This is my first tutorial – I’ll try not to be to dry and I’ll explain what I did and those things that worked (and those things that didn’t work) for me.Deciding how many scales to purchase – 256 small scales linked together in a square (16 scales on each side) is approximately a 10” square. Each small scale is 1/2 inch in width – and there is no overlap horizontally, in fact – there is a gap between each scale approximately 20% of its width horizontally.
Measure the area you are covering in scales and figure approximately 250 scales for every 10” square you are covering. I like to think in “squares” because the math is simple Area = Length times Width. If you want to calculate in circles, go ahead and use Area = Pi times the radius of the circle… squared, if you were so inclined
Deciding how many rings to purchase and what type – I purchased an equal amount of rings to scales, but it appears I used slightly more scales then rings. I believe this is because I didn’t ring the bottom of my shirt or the bottom of my arms. I was happy to have the extra rings however, as they get bent or come loose.
I tried only two types of rings, the stainless split rings and the machine cut rings:
I ended up using the machine cut… and here’s why:
I (for whatever reason) could not figure out how to properly attach the split rings to the scales and guarantee they connected properly (I describe this further down). It was a 50-50 shot each time I connected them and I got tired of constantly having to undo the rings and try again (often to only do it wrong once again… grrr). The machine cut rings were easy and I was able to quickly crank out sheets of scale. Unfortunately you sacrifice ease of use for “staying power”, as the split rings will not come undone while you wear the scales… the machine rings can and do come loose.
SPECIAL NOTE: The Ring Lord now sells colored rings! I can’t tell you any more then that – but having rings that match the scales would have been cool.
Before we begin, I’ll have to make some assumptions:
1. You have already procured your scales and rings (I purchased mine from www.theringlord.com). I used Small Blue Anodized Aluminum Scales and Bright Aluminum 18g - 18ga 3/16'', although there are several different types of rings to choose from, the principles are the same.
2. You have the tools required and the ability to use them (I used regular needle nose pliers - but theringlord also sells specialty tools, like the split ring pliers)
3. You have a working area that should be well lighted and provide you a flat surface to layout your scale sheets.
4. You are a patient person with tons of free time (or at least the ability to manage their time).
It all starts with linking two scales together with one ring. The scales should either be “face” to “face” or “back” to “back” (no spooning):
I was anxious to see what these would look like all put together, so I expanded these out until I had a scale swatch (8 scales by 8 scales)… if you want to do that, feel free – but eventually what really worked for me was to set these two linked scales aside and link two more and set them aside, and then two more and set them aside, and then two more...
Personal Note: I found that linking two scales together eventually became a “no thought required” process and allowed me to multi-task while creating a bag full of “twos” (by multi-task I mean things like watching TV or conversing with people – not driving or operating heavy machinery). In the beginning I just made enough “twos” that I could make “fours” then “16s” and then “64s” and so on (I’ll explain this later)…this was great to see if I was doing it right and it was a great motivator for me once I saw what the scales would look like put together. But as I mentioned, eventually I found that it was easier to just create the same types of patterns again and again, as opposed to constantly changing the methodology.
A Bag of “Two”
Once you have gotten bored linking two scales together, you can take two sets of “twos” and link them together to become a “four”. The rules still apply about “no spooning”. Two scales sharing the same ring should never be flush together (i.e. what I call “spooning”).
Line the “twos” up side by side and connect one of the scales from each set to each other (top to top, bottom to bottom):
Start building your pile of “fours”.
4s, 16s, 64s, and 256s
At this point you will see how every scale will have four rings and every ring will have two scales. Understanding how scales fit together will allow you to find those mistakes that will probably occur. Here are some reference pictures of the back rings to help you out:
As you keep building up your square sheets, there becomes a pattern that is apparent. Keep looking at the back of the scales and “eye” the rings. They should line-up with one another. You might have to “lay down” the rings (just pat them down with your hand – you might have to grab a stubborn one with your pliers and give it a lift or twist). Even after I had done thousands of scales, I’d still come across a scale with only 3 rings connected to it. Ugh – this requires some thought and patience as you unravel that portion of the scales and fit in the missing scale. Don’t get upset, if like me… you’ll be undoing lots of scales as you learn.
With small scales – 256 of them is approximately a 10” square. These I set aside as they are a good size to build chest, back and arms. I also set aside some 64s and 16s for filler.
Properties of Scales
Scales do not behave like cloth fabrics. You will have plenty of compression up and down (Y-Axis) but very little give on the horizontal stretch (X-Axis). Metal scales with metal rings have a “not so surprisingly” lack of stretch properties.
I found an old T-shirt that fit me and took it apart at the seams. I’m guessing that there are patterns out there you can buy (or you may already own), but this worked well for me.
I laid out the pattern (cut-up shirt) on a flat surface and I began to lay my finished swatches of scales (face down – ring-side up) on the different pieces of the pattern. You will now begin to connect the scale swatches together and remove the scales that extend over the pattern outline. This is a tedious process, and it’s a bit depressing to “undo” scales that you spent time linking together – but you really don’t lose them… you are just moving the scales to a different area (better than cutting cloth or leather where you have discarded scrap).
The Chest and Back need to be separate pieces. I know there are patterns out there where they are connected at the shoulder around the neck – this is great for cloth… but this won’t work for scales. “Why?” you ask… The scales need to point downwards (radiating away from the neck) whenever possible. If the back and chest were one piece, the scales pointing down on the chest would be pointing up on the back:
Scales that point upwards will end up sticking straight out (as do scales that are pulled to tight) – much like the hairs on the back of an angry dog. Here’s a picture of my upper chest at the neckline – the scales were pulled tight during the picture and it captures what I’m talking about.
After some time, the shape of the underlying pattern will start to manifest in the scale swatches. Once you have a completed portion (Arm, Chest or Back) set it aside and start the next one.
Putting the Pieces Together
I highly recommend a dress-form or a mannequin when assembling your pieces. If you can’t procure one of those, a friend with a similar build will work (if their patient). If all else fails – roll up some towels or stuff dirty laundry into a pillow case – because you are going to want this on something when you connect them.
Chest to Back – This can be done on any large flat surface (yes… the floor is a large flat surface). Scales facing down and rings facing up – begin to connect the top front piece to the top back piece (leaving an opening at the neck area). Linking them at the shoulders two rings per scale along the seam:
forming a zigzag pattern. Just do the top pieces for now and finish when you can place your head through the hole and wear the scales like a poncho (open on the sides). Hopefully the scales go to the tip of your shoulders and the neck line is to your liking – if not, start adding or removing scales as needed. Once the neck (front and back) looks good and the width is correct, we can close up the sides.
This area is open to choices. I choose to scale up the sides and make it seamless (like a metal tube-top). This makes getting it on and off more difficult, but I love the way it looks seamless. I was debating adding stretch material along the sides, thus giving it flexibility and making getting dressed a lot easier – but I went for artist rendition as avoided any side seams.
However you choose to close the sides, you now have a scale tank-top (or half tank-top). Next comes the sleeves.
Place the scale piece (tank-top) on the dress form/friend/stuffed pillow case/mannequin inside out (that’s with the scales towards the form and the rings facing out). You need to have access to the ring side to “sew” the sleeves together. Your sleeve piece should be fatter in the middle (or at some point) that’s the top. With your rings, begin linking the pieces together (similar to the shoulders of our Front and Back pieces) two rings to each scale in a zigzag pattern. As you get to the armpits, you might have to adjust the number of scales.
VERY IMPORTANT – Once the shirt starts coming together and taking shape, take it off the form and put it on yourself. You need to see how it feels (is it too tight, too loose, etc.) as it comes together. Be prepared to do this often. There is nothing worse than having to disassemble your shirt after you spent all that time assembling it. If like me – I had to add and remove scales throughout this process to get it to fit just right. It is time consuming, but necessary for a proper fit. If you were making a bagging scale-mail tunic, I wouldn’t bother - but a Super Heroes shirt is suppose to be form fitting.
Covering the Seams
With the shirt nearly done, you’ll notice seams going from the tip of you shoulders to your neck (where we connected the Chest to the Back). If you chose, these can be covered easily with a simple scale epilate (a stripe of scales they lay on top of the seams). Measure the length of the seam, and begin to create a stripe of scales two wide that will cover it.
By now you should be a pro - but I'll be happy to assist and answer any questions.
Let me know if this is helpful - good luck heroes.