Educator How-To: Be your own knight in shining armor with homemade chain maille

When people think of knights, they generally think of armor, too. The plate armor most associated with knights was actually a fairly recent invention. Armor started as quilted shirts and thick leather pieces to cover arms and legs (if you were fortunate enough to afford it!).

Chain maille was a pretty fantastic innovation for the time, but it had its drawbacks, too. It was heavy and cumbersome and only as strong as each individual link. Because the links were made of steel or iron, they rusted quite readily, and those rusty links were the proverbial “chinks in the armor.” They were points of weakness that might allow a sword point or arrow to penetrate. 

The job of armor maintenance was given to young boys that might otherwise be underfoot. To start, the armor was placed in a barrel of sand and sealed up. The boys would then roll the barrels back and forth across the yard and the sand would scour the blood and sweat and rust off the links. Even a well-maintained chain maille shirt would need repairs quite often and the color on even the best of days would be a dull dark gray.

Further innovations led to the plate armor that we know today, but even then, it wasn’t always so shining. Here is a suit of armor that belonged to Henry VIII. 

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Beautiful? Yes. Well-crafted? Yes. Shining? Not so much.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that body armor like this was a strictly European invention.  Most cultures that engage in warfare have some sort of armor to counteract the weapons. Some of the armor is ceremonial, but more often than not, it is clever and particular to the local environment. 

The Maya and Aztec, for example, wore knee-length jackets of tightly-woven quilted cotton called ichcahuipilli. The jackets were soaked in salt water and then the water was allowed to evaporate. The salt left behind would crystalize between the quilted portions of the jacket, creating small, thick, sturdy plates of protection which were effective against arrows, atlatl darts, obsidian swords and batons.

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They didn’t have cotton in Micronesia, so on the islands of Kiribati, they used what they did have: coconuts. Helmets, leg coverings, shirts and chest protection were made from tightly-woven coconut fibers as protection against another natural resource: sharks (or more accurately, shark teeth). The teeth of the sharks were drilled in the roots and then attached to the base with bits from the veins of the coconut leaf or human hair. The shark-tooth swords were intended to disembowel an enemy or open a major artery so he would bleed out. Yikes!

Want in on all this exciting armor action? You’ve got two options!

Option 1: Bring your crew down to see Magna Carta before it leaves on August 17th.  You have three short weeks! If you want to bring a school group or day care, be sure to contact fieldtrips@hmns.org to get the school rate. You will also want to consider coming on a Friday mornings at around 11.

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Option 2: Can’t make it to us? Then try your hand at making your own armor. Sort of.  Here’s a pretty easy chain maille bracelet you can make at home. It won’t offer you much protection but it will allow you to practice your technique before trying something a little more complicated.

Materials:

-Jump rings or chain maille rings (The bigger they are, the less work for you.)
-The clasp of your choice or a piece of leather or ribbon to tie the bracelet ends together
-2 pairs of jewelers pliers (or needle-nosed pliers if you are in a pinch)
-A tape measure or piece of paper to measure your wrist

Procedure:

  1. Measure how long you want your bracelet to be using a tape measure (or even a piece of paper). The standard size for women is about 7 inches and the standard size for men is about 8.
  2. Open several of your jump rings. To open them, you DON’T want to pull them apart.  Instead you want to twist them open. If the individual rings start off as an “O” shape, you don’t want to make them into a wide-mouthed “C”. Instead, you want to slide the ends away from each other, one towards you and one away from you. Because of the way the rings are made, they naturally take that shape, so that should help you get started. If your rings lay flat when opened (rather than in a twisty shape), you will need to try again! Once you have a pile of open rings, things get a little trickier. You can keep up though. I believe in you.

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  3. The next step is to put four closed rings on an open ring and then slide the open ring back into the closed position. Then repeat this step over and over. You will need probably 10 of these 4-in-1 sets for a 7-inch bracelet.

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  4. Once you have the 4-in-1 sets made, you will need to use your pliers to separate out two rings from the four. The set should hang from your pliers as two rings, with one ring in the middle and two more rings at the bottom. You are then going to feed an open ring through the top two rings. Shift your pliers around so that you are now holding onto that open ring.

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  5. Using your other set of pliers, pick up two rings on another 4-in-1 set. Loop those two rings through the open ring (effectively creating a new 4-in-1 set) and then close the open ring. You should have created a small chain at this point. Great job!

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  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have 4 or 5 small chains. I am doing 4, but I have pretty small wrists.

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  7. Getting close to being done! You will need to link these small chains in exactly the same way you did the sets. Take two rings from the top of one small chain and put them on an open ring with two rings from the top of another small chain.
  8. Now, repeat step seven with your longer chains!
  9. Finish up by adding a single jump ring to each end. This will let you tie the two ends together, or you can add a clasp to that last ring before you close it up. You’re done!

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Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

The beginning of the school year is an exciting time for teachers and students alike. We have a quick science activity here that will engage  new students and make your room too cool appropriately cool for school: Shrinky Dinks.

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

There are myriad of ways you can use this activity, so the application is up to you, but I am envisioning name plates or name tags, zipper pulls for pencil bags, cubby or tote markers, key chain fobs … the possibilities are endless!

Materials:

No. 6 plastic
Sharpies, colored pencils, or an inkjet printer
Sandpaper
Scissors
Oven or toaster oven
Parchment paper
Non-insulated baking sheet or flat piece of cardboard
Hole punch

Procedure:

The first thing you need to do for this project is to gather is No. 6 plastic, also known as polystyrene. Polystyrene is hard and clear and often used in protective packaging like deli containers. While it can be tricky to recycle, recycled polystyrene can be used in manufacturing rulers, license plate frames, vents, switch boards, and thermal insulation items. Oddly enough, No. 6 plastic can also be whipped into a foam and made into Styrofoam.

For this example, I saved a bunch of lids from aluminum takeout containers, but you can use just about anything that is rated No. 6.  If you want to make an image that will shrink evenly, you will need a piece of plastic that has been stretched evenly. Corners, cups and edges can be unpredictable because they are stretched and molded in multiple directions.

“Plastics are made of long chain-like molecules called polymers. Because polymer chains are so long, they can be manipulated to create a wide-range of properties — in this case for No. 6 plastic, polystyrene. Polystyrene is a thermoplastic, meaning the long polymer chains are heated and stretched, then cooled to form the plastic sheet. The polystyrene remains in this “stretched out” state unless something causes it to change. The cool thing about thermoplastics is that upon reheating the plastic, it reverts to its original state, in other words, it shrinks. This is the same process used to “shrink wrap” items like food containers or other products that have protective plastic wraps.” Lori Steward, Middle School Science

I decided to try something different this time, so I cut the unpredictable edges off my plastic lid in order to get a flat piece of plastic I could trim and run through the printer.

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

(If you decide to use sharpies in your project, you can give your students a piece of plastic and a set of sharpies and let them get to work. The sharpie will adhere to the plastic with no problems. If you want to use colored pencils or an ink jet printer, you will need to scuff up your plastic so that there is a bit of texture for the color to stick.)

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

I knew I wanted to cut around the outline of my long-horned beetle, but for students you might want a standard shape like rectangles for name tags or zipper pulls. You might also consider using a die cut to make a particular shape — like circles or the school mascot.

If you want to attach a cord or a ring to your shrink dink, you MUST punch a hole in it BEFORE you bake. The standard sized hole punch shrinks considerably.  I always have the urge to use a smaller hole punch, but then I can’t fit anything through the remaining hole.

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

Before baking.The larger hole is a standard sized hole punch. The smaller hole is a mini punch.

SO! After I ran the plastic through the printer, I trimmed around my shapes. The “painted lady” was easy as it was a rectangle, but the beetle was trickier.  Since No. 6 plastic is pretty thin and brittle, corners are delicate. You can see in the picture that I had a bit of a problem around the beetle’s tarsal claws. No worries though; the plastic gets tougher as it shrinks.

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

Now get out your baking sheet. I like putting a piece of parchment paper down on the baking sheet to protect the surface that you might otherwise put cookies on, but it isn’t totally necessary. If you do decide to use parchment paper, it has a tendency to curl, so you may need to wad up the paper and flatten it back out before using it.

Place your decorated plastic on the cookie sheet and place the sheet in the oven to bake the plastic for 2- 3 minutes on 325 to 350 degrees. Each oven is different, so watch closely!

Danger Note: You are already working with heat, but you might also be working with a possible human carcinogen. No. 6 plastic has been found to leach styrene, so if you choose to do this craft make sure it is in a well-ventilated area!

You will see the plastic curl up and then flatten back out. Wait about 30 seconds longer than you think you need to. Then wait a few more. It is extremely tempting to take the shrink dinks out before they are totally ready, but waiting longer than necessary doesn’t really hurt anything. So resist!

Occasionally your shrinky will decide to stick in a single spot. Not to worry! When you pull the items out of the oven, immediately use something hard and flat, like the bottom of a pie pan, to press out any uneven spots. If you aren’t quite satisfied, you can actually stick your shrunken piece back in the oven and reheat it until it is soft.

Once you remove the piece from the oven, it cools very quickly, so you can handle it almost instantly. I usually pull the cookie sheet out, flip the piece on the kitchen counter and press it flat for a few seconds. By the time I have done all of this, 30 seconds or so, the piece is ready to hold.

How much shrink can a shrink dink shrink? About this much.

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

The image on the left is the starting size and the image on the right is the finished size.

Final product!

Educator How-To: Recycled Plastic Shrinky Dinks

How To: Make Terra Cotta Armor!

Check out the previous post The Clothes Make the Warrior to learn how to decipher the armor on the Terra Cotta Warriors now on display at HMNS. Then, try your hand at making your own!

Materials:
Large paper grocery sack
Scissors
Cardboard
Hole-punch
Brads
Tape
Paint (optional)

Procedure:
armor1. Cut 150 squares out of cardboard.  The squares should be 1.75 x 1.75 inches a piece.  You may cut one and use it as a template to trace the rest. 
2. Cut the paper bag into a tunic shape that can be slipped over the head.  You may have to experiment and find out what works best depending on the size of the child.
3. Cut out two rectangular pieces (you can use the left over pieces from making the tunic) and tape them to the shoulders.  These will be the guards. 
4. If you wish to paint your armor, you should do this prior to assembly.  I do not recommend painting the bag, but you can paint the square pieces.
5. Use the hole-punch to punch a hole in the top-middle of each square.
6. Starting at the top of your tunic, attach the squares one at a time by placing a brad through the pre-punched hole and then poking it through the bag.  Make sure to put the squares close together.
7. Continue this process until you have the front and back completely covered.  You may have to trim some of the squares to make them fit properly.
8. Next move onto the guards.  These are the rectangular pieces attached to the shoulders of the tunic.  Attach the squares to the guards in the same manner.  You may need a sharp object to start the holes in this area.  This should be done by an adult.
9. Slip the armor on your favorite child and have them stand sentinel!

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Background:
Armor was made of small plates of leather, covered in lacquer to stiffen them.  On the top and bottom of each plate are double close-set-holes.  These plates were attached by knots of leather or thong.  Depending on the size of plates, a suit of armor could have up to 250 plates.  The smaller the size of the plates, the higher the rank of soldier.  The armor of higher ranking soldiers had more decorative straps and ribbons in a geometric pattern.  The armor opened up on the right side allowing it to be slid over the head.

Heavy infantry and low ranking soldier’s armor covered the front of the torso from shoulder to waist, curving in the front.  In the back, armor went from the shoulders to the lower back.  Attached at the shoulders were shoulder and upper guards.  To allow for movement, plates at the waist and shoulder guards were loosely sewn.  This armor would be made from larger leather plates and would have no straps or ribbons for decoration.