Meet the Crew: Emily-Jane Sturrock - Queen of Chainmaille

  • Emily-Jane Sturrock
  • Emily-Jane Sturrock during filming of The Lord of the Rings
  • Weta Chainmaille Keyring - available in our Shop.
  • Armour and chainmaille from Narnia

These days Matt Appleton, Weta's Costume supervisor and his team have developed techniques to cut maille to size from sheets, but back then, we usually needed to shape it for each garment. It's a bit like knitting patterns.

The original chainmaille we used on The Lord of the Rings looked great on camera, but we have learnt an awful lot since then and our new chainmaille is a lot finer, a lot stronger, more flexible and easier to work with and it takes a lot to get the rings to break apart once they are fastened.

So, while I got to learn the hard way about chainmaille, you also need to talk to Matt Appleton about how chainmaille has developed since those early days."

Magnus: "Thank you, Emily - I will do just that. Just one last question, so 5,000 rings a day, 6 days a week for 8 weeks... that's how many rings?"

Emily: "I really don't want to know..."

Magnus: "Well, if my calculations are correct - which they probably aren't - that's in the region of a quarter of a million rings. Impressive." 


I have been talking chainmaille with Emily. These days she's the Make-Up and Hair Department co-ordinator, but I knew she was one of the pioneers in the chainmaille department and spent a long time putting an unfathomable amount of rings together for the costumes for The Lord of the Rings.

Read more about Emily here.

Magnus (interviewer): "Emily - please tell us about the early days of chainmaille manufacture at Weta."

Emily: "Well, there were four of us initially. One who was an absolute fanatic about armour detailing, one guy who did re-enactment work and had made chainmaille from coat hangers that he cut and shaped into rings. And a fourth guy who was taught from scratch.

It was a bit like being at a very bad dinner party - there were the four of us around a table together for 10 hours in a stretch having conversations, food was put in front of us and we were eating and making chainmaille.

After the first three weeks or so, we actually started having the same conversations over and over again. Identical conversations - it was groundhog day.

We were using alkathene piping that had been cut by a machine into rings of a very specific width and then a slit was cut so that they'd open. We'd then be opening them by hand and closing them around another and another into a traditional pattern.

We found out the hard way that this was quite a painful method and we had very soon just about worn out our fingerprints. Having been cut by a machine, the rings had burr on them and your fingers took a bad beating. You had to have your fingernails really short because of the pressure you constantly exerted on them. And after opening 5,000 rings in a day you'd be slowly ripping your nails from the skin underneath them... which is excruciating as we found out. I say 5,000, I think the boys managed to get up to 7-10,000. I really don't know how.

We tried all sorts of things to protect our fingers, like different tapes and gloves, etc and found that the only thing that actually worked and was thin enough to still allow us to feel through it was The Simpsons sticky plasters for kids. Others worked too, like Batman ad Tinkerbell, but we went through a LOT of Simpsons plasters.

This was of course generation 1 of Weta chainmaille and we've come a long way since this. We're about four generations down the line now.

I mainly did sheets. Some of the guys started doing different patterns, but my brain just didn't want to go there.




Tags: Costuming