This is for the adventurous person who would like the look without the cost and weight of traditional chainmail. While researching chainmail, we found that with some effort the look of chainmail could be achieved using some spray paint and PVC pipe.
To make your pattern, cut rectangles out of paper or muslin for the front, back, and each shoulder (like tank top straps). If you want sleeves cut a rectangle the length you want the sleeve to be and wide enough to make a cylinder around the arm. The neck hole is more anatomically correct and comfortable if it is a bit more forward instead of in the center of the top. You will construct sheets of PVC rings based upon these paper rectangles and will eventually link the sheets together to finish your chainmail (more on this later). It is best to have your chainmail a little too big rather than a little too small as the mail gathers itself in by its own weight.
The PVC Pipe
Making chainmail out of PVC pipe is not an exact science however, the best results have been obtained when using PVC pipe that is about 7/8” in diameter. Use PVC pipe that has a low-pressure rating, as it is the easiest PVC pipe to work with. The thinner the wall of the pipe, the easier the pipe is to weave together. If you start with black or gray PVC pipe, you will need to do less painting. Keep in mind that the rings/garment will be moving when you wear your chainmail, giving the paint a chance to peel. If you use black pipe this will not be so obvious, of course it also depends upon how often you wear your mail how this will affect you.
Cutting the PVC Pipe
Cut the PVC pipe into rings between 3/16” -1/4” wide (about the thickness of the pipe), keep in mind you will need 1,000’s of rings to do this project so you might consider using a band saw to cut the rings. You will need to remove the PVC splinters that result from the cutting of the rings by sanding or by putting them into an old pillowcase and putting them in the dryer for 10 minutes on air only (do NOT use heat). The tumbling of the dryer will knock the splinters off the rings. After you have cleaned the splinters off the rings, you will need to use tin snips to cut through one side of about half of the rings, for the purpose of assembly, these rings will be referred to as open rings. The uncut rings will be referred to as closed rings.
Painting the Rings
To obtain the best look you will need to paint the rings several times, layering different colors. The color combinations can vary and will depend upon what color pipe you are working with. This technique may take some experimenting to get the desired look, as you need to lightly mist or layer the colors. An airbrush would be ideal to use for the painting of the rings. One color combination is a dull gray primer, spray over that with a metallic silver, and then lightly tint over that with a black and white to gray mix. This will result in a dusky metallic hue. Another combination a black base tinted with a hammered finish silver spray paint and then dusted with a charcoal gray. If you paint the rings after the garment is assembled, you will need to shake the garment to move the links between coats. To avoid some of the peeling of the paint use a plastic bonding paint.
Weaving the Rings
We will show you the standard European 4 in 1 pattern which is what you will weave to make the rectangle sheets for your garment. What this means is there is 1 open ring which is weaved through 4 closed rings. The result will be sheets of rings that will look similar to this. If you are making your garment where it fits loosely and it is not under any stress, the open rings will not need to be glued once they are woven. For a sturdier garment, glue the open rings closed after weaving.
For the purpose of clarity in this demonstration, the open rings will be represented by blue circles, red lines or circles will represent the closed rings.
Take one open ring; loop it through four closed rings as shown here.
Lay the first five links out as shown here.
Place a second open link through 2 closed links as shown here.
To build the column edge, weave the left two closed rings from step 2 onto the open ring in step 3 as shown here.
Repeat this step until you have the sheet as wide as you want it to be. When spread out, your row will look something like this.
When your sheet is as wide as you want it to be you will need to start another row. To do this, place a third open ring through 2 closed rings as shown here.
Take the open link made in step 6 and weave it through the first and second closed link of the top row as shown here.
To continue to add to this new row, take an open link and add one closed link as shown here.
Continue this process until you need to start a new row, then repeat from step 6.
Sewing it Together
You will find that mail is much more forgiving than fabric, you can open each link to add or remove links and the joint seams will not show. You can make the garment any shape that you want, just keep adding rings where you need them. The chainmail pattern may be “sewn” together in two different ways. You may connect the pieces with rings or you may connect the pieces with dark leather straps or shoe laces. You may want to combine the two methods, using the rings to connect the shoulder straps to the body and the sleeves to the shoulders. You can then use two sets of three ties to connect the body pieces, making the piece adjustable. Leaving the sides open in this manner will relieve any stress on the garment and omit the need to glue the rings closed during assembly.