BLACKMAILLE
Part 11 - Questions and Answers
by Lord Thomas the Black
 


BLACKMAILLE

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

             Ok, originally I had planned to do a question-and-answer article based on the mail I got about my past articles. Unfortunately, if anyone’s out there reading these articles, YOU’RE NOT WRITING TO ME! Not having any mail to answer makes writing a Q&A article kinda difficult, you know?

             Just for the record, my address is:       Blackmaille
                                                                     c/o Tom Beckett
                                                                     6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
                                                                     Grandview, MO 64030

Hint, hint!

            Anyway, since I didn’t have another article planned for this month, I’m stuck with the Q&A slot on my schedule. As some of you who know me know, I do a demo at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival every year. Interacting with the public every weekend on this level is a unique experience, and I get a fair share of good (and not so good) questions every day. As a result, I’ve decided to use this forum to answer the questions that I get at least two or three times a day during my demo.

            By the way, did I mention my address is:

                                                                              Blackmaille
                                                                              c/o Tom Beckett
                                                                              6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
                                                                              Grandview, MO 64030

Just checking. On with the Q&A!

1.)    What is maille?   Maille is a type of armor used throughout the Middle Ages, in nearly every country. Its simple, yet flexible design allowed armorers to duplicate it worldwide, while its flexibility offered sufficient protection against the weapons of the day.

2.) Why is it so heavy?   Because it’s METAL! Seriously, though, if you’re asking why MY mail is heavy, it’s because I work with what’s called “butted” maille. Butted maille differs from period mail in that the rings are simply squeezed shut, instead of being riveted closed. It’s a lot easier to assemble, and not quite so time-consuming. Un-fortunately, the trade-off is that we have to use thicker wire for butted mail than for riveted.

3.) Why must thicker wire be used for butted?   I thought you’d never ask. It’s a weight thing. Your average maille hauberk is made up of roughly 50,000 rings. Those rings all pull on each other while worn, and thinner wire will pull apart under that stress. So, we use thicker wire (14 gauge or better) for butted maille. For riveted maille, since the rings are sealed shut and won’t pull apart, we can get away with using thinner wire (around 16 gauge) for this.

4.) Is it real?   Wha…huh? Depends on what you mean by “real”. If you mean is what you see on my demo table actual medieval maille, no. If you mean is it something you can see and touch for yourself, yes. If you mean “real” in the sense that we could all be the dream of a Greater Being who’s about to wake up… I don’t know! How philosophical do you want me to get with this?

5.) Do you plan to do another Q&A article like this?  Funny you should ask! Yes, I do plan to do another one at the end of my run of articles. If you have questions you want answered in that article, please send them to:

                                                                        Blackmaille
                                                                         c/o Tom Beckett
                                                                         6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
                                                                         Grandview, MO 64030

6.) How do I write documentation for A&S competitions?   Can’t help you there. I don’t know! I’ve only entered one “competition” per se, and the only documentation required was a single sheet with “What is this?”, “Where is it from?”, “What time period was it used in?”, “Who made it?”, and “Who used it in period?” answered.  It’s not the best documentation, but for that event, it was enough. For better info on documentation, my dear friend Master Modar has a webpage with some great links to all sorts of articles, both about documentation, and everything else medieval! His page can be found at:

http://www2.kumc.edu/itc/staff/rknight/Research.htm

7.) How do you make this stuff?   This is usually from people who are standing right there watching us make it! Seriously, though, making maille involves many hours of monotonous labor. First you have to coil your wire, then cut the coils into rings, then weave the rings into whatever pattern you want. Many, many, many hours (weeks, months, etc) later, you have a hauberk! Presto! If you really want to know how to make maille, there are a plethora of websites dedicated to this once-lost craft that will teach you step-by-step what to do. Or, if you’re in the Kansas City area, look for me at the Forgotten Sea Baronial Meetings, and I’ll take some time to teach you there.

8.) What’s the difference between chainmail and ringmail?   Actually, the term “chainmail” is a misnomer. The correct term is just “mail”, from the French “maille” and Latin “macula”, meaning “mesh” (as in a net). “Chainmail” was coined by the inventors of  “Dungeons and Dragons” to differentiate it from scale-mail, plate mail, ringmail, and so on. Maille (I use the French spelling to distinguish the armor from the stuff delivered by the post office) is made of thousands of interlinked steel or iron rings, and worn over a gambeson. Ringmail is made of larger iron or steel rings, more like washers, tied or riveted to a heavy leather coat.

9.) Who invented maille?   No one really knows. It was so widespread throughout the known world that pinning down its origin is somewhat of a problem. We do know that by the time the Roman Legions had conquered most of the known world, the maille they wore was old news. The oldest surviving piece of maille was found in a Celtic grave dated to 300 B.C. A little before my time, but it shows you how old the technology is.

10.) What’s the oldest account of maille in literature?   The oldest I’ve come across is a passage in the bible (no, not the King James version, before anyone tells me that’s later-period). In Exodus, where Moses is describing how the tabernacle must be outfitted, he describes the robes worn by the priest as having “an opening about the neck as on a coat of mail”. There is also a description of Goliath ( I forget chapter and verse right now) that has him wearing a coat of mail.

11.) How did they make maille before pliers were invented?   I swear, at least once a day out at the renfest, I get some guy watching us assemble maille, who thinks this is just a hilarious question. Phooey. Pliers are old, ok? Maybe they didn’t always have “Craftsman” stamped on the sides, but they’re not a new invention. Tongs and other plier-like tools were commonly used in crafting medieval maille.

12.) Can you make a chainmail bikini for my wife/girlfriend?  It’s always some guy asking me this while their girlfriend/wife looks disgusted. And for good reason. Ok, fine. To answer your question: Can I? Yes. Will I? No way, no how, in no fashion, NO. Not for any amount of money. I have to draw the line somewhere. First, what you should ask yourself is this: would your girlfriend/wife really look good in maille? Most times, the answer will be “no”. Second, try to keep in mind that even the best maille, with the cleanest closures, will pinch in places she doesn’t want to be pinched. Finally, there are a huge number of fittings that have to be done to get the shape right. Do you really want your girlfriend/wife unclothed around another man that often? Do us both a favor: put the “Conan” comics away and grow up. Thanks.

13.) You’re kinda sarcastic!   Um… thanks? Was there a question there?

14.) How can we avoid another smarmy Q&A like this one?   Hey! That’s easy! Just send me some REAL questions to answer, about maille, about my articles, about anything you like (although the maille-related ones are more likely to get a real answer)! My address is: 

      Blackmaille
      c/o Tom Beckett
      6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
      Grandview, MO 64030

Well, that wraps it up for this Q&A session of “Blackmaille”. Thank you for joining me for another month. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have. As usual, any mail-related questions should be sent to:

                                    Blackmaille
                                    c/o Tom Beckett
                                    6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

            See you next month! 

 



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