Chain mail and duct tape

Critical path analysis is one of the things my dad likes to bring up whenever any vaguely complicated household task needs doing. It’s a term/technique from project management, and is essentially a formalised and properly worked-out version of the vague reckoning anyone does (well, in theory) when starting a task – what needs doing, and what order does it need doing in? Which bits are dependent on which other bits? Can you save time by setting thing A going, doing thing B and then returning to thing A? And so on. It’s designed to enable you to plan out all the necessary stages of a project first, and so prevent the terrible moment where you realise you can’t finish until thing C is done, and which you really should have started before thing A.

I bring this up only because the subject of the post is a prime example of not realising that things B and C were even necessary until contemplating how to achieve thing A. 

  • I made a waistcoat. I want to take photos of the waistcoat! (A)
  • Okay, waistcoats look kind of odd flat. I’ll take photos of the waistcoat on my dress form.
  • The dress form currently has my chain mail living on it. I’ll need to move the chain off it. (B)
  • But now I need somewhere else to put the chain mail where it won’t all get caught on itself (and I’ve been meaning to figure out how to store it properly for ages). I’ll make a bag/roll/thing for the chain. (C)
  • I made a thing for the chain. (C completed)
  • I take the chain off the dress form and put it away. (B completed)
  • Looks like the packing in the dress form has settled. I’ll need to slice it open and re-stuff the bit that’s no longer full. (D)
  • I cut and restuff the dress form. (D completed)
  • I close the hole, clean off the dress form, do some other repairs, and put the waistcoat on it.
  • Waistcoat photos achieved! (A completed)

Given that I had the camera out anyway, I took photos of the chain mail bag and the dress form as well.

My chain mail is aluminium and hence riveted (aluminium is soft and rings won’t simply keep their shape the way steel ones will) which means it catches on itself, and on everything else, very easily. I don’t like storing it just in a heap as it gets tangled, and often rips out a ring or two falling back into shape. So I ended up making it a storage roll, a bit like a sleeping bag:

It’s shaped like an enormous apron with the straps at the narrow end instead of the middle.

The chain lies on the wider half, then the narrower half is passed up through the torso to keep the layers apart, and the straps fed out through the arms. This photo doesn’t actually show that stage; I just wanted to put in a picture of my chain mail, really.

Then I just rolled it up and tied the straps to themselves. Et voila, chainmail roll that sits happily in my kit trunk and will tuck nicely into my bag. Obviously there’s still some scope for the rings to catch on one another, but it’s lessened a lot.

I used a big piece of what I think was cotton canvas (from stash, originally from SCRAP, originally-originally from who knows where) quite stiff, heavy, and sufficiently awkward to sew that I ended up sacrificing two new-out-of-the-packet needles to the gods of the machine. Thread was heavy and grey and also from SCRAP.  Straps were made from the bits I cut out to narrow one half, folded in on themselves like really huge bias binding.

We’ll see how it works! For now, it seems to be a simple and (crucially) well-contained method for keeping my chainmail in good shape. I imagine it’d also work fine for steel chain, although you’d want to make sure the straps were sewn on really securely to cope with the weight. Also, should you be considering making your own chainmail its very own sleeping bag, do not use fabric you care about – steel chain is greasy and has to stay that way to stop it rusting, aluminium chain sheds aluminium oxide all over the place.

Thus I finally gained access to the dress form. Here it is:

Nowadays I could probably afford a proper one, but when I made this … thing … I did not have access to much ready money but could get hold of a willing assistant, a lot of duct tape and a frankly ridiculous amount of rubbish. 

The base idea is that you wear an old long T-shirt or tunic and get your assistant to cover you in duct tape. Then you cut it off, seal the back back up, and stuff it with paper/old carrier bags/fabric scraps/etc. until it’s back to shape. I used this tutorial.

Be warned: this took 40 metres of duct tape and the combined dry rubbish reserves of two houses full of students. It turns out that the internal volume of a human torso is a lot more than you think.

That said, I would wholeheartedly recommend this as a substitute for a commercial dress form. It’s cheap on materials (if a bit long on time and faffing about) and has the notable advantage of coming out exactly the same shape as you are. It will get minor bumps and lumps from the stuffing, but the major measurements will stay the same, which is an absolute godsend when your bust, waist and hips correspond to three different ‘standard’ sizes – even adjustable commercial forms don’t always adjust that much. It’ll also faithfully reflect other bodily quirks like sway back, asymmetric shoulders (my right is lower than my left from years of carrying a heavy shoulder bag to school), differently sized breasts, and so on, which commercial forms can’t account for.

It’s also viable to simply make a new one if your shape alters drastically (illness, childbirth, surgery, etc.) or to have multiple ones around if you only-sometimes use underthings that alter your shape (corset, back brace, chest binder, whatever) and want to be able to fit clothes for both eventualities.

Obviously this won’t be relevant to everyone, but it’ll be a consideration for some, and I wanted to mention it because – despite the entirely true principle that the brilliant thing about sewing your own clothes is being able to fit them to your personal body in a way that ready-to-wear clothing doesn’t accommodate – the majority of the patterns, instructions, gadgets, etc. needed by and/or available to your basic sew-er still assume that your personal body is that of an able-bodied cissexual woman. I think it’s important to reinforce that it’s possible to make amazing clothes for anybody and any body, and to point out resources that make that easier.


One last practical note – the material does settle. I’ve had to re-stuff portions of mine three times now. This involves slicing a hole in it, packing in more filler and taping it back up. Photo included solely for the alarming resemblance to the bit in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull where he cuts open the sarcophagus.

What horrors lie within ...?

What horrors lie within …?

About Craft (Alchemy)

I make things and make things up.
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2 Responses to Chain mail and duct tape

  1. I’d never thought about how you might store chain mail before. Fascinating!

  2. It’s not something that comes up often! I’ve had mine for seven or eight months, and never seriously thought about how to store it long-term until now.

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