great online exhibit showing the pages from the Maciejowski Bible.
My husband's suit of chainmail (which he hopes some day will be a complete hauberk) is styled after the picture of his medieval persona, whom he has named Robert Redmantle.
How To Make A Chainmail Shirt/Suit Part 1
How to Make Chainmail Suit/Shirt Part 2
More Arms and Armor Articles
- A Primer on Modern Body Armor, from silk vests to mo...
Ever wonder where did personal armor came from, how did it develop, and where will it go from here? This explains it all.
- Making Chain Mail (Maille) for Jewelry or Armor: A H...
A simple way to make classic chain mail for jewelry or armor. Well-illustrated in 3D. (Note: chain mail is often misspelled maile, maille, chainmaille, chainmail, European chain mail, and so on.)
ThePelton from Martinsburg, WV USA on January 10, 2013:
This will give you standard four-in-one European style chain mail. There is also Japanese style six-in-one chain mail, that could be made with a solid welded central ring, giving extra strength.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on August 01, 2012:
Thanks nochance. I think chain mail jewelry would be a fun thing to make, and definitely more easy to stick to than making a shirt. Besides, if you outgrow jewelry, you can always just add a few links. If you outgrow a chain mail shirt, you are looking at a few thousand more links!
Chloe from Minnesota on July 30, 2012:
This is amazing. I'm definitely gonna have to try this. I go to renaissance faires a lot and it would be cool to have some homemade chainmail jewelry. (I'm not ambitious enough to make a shirt and actually wear it. Too heavy.) Wonderful hub with great information and layout.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 01, 2012:
My husband's suit is not done and probably needs to be resized now. I appreciate the wire supply tip. I thinking making a suit in a year would require more focus than we have given the project, but I respect your ability and focus to do that. The chain mail my husband is making is quite heavy because the wire gauge is pretty thick.
Dustin01 on June 19, 2012:
wow i actually didn't know you could make mail out of coat hangers i would have to try this. i actually make chain mail for a living all by hand. if anyone is interested in how to do so, this is a good way to get started. and if you are really interested to in learning and wanting to make one. just know that its very time consuming the first time i made a full suit it took about a year or so. but now i can make a full chain mail suite in about three monthes or so. and its actually not all the expensive as you would think if you wanna start check out this website tractorsupply.com real cheap on the wire you need and all. and thx for the info about the info about the coat hanger chain i will deff look into that.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 25, 2011:
It is a time-consuming process, and definitely a labor of love. Is there such a thing as a chain mail geek, I wonder?
cheapsk8chick on January 24, 2011:
I think the chain mail stuff is pretty neat. I went to a medieval festival once and wore the hood and vest of chain mail and thought how amazing it was that someone had made it all by hand.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 03, 2010:
Thank you for the information. I will pass it on to my husband and hope others who read this article will also find your info helpful.
TheDustin on March 19, 2010:
For your information (and everyone else who's read this and is interested in making some themselves) a friend and I do this as well. We've found a MUCH more efficient way to wrap the wire to make your rings. It's definitely not authentic, but it works much faster and with a lot less work.
We take an electric drill, set on low, and use a rod inserted into the end. We put a hole in the end of the rod, to hold the wire as the rod turns (with some serious torque.)
When we've got this setup complete, we start a few loops with the wire by hand, then my friend holds the drill as I don some tough leather gloves and hold the wire, letting it wrap itself as the rod turns.
The result? We can wrap wire enough for thousands of rings in just a couple hours. Granted, cutting the rings off will take quite a while more, but by using the drill you've just saved yourself many precious hours.
Also, in case your husband is interested in some fighting, (you said he doesn't have time for the SCA, and I know they ask for more money too) have him look up the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society, Amtgard, or Dagorhir. Each really good foam fighting games and while I personally spend a good 6-10+ hours per week fighting, making gear, etc etc, it's not truly necessary and there are guys in my group who spend roughly 3 hours a week, one night a week, when it fits their schedule. That might give your husband some good exposure to a hobby he so obviously enjoys. Here are a few links for ya. :)
This is a great mailing community. http://www.mailleartisans.org/
BMCS Home page (Belegarth is my personal favorite. Hard hits, shield bashing, a full-contact sport.): http://belegarth.com/
List of BMCS groups (I include this as most Utah realms aren't represented on the main site): http://geddon.org/index.php/Category:Realms
Dagorhir Homepage (Basically the same as Belegarth.): http://dagorhir.com/
Amtgard Home page (lighter, cheaper, weapons with a focus on fighting speed. A bit less "Full-contact"): http://www.amtgardinc.com/
If you decided to read through all of this and chose to pass on the info and/or you or your husband are interested in talking with me or hearing more about my silly games, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 19, 2009:
Thanks, stringfellow. I'm glad you liked it.
stringfellow on October 19, 2009:
nice job i like this idea i alot iam going to try this thanks :P
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on August 19, 2009:
I'm glad you liked it. I'm guessing there are a lot more closet armorers out there than I realized. ;)
KevCC on August 19, 2009:
Excellent! I once made small bits of chain mail for gloves using split washers to save time.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 17, 2009:
Beth, I'm glad you found the information useful! This subject matter has a lot of devotees. My husband should seriously hub about this stuff.
Beth100 from Canada on July 16, 2009:
Completely fascinating hub! My son is interested in medieval times and had asked me how to make chainmail. Now, I can let him read your hub! Thanks!
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 06, 2009:
Wow that is amazing! Thank you for that information!
Wendy Iturrizaga from France on July 06, 2009:
Great hub! Did you know that you are number one in Google's first page with this hub when you look for "Making Chain mail out of coat hangers"? Well done!
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 04, 2009:
Thank you very much. My husband is so knowlegable about this topic. It is fun to learn more after interviewing him.
RedElf from Canada on July 04, 2009:
Great information. One of ladies I worked with made chain mail. She was a member of a mediaeval recreation society, and used craft wire to make her rings. Your husband's hobby is indeed impressive, and so is your hub about it. Thanks for sharing his passion with us.