Part 41 - RenFest Demo Write-up
by Lord Thomas the Black


Renfest Demo Write-up

            Welcome to another edition of Blackmaille!


            Having taken my readers on a tour of my shop, and told you all a little bit about myself as well, this month I thought I’d introduce you to a place near and dear to my heart: Renfest!

            Regular readers will no doubt have read my article on surviving Renfest (RENaissance FESTival)  demos (Blackmaille #23). Now you’ll get to see a practical application of these ideas.

            First: some history. The Kansas City Renaissance Festival began in 1976, as a benefit for the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1981, the grounds expanded to include the SCA Dell. SCA fighters and artisans alike looked to Renfest as a recruiting tool, and from day one, those artisans always included a mailler.

            For the next 25 years there is always a mailler in the dell. In 1998, the SCA and Renfest part company, but the demos continue under new management. In 1999, a fledgling mailler named Thomas the Black began his first of many years as the “mailler in the dell”. This demo, once consisting of maille and leatherwork, soon expanded to jewelry, then to period-correct armor, along the way attracting three new maillers, and a waiting list of mailler-wannabe’s.

            In 2005, a mix-up between the renfest’s entertainment director and the site director resulted in the Illustrious Maille-Monkeys ™ (as they’d come to be known) losing a turf war with the Living History Tour’s Lace-makers over the rights to the demo booth. Nearly crushed by their humiliating defeat, the Maille-Monkeys ™ were given a small gazebo and a cursed patch of land in a forgotten corner of the dell which no one else wanted. A sad day for the Monkeys ™, indeed.

            Determined not to let this be the end, Thomas rallied his troupe and had a meeting with the owner/operator of the dell, who promised the troupe a grand new building, a shop just for them, to be their permanent home. Bolstered by this shining dream, the foursome renamed themselves, and thus was born the Black Oak Maille Guild.

            Sadly, the new guild hall was not to be. The cost of a new demo building proved too much for our fledgling guild, and a new (apparently) rule prohibited permanent structures closer than 10 feet from the nearby creek.

            Refusing to be done in by this setback, the guild got permission to put up a tent on their corner, so they’d have some shelter from rain, and got rid of the gazebo. With the new tent in place, and inspired by the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”, the decision was made that if we couldn’t demonstrate how a maille shop was run, we’d demonstrate, “living history” style, how maillers operated while on campaign!

            And that brings us to our 2006 season. The Black Oak Maille Guild is re-creating, as accurately as possible, a mailler and his apprentices, personal armorers to a wealthy nobleman, following their lord to war. While our lord rides into battle, we remain behind with the baggage train and other camp followers. Our operation focuses more on repair than on manufacturing new maille. I, Lord Thomas the Black, lead mailler, welcome you to our campsite!


            The first table we come to on the left showcases the different varieties of maille that can be made, and some of the tools and materials we use to make maille.

Note that everything is laid out so that the patrons can see everything, yet there is still plenty of work space available for us to continue making maille on-site.

             Next, we come to our mandrel, “campfire”, and tent. The mandrel is part of the demo itself, and as an important step in the maille-making process, needed to be where patrons could see it. The rest adds to our portrayal as maillers in the field. The small pot by the “campfire” contains oil for the maille.


Continuing around the demo area, we get a better view of the anvil and stump, and a camp chair, with our “mascot” and a gambeson.


Finally, just outside our area, we have a permanent armor stand on which we can display finished pieces. This stand is right next to the walkway, and grabs patrons’ attention as they pass by. This gets them to come inside and see what else we have to show them.

In this shot, you can also see the large workbench that my students use to not only showcase their finished projects, but also to demonstrate the making of maille.

            This set-up we have here is just an example of the kind of interesting, engaging demonstration you can put on at your local Renaissance/medieval festival. Just because you’ve been given a table in a small corner of the fest doesn’t mean your demo will be ignored. If you set things up so that the patrons are guided through your area, and have interesting things to show, your demo can be a huge success! To illustrate, on our first weekend of this season, we had almost 900 patrons visit our demo, AND, it was the hangout of choice for performers passing through the dell!

            Thank you for joining me for another edition of “Blackmaille”! As usual, any questions, comments, fan mail, or hate mail can (and should) be sent to me at: 

                                    c/o Tom Beckett
                                    13628 Belmead Ave
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

 Or you can email me at:

             See you next month!    


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