Part 35 - Judging Maille for Non-Maillers
by Lord Thomas the Black


 Judging Maille for Non-Maillers


            Welcome back to another edition of “Blackmaille”!

            This month, I thought we’d discuss a problem common amongst re-enactment groups: the lack of qualified judges for Arts & Sciences competitions. It’s no secret that getting qualified people to judge A&S can be difficult. Unfortunately, there’s no “magic formula” for making it happen. So, many A&S coordinators make due with what they can get. I have all the respect in the world for those who volunteer their time to provide feedback on others’ projects. But let’s be honest here: not everyone can be an expert on everything. If you were to ask me to judge and entry of 14th century basketweaving, I wouldn’t know where to begin! Sometimes, someone will enter a very well-researched and authentic item, and you’ll have no idea what to do with it. What to do? What to do…

            Before we go too much further, let me preface this article by saying that we’ll be discussing how to judge maille, specifically (as that’s what this site is all about), and we’ll be using the Calontir criteria (as that’s where I live), so your mileage may vary. However, the basic principles should apply wherever you are. Also, because of the nature of this topic, this will likely be one of my longer articles, and may be rather picture-heavy as well. Just a heads-up.

            Ok, so, say you’ve volunteered to judge A&S. The day of the event is here, you’re checked in, and you have your list of entries you’ll be judging. Let’s see… a tapestry by Lady Whatshername, a wooden chest by Lord Soandso, and a maille coif by Lord Whosis. Uh, oh. Maille? You’ve never judged that before! Heck you’ve never even seen it up close! You’re and artist, not a fighter! What do you do? AAAUUUGH!

            Alright, calm down. Breathe. It’ll be ok. First of all, you’re reading this article, so that’s a step in the right direction. Second, your kingdom provides you with set criteria by which all A&S items are to be judged. So, let’s take a look at the criteria, and I’ll break it down for you, and explain what it means.  The Calontir criteria break each entry down to five categories that they are to be judged by. These are Documentation, Authenticity, Complexity, Workmanship, and Overall Quality. I’ll discuss each one in turn.

 (From the Calontir A&S Criteria for Chainmail)

DOCUMENTATION 0-8 pts. Judging and scoring for Documentation is based on a graduated level of knowledge and discussion of the components of the item. For Novice level, a 3x5 card is the minimum required, but more is encouraged. Any discussion beyond listing of the criteria below, on period practice, any conscious compromises or research is encouraged and should receive higher points than simply listing the information. Verbal feedback during the judging, how well the entrant understands the process of the creation of their item beyond what is written, can enhance the Documentation score. Give score based on the following:

*Description of entry including some of the following: country of origin, period of origin, characteristics of style for that period.

*Lists materials and skills used to complete the project

*Lists methods and tools used to complete the project

*Research and reference: cites at least one source and one visual or descriptive reference, or two of either.  

Ok, so what does this mean? Well, documentation is the paperwork showing the research behind the item, and the process used to come up with the finished entry. Basically, points are awarded arbitrarily, depending on how the individual judge feels the entrant did in this (and most other) category(s). In this case, you have a scale of 0-8 points, so let’s break it down by that.

            0 points – No documentation at all

            1 point – 3x5 index card, listing country of origin, time period, tools used, and cites one website or book as reference.

            2 points – Half-page description of entry, including all of the above, but listing two books as reference.

            3 points – One full page, detailing the materials and tools used, including a brief description of how maille is made. Two or more books used as reference.

            4 points – One full page outlining how item was made, with a bibliography on a separate page. Three books referenced, plus one or two scholarly articles.

            5 points – Two pages outlining process used to create item, plus a listing of tools and materials involved. Brief discussion of how item was used in period, or who would have used it. Bibliography citing four or more books and/or scholarly articles for reference.

            6 points – Three pages detailing process used, tools and materials involved, and a brief discussion of how tools/materials/processes used differs from those used in period. Bibliography should be at least one full page, and cover books, articles, and websites used.

            7 points – Four or five pages explaining item entered, including who used this item in period, why was it used, who would have made it, how it was made, how the tools, materials, and processes used differ from the way it was done in period, and why these differences were implemented. Bibliography runs a page and a half now.

            8 points – A six (or more) page report detailing (with pictures) everything listed above. Entrant should be able to discuss differences in materials, tools, and processes, and be able to explain their choices in detail. Bibliography should be a reading list for those wishing to follow in entrant’s footsteps. Bonus points if entrant has multiple copies of documentation for visitors and judges to keep.

(From the Calontir A&S Criteria for Chainmail) 

AUTHENTICITY 0-8 pts. Judge this at the Novice level, keeping in mind any plausible/explained deviations or substitutions from authentic period equivalents (reasonable substitutions for elements that are too toxic, too expensive or too rare). Efforts to achieve a completely authentic item (except those items that are unsafe) will score best. *Form/function—is it a period item and does it work in a period way (apparent knowledge or application of period practice)
* Methods of creation—appropriate to period or are consistent and give a period effect
* Materials used—period or reasonable substitutions that give a period effect
*Design, style-- is the design or style period or give a period effect

            Authenticity is how close the item entered looks to its period counterpart. Here, again, the points are awarded somewhat arbitrarily, though less so that for documentation. However, if you’re not familiar with maille in the first place, then judging authenticity can be tricky.

            0 points –  Sweater-maille (see my article on maille in the movies). ‘Nuff said.

            1 point –  It’s maille, but looks wrong. Maybe the wire is bare aluminum, or the rings are larger than 3/8”, or the wire used is too thick (like 12 gauge), too thin (thinner than 16 gauge), or the maille is a mixed hodge-podge of different wire and/or ring sizes. Can you tell what the item is supposed to be (i.e. if it’s a coif, does it look like a maille hood)?

            2 points – It’s maille, and looks like maille. The rings are a consistent size, as is the wire used. Something is still amiss, though. Maybe the wire is something other than steel, or the rings are too big for the wire used (for example, ” 16 gauge is a bad combination).

            3 points – The rings are proportional to the wire used (i.e. 3/8” rings in 14 gauge wire). All the rings are a consistent size. Wire is still not steel, though. Item looks like what it’s supposed to be.

            4 points – Now it’s looking better. Wire used is probably galvanized steel. Rings are proportional to the wire size (see above), and it looks like what it’s supposed to be. A discussion of tools and techniques used to achieve this probably involve an electric drill used as a mandrel, and a spool of electric fence wire.

            5 points – Still using galvanized wire. Rings are consistently proportional. Crank-style mandrel used to coil wire. Entrant should be able to explain how maille was made in period.

            6 points – Entrant has moved up to mild steel wire. Rings are still butted, but closures are clean. Maille is oiled, using WD-40 or 3-in-1 oil.

            7 points – Mild steel wire used again. Design of finished item closely resembles that of originals (i.e. maille coif has a ventail across the front). Maille may be trimmed in leather or brass., and might be oiled with olive oil, or oil-blackened, or polished in fine sand (entrant should be able to discuss which method was used and why).

            8 points – Maille is mild steel. Finished item is indistinguishable from period originals. For a maille coif, for example, face opening is trimmed in leather (preferably deerskin), ventail ties at temple with leather thong, and the bottom edge is trimmed in brass. Mild steel wire is oil-blackened, or polished in fine sand (entrant should be able to discuss which method was used and why, outlining the pros/cons of each method).

(From the Calontir A&S Criteria for Chainmail) 

COMPLEXITY 1-5 pts Rank the ambition of the entry, not the workmanship, based on the following. Judge the entrant at the Novice level, keeping in mind that not all period items are complex. Simple to difficult: chainmail tasse, camail or aventail, coif, hauberk, etc.

*Scope of endeavor (# of pieces, size of work in relation to amount of detail, etc)

*Difficulty/variety of design elements used—any design or ornamentation worked in 2 nd pattern, dags, trim, etc.

*Difficulty/variety of techniques attempted—butted, riveted

*Difficulty/variety of media, materials, tools used—gauge, type of metal wire

*Extent of original work or ideas

            Complexity is fairly self explanatory. How difficult was the item to create? How much tailoring was involved? How many different techniques (for example, joining triangles of maille, expansion rings, etc)? As the criteria say, judge the ambition, not the workmanship. That comes later. One thing to note: the size of an entry doesn’t necessarily equate directly to complexity. For example, a hauberk may be a big item, but it’s mostly just rectangles of maille joined together over the body. Little tailoring is required, and most joins are fairly straightforward. A coif, however, while small, involves a number of different tailoring and weaving techniques, and is actually more complex than a hauberk because of this! 

            1 point – Straightforward butted maille hauberk (for example). No complex tailoring, no trim, no inlays, entire entry woven in European 4-in-1 maille.

            2 points – Hauberk trimmed in brass rings. Entrant should try item on (if feasible), and item should fit reasonably well.

            3 points – Hauberk trimmed in European 6-in-1, or with an inlaid design in brass rings OR a basic coif. Items should fit reasonably well. Some tailoring in hauberk. 

            4 points – Coif with ventail. Item should fit well. Extensive tailoring in hauberk. Hauberk trimmed in brass dags, with inlaid design.

            5 points – Coif with ventail trimmed in leather and/or brass. Hauberk with brass trim and extensive tailoring. Items should fit person they were made for closely. If entrant made these for themselves, for example, they should try them on to check for fit. If made for someone else, that person should model items during judging. All maille items should be worn with appropriate padding underneath, and should fit over said padding.

            NOTE: When checking maille items for fit, it is not necessary for judges to try items on, as most likely, those items weren’t made for the judges, and so will not fit them as well as the individual they were made for.

(From the Calontir A&S Criteria for Chainmail)

WORKMANSHIP 1-5 pts. Rank the quality of execution and success of the entry. Judge the entrant at the Novice level, based on the following:

*Effective use of tools, methods, and execution-- neatness, finishing touches, good closure on rings, comfortable, good fit

*Techniques, handling of materials, etc.— correct ring size, wire gauge for type of entry, # of misshapen rings

*Design: period aesthetics, motifs, design (note: period sense of balance and proportion is not necessarily the same as modern) etc

*Form/Function: ability to serve intended function (combat or dress/display), durability (wire gauge correct to survive wear)

*Period styling or personalization or special embellishment

            Now we’re down to the nuts-and-bolts of maille. This section is all about the closures, cuts, tools, and techniques used to create the maille. This is where most judging falls apart if the judges aren’t familiar with maille. To begin with, you may wish to go back and read (or re-read) my other articles on maille before continuing here, just to familiarize yourself with the ins-and outs of this craft.

            This will be a fairly picture-heavy portion of this article, as such techniques are difficult to describe in words alone. All photos will be as clear as I can make them. If you have trouble understanding what I’m talking about, feel free to write to me for clarification (the address is at the end of this article).

            1 point – Cut ends of rings should be flush (Fig. 1), and not pinched (Fig. 2). There shouldn’t be any holes or missing rings.  

                          Fig. 1                                                             Fig. 2

            2 points – Closures should be clean and flush (Fig. 3 & 4). All rings should be of consistent size and shape. No “pringled” rings evident.

                               Fig. 3                                                               Fig. 4

            3 points – Design should be consistent with period examples (Fig. 5 & 6) 

          Fig. 5                                                           Fig. 6

            4 points – Item does what it’s designed to do (i.e. a butted coif intended for SCA combat should be either 3/8” or 5/16” rings, of 14 gauge wire. Ask yourself if it would pass a marshal’s inspection). Ring size should be proportional to wire size used (Fig. 7 & 8). Weave shouldn’t be too open or too tight.  

                        Fig. 7                                                               Fig. 8

            5 points – Embellishments (trim, etc) are of a period style and design, and are accompanied by appropriate documentation to that effect (Fig. 9 & 10). 

                       Fig. 9                                                           Fig. 10


(From the Calontir A&S Criteria for Chainmail)

OVERALL QUALITY 1-4 pts. Evaluate the work as a whole, rating the aesthetic effect and appeal beyond the mere technical proficiency. Consider how you react to the entry (intuitive response) and other items not previously addressed. This is the 'wow' factor; following are some examples to consider, but the category is not limited to these.

*Completely authentic from the ground up
*Unique or outstanding display or attempt at period presentation
*Logical creative endeavor within a period methodology (creativity/individuality)
*You want to take it home because it is really outstanding

            This is the “wow!” factor you hear people talk about. This is an almost  completely subjective category, as points are awarded arbitrarily based on the judges’ overall impression of the entry. Since the points are arbitrary, I won’t break this category down into what each step on the “1-4” scale means. This is completely up to you as the judge to determine how much, on a scale of 1 to 4, this entry impressed you.

            Please note that these are just the novice-level criteria. Judging intermediate and advanced entries are similar, but should take into account the advanced skills/experience of the entrant. What would be a “six” in authenticity for a novice may only be a “four” for an intermediate-level entrant. Hopefully, by the time you’re called upon to judge intermediate and advanced entries, you’ll be a little more familiar with the particular art or science you’ll be judging. 

Also note that at no time in the above criteria is riveted maille mentioned. In fact, the Calontir A&S Criteria doesn’t mention riveted maille until we get to the advanced categories. What this means to you is, if an entrant is entering a riveted maille item at a novice level, adjust your scoring accordingly. Riveted maille is (as of this writing) considered going above-and-beyond. As a general rule, whatever score you would have given a regular butted entry according to the criteria, go one (at least) point higher for riveted.

Finally, and I’m embarrassed that I should even have to mention this, but judge each entry solely on its own merits. Each entry should stand alone, as the criteria don’t call for competitive judging. What I mean to say is, the entrants aren’t competing with each other, so their entries shouldn’t be compared. If you judge a really kick-ass riveted maille entry, from a semi-experienced mailler first, then move on to a beginner’s first attempt at a hauberk (for example), don’t tear the new guy down just because it’s not as good as the first entry. It’s not fair to the entrant. If one entry really stands out in your mind, then that’s great. Ooh and Aah over it all you like. Then, put it out of your mind, focus on the criteria, and judge the next entry according to the criteria alone.

Keeping these things in mind, judging A&S shouldn’t be a stress-fest. It should be fun! It’s an opportunity for people to share their passions and knowledge with the rest of their kingdom, and it’s a chance for the judges to not only see who they should keep an eye out for when it comes to awards, but it’s also a chance for them to broaden their horizons and learn about other types of arts and sciences.

Thank you for joining me for another month of “Blackmaille”! I hope this month’s discussion has been of use to you. As always, any hate mail, fan mail, arguments, or questions can (and should) be sent to:


            Tom Beckett
                        13628 Belmead Ave
                        Grandview, MO 64030 

Thanks again!

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