Medieval garb has been out of style for centuries. But for Dave Cain, it's essential to his jewelry business.
Chainmail refers to a sheet made of small, metal rings linked together to form a secured guard. Cain specializes in transforming these little rings into jewelry, but this is no contemporary idea.
“I and several other artisans before me have been reinventing and rediscovering this process for many years, especially thanks to modern industrial wire making techniques,” Cain said.
The history of the armor goes back many millennia, dating back to ancient times.
“Most of what we think of as ‘chainmail’ is one very small family of patterns that was used in armor, dating back to at least 500 B.C,” Cain said.
Chainmail uses a special pattern allowing itself to be used for garments other metals would be unable to build.
“There are a large number of other types of chain assemblies that do not work as sheets, and therefore cannot be made into armor,” Cain said.
Until industrialism, the most labor-intensive task in creating chainmail was tediously making the wire.
“We take it for granted nowadays, but turning raw metal into a smooth, even wire is a very time and energy intensive process, and really only suited to the very ductile precious metals,” Cain said.
It began with flat sheets of iron or steel. Ring-shaped pieces were stamped out — some open, some closed. The open rings were then linked together with the closed ones, in turn making chainmail.
“Modern machinery can pull and shape steel into any shape one could need, and now we chain artisans can buy wire by the spool,” Cain said.
For Cain, the challenge now lies in the artistic side of things, or “developing new ideas out of a millennia-old process.”
He first got into the art of chainmail through a friend whose son made himself a chainmail shirt.
“When I asked her how he had done it, she gave me a piece he had experimented with and said, ‘I don’t know, figure it out!’ and so I did,” Cain said.
Cain stayed up all night, disassembling and reassembling the pieces with his bare hands until he comprehended the method beyond the pattern.
“[It is] sort of like an ancient Rubik’s Cube,” he said.
From there, Cain left his job at the old Jittery Joe’s on the Eastside, which has since been torn down and replaced, and focused on building a business out of his jewelry.
“To begin with, I had to be dragged reluctantly into the sales aspect of it,” he said.
Once getting past that, Cain has made Dave Cain Jewelry his primary job.
“Running a business like this is more like doing three jobs at once, there isn’t a lot of time for much else at the moment,” Cain said.
This Tuesday, he will be featured at the Athens Fibercraft Guild’s meeting.
The Fibercraft Guild is a group of approximately 30 people who are interested in anything that has to do with fabric, although anyone who is interested is welcome to come.
“We have knit, crochet, weave, make baskets, quilters,” said Bonnie Montgomery, the program coordinator and past president of the group.
The group meets on the second Tuesday of every month. As program coordinator, it is her responsibility to come up with the meeting’s main program each month.
“Personally, I buy [Cain's] earrings. My daughter is into costumes and she’s told us how interesting his chainmail is,” Montgomery said. “She’s also a member of [the guild], so it is more likely to be interesting for the group.”
Cain plans to bring to the meeting examples of traditional chainmail patterns, as well as some of the more modern/ jewelry-oriented patterns. His latest creation is a butterfly pattern out of a classic Celtic chain assembly, which he said he is quite proud of.
“I’ll bring the raw materials to demonstrate any of it that the guild would like to see,” Cain said.
What: Dave Cain with Athens Fibercraft Guild
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Lyndon House Arts Center