Things that will make you go blind: Making chain mail.

Once upon a time I got it into my head to make chain mail. My cousin George had made small piece and it looked cool. One day soon after I was bored and decided I wanted to figure out how to make it and I had the internet to tell me that it’s really not hard.

What you need is some 16 gauge steel wire, a quarter inch dowel, and wire cutters. First you wrap the steel wire tightly around the dowel. When you are done with this the wire looks like a spring. You pull the wire off the dowel and snip it with the cutters at the top of each loop. This is how you make all the little metal rings that you need to weave together. You’ll need a lot of them.

Weaving it all together is the hardest part. You have to follow a pattern where each ring is looped through four others on each side of it. That can be a little tricky but you can get the hang of it. It’s almost like knitting. Or weaving.

But what drives you blind is that it is all close up work. I’m used to close up work being that I draw and paint but there is a difference. When drawing or painting I move in and out of the work. I have to step back every now and again to get an overall look and then move in close to work on details. The key to avoiding eye strain in not to concentrate on the details for too long. I stare off into the distance as a matter of habit. It’s good to have a window to work by.

The problem with making chain mail is that there is no moving in and out of it. It’s pure detail work. Up close and making sure that every ring attaches correctly. Make a mistake and you have to go back. Plus they are little quarter inch across rings. Not easy to work with.

With chain mail you also can’t work by feel. My mother knits and crochets but doesn’t have to be looking at all the little loops she’s making. When the needles are flying along it’s all done by feel. You can move your vision in and out. Looking sometimes to make sure things are going as they should and then not looking as you make a bunch of loops of yarn. With chain mail you have to watch every ring go into place. Up close and personal.

I ended up making two pieces of chain mail. Both were about three inch wide bracelets. Not very big in the grand scheme of things. The first was an all steel model but with the second I got fancy and used brass to make some of the rings. This way I had two colors to work with. I just gotta have color. That was a mistake.

Since brass is considerably softer than steel the brass rings pulled apart. Soon after I finished the bracelet some of the brass rings bent open a little and the rings connected to them slipped out of place. Rings started shifting everywhere and the thing became a mess. So if you want to make your own my advice is to stick with steel.

But I gave up making chain mail after those two small bracelets. It was too demanding on my eyes. They hurt right now just thinking about it. And though I have all the patience in the world when making art I have no such patience for making craft. That and I had no real reason to make anything out of chain mail. I was satisfied with figuring out how to make those small bits of chain mail.

About a year after I made this chain mail a coworker of mine expressed an interest in learning to make chain mail. He wanted a chain shirt to wear to a Renaissance festival he frequented, was a hands on crafty guy, and so was looking to make his own. I warned him off telling of my chain mail experience and of how long it would take to make and entire shirt. After all it took me a few hours to make each bracelet.

He ended up abandoning his quest to make chain mail and found a nice chain mail shirt on Ebay for a very reasonable price. Neither of us even knew that such chain mail shirts could be found so easily. Or so cheaply. I think he paid about eighty bucks for the thing in 2002 or so. He was quite happy not to have spent many hours figuring out how to make a chain mail shirt. Or to make himself go blind. I like not going blind.