My First Adventures in Chain Maille!

Mar 8, 2012

Every once in a while, I am assigned a topic to write about here on Beading Daily that pushes the limits of what I know about jewelry-making. This time, it happened to be chain maille jewelry. I've never done anything with chain maille, and I was a little intimidated at the thought of opening, linking and closing all those tiny jump rings. Don't do it!, was the advice from Jewelry Making Daily's Tammy Jones. Tammy, apparently, resisted chain maille because she didn't think she had the patience to sit still and link all those little jump rings together, either!

chain-maille-jewelry-project
It doesn't have to cost a lot to get started with chain maille. Some jump rings and a couple of pairs of jewelry making pliers are really all that you need!
But what's life without a little jewelry-making adventure now and then, right? And since this is National Craft Month and I'm participating in the 30 Day Challenge being given by Fusion Beads, I thought, hey, this will be perfect for the Day 3 Challenge: Learn a New Beading Technique.

To get started, I looked for an easy chain maille project. Naturally, the first place I looked was in the Free Resources section of Beading Daily, and sure enough, I found a lovely chain maille pendant project. After reading some of Tammy's Jewelry Making Daily posts about making chain maille, however, I decided that I would wimp out and buy my jump rings instead of making them myself. (I'm not THAT brave!)

What I found when ordering my jump rings was that I couldn't find the correct size for the smaller rings. So I ordered one size that was a tiny bit too small and another size that was a tiny bit too large. I figured I'd experiment with each and see what happened with them when I tried to use them in the pattern. I also ordered a special ring for opening and closing jump rings, thinking that any new beading tool that can help me with my first chain maille project can't be a bad thing.

chain-maille-jewelry-project
My first chain maille pendant, accented with a huge Swarovski crystal pendant!
Once I had all my materials together, I sat down on a gloomy Sunday afternoon and turned on (appropriately enough) a documentary about the development of mathematics and set out to make my first chain maille necklace project!

So, here's what I discovered:

  • My chain nose pliers were pretty much useless for gripping those jump rings. I'm not sure if it was because I'm just not skilled at opening and closing jump rings like that or if my pliers need to be replaced, but whatever the reason, I found myself dropping the entire piece of chain maille over and over whenever I tried to grip one of the jump rings with the chain nose pliers.
  • The jump ring opening tool was great for opening the rings, but not so great for closing them. My flat nose pliers worked much better for closing my jump rings, even when I had to nudge them into a tight space. I couldn't actually slide it all the way down my finger like a regular ring, but wearing it higher up on my finger gave me better control when I used it for opening my jump rings. It definitely made that chore faster!
  • The smaller size of the copper jump rings just didn't work for this project. But I noticed when using the larger size of the copper jump rings that each row of links turned out a bit tighter than I think they should have been. To compensate for this, I decided to just link the rows together at the ends instead of throughout the entire row. The result was a substantial piece of chain maille with a lovely drape to it!

And wouldn't you know it -- right after I finished my first chain maille pendant, I discovered that I had a large Swarovski crystal drop pendant in my stash that matched the colors in the jump rings perfectly! All that's left for me to do is make a beaded rope for it.

chain-maille-jewelry-project

Are you looking for a great beginners' chain maille resource? Chain and Bead Jewelry: Geometric Connections is the perfect resource for someone who wants to teach themselves how to do basic chain maille! More than twenty projects are fully illustrated with easy-to-read and color-coded diagrams to make it easy to learn how to make your own amazing chain maille jewelry. Order your copy of Chain and Bead Jewelry: Geometric Connections and start linking your way to beautiful metal jewelry.

What was your first chain maille project? Do you have any favorite suppliers for chain maille jump rings and tools? Leave a comment and share your thoughts here on the Beading Daily blog!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


Featured Product

Chain and Bead Jewelry Geometric Connections

Availability: Out Of Stock
Was: $22.99
Sale: $15.78

Hardcover

Draw inspiration from geometric shapes in Chain and Bead Jewelry Geometric Connections by jewelry designer Scott David Plumlee.

More

Related Posts
+ Add a comment

Comments

red-cent wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 7:26 AM

I first started making maille almost 30 years ago, and while the kids were small, I did fairly little.  For the last 10+ years now I've been regularly producing and teaching the craft.

Tools are simple - just stick with two pliers, preferably flat nose, sized to the materials you're working with - 22G copper is much easier to manipulate than 16G titanium. I routinely use two sets, one sturdy and one more delicate. The jaws need to be really parallel - if you can see air between the jaws when closed, you're going to fight the whole way. To reduce stress on your wrists, move your elbows out and use the large muscles of your arms and shoulders to provide power, not the fine muscles of your wrist.  Finally, use pliers that really fit your hands, since you'll be spending lots of time with them!  

The best way I've found to make nice tight closures is to gently bend the ring inward as you open the ring, crossing the cut ends. Doing the as you open the rings if far easier to be consistent than trying to do it as you close the ring, since many weaves are very tight and it can be hard to get a proper grip. As you close the ring, gently pull open and align the cut ends, and you'll end with a snug, invisible closure. (You can't do this with the ring thing.)

The other essential advice I always pass on to students is to hold each ring with as large a surface area as possible when opening or closing. Not only does the larger contact area mean you're less likely to have the pliers slip and mar the surface, but you're much less likely to distort the rings as well.

Happy ringing!

- Red Cent

Kaslyria wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 7:35 AM

Unkamensupplies on etsy is by far the best supplier for jump rings and all things chain maille. As a handcrafter, I find it important to support other handcrafters whenever possible, and unkamensupplies let's me do just that, while getting the best products available on the market to make my own stunning jewelry. They are saw cut, available in every size and almost every metal and color possible. They have a Facebook Page too, which helps me know whenever they have a sale or coupon going on. It also makes it easy to ask questions and get a quick response!

Kaslyria wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 7:40 AM

Oh, and I find plasti-dip on my pliers to be endlessly useful. It prevents you from marring your jump rings, and helps it grip a bit more. It's not so much fun re-dipping and waiting for it to dry (do over-night or have a second set of tools always freshly dipped) but it's a cheap product (readily available at lowes and home depot) with such great benefits. It'll even make your tools last longer.

on Mar 9, 2012 7:53 AM

I am totally addicted to chain maille and find that I would rather make my own chains for my jewelry than any other part of jewelry-making. I make my own jump rings, since I have found that buying them from others is a haphazard way to get the quality I want. Many jump ring suppliers do not remove the burs from sawing the rings and others do not size them correctly. Before making my own, I tried many of the Etsy suppliers and preferred Simply Unwired's rings.

To get the lovely drape and comfort of a chain maille piece, pay attention to the aspect ratio of the rings!

Chain maille is a lovely, ancient art and I'm thrilled to see it gaining interest.

Marilyn of Uncommon Firings

nadagraf wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 8:15 AM

Jennifer, I love to do chainmaille.  But can not buy enough of the rings.  One ounce at a time is not enough.  And some are high priced.  I really think that you will enjoy doing it.  Mixing in beads and gemstones makes the item even more beautiful.

Give it a try and I know that you will enjoy it.

Nada

Rundex wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 8:55 AM

I've just started doing Chain Maile, after getting a Chain Maile Necklace Kit for Christmas.  My Husband Bought it from, ChainWeavers.com. Now I get all of My Chain Maile supplies from them, they always have the Sizes that I need!

revlondoll wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 9:16 AM

Hi Jennifer, I just got into chain maille myself so I can relate to both your joys and tribulations!  I find that different kinds of rings have different tempers and therefore some are hard to open and close and others easier!  I had the most fun with the Byzantine chain...might like to try it just for a bracelet or large necklace.  I find it relaxing if not a little hard on the hands after a while.  Love your articles...Lynn.

knunez57 wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 9:37 AM

I started making chain mail bracelets that incorporated seed beads about a year ago, and found quickly that all jump rings are NOT equal!  After repairing two or three bracelets I'd given friends, I learned my lesson.  Buy good rings of the right gauge wire.  And yes, the math of aspect ratios is daunting - but once the concept "clicks" in your brain, you'll be set.  Enjoy your new skill!

Qatpaw wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 10:09 AM

I love chain maille!  I started about year ago and found that it's the perfect "portable" craft.  I can fit everything I need to work on a project in a small pouch.  

It's pretty easy to learn and the possibilities are endless from a simple bracelet to an intricate pendant and then on to some more unusual projects.  There are cool ideas all over the internet.  I found a lot of good advice and instructions at mailleartisans.org.

My favorite place to purchase supplies is Cheri at Jumpringlady.com.  I started out buying the limited choices at Michaels, but I think they are discontinuing the chain maille supplies.  

Try it, if you haven't yet!

Vivian

Rachele5 wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 11:14 AM

I've completed a few chain maille projects that I'm very proud of. However, I'm having difficulty picking metals that are strong enough to stand up to a boyfriend who is a bit rough with the necklaces I've made for him. I like working with Sterling Silver because it holds up well, but some enamel covered copper and aluminum rings I've purchased have proven to be too soft and flimsy to withstand everyday wear and tear. Any suggestions for incorporating color and strength in my designs?

Wirefly wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 11:20 AM

As a woman who makes her living off making chainmail, I urge you to look at the Ring Lord for rings.  The prices are amazing (even better when you're buying in quantity), and he's got a ridiculous variety in materials, sizes, and pretty colors.

Also, the people on the forum are crazy helpful when you're trying to figure out ring sizes, what to price your jewelry at, and chainmail meetups.

Dive in head first!  My first steel project was an entire scale mail vest.  She's gorgeous.

a7.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/.../408471_10151105979350495_329993500494_23624175_593188704_n.jpg

Also, Jennifer, continue that helm chain all the way around the necklace!  It'll match perfectly, and beaded ropes + chainmail are often too much conflicting texture.

Rebecca Rudaski

Wirefly Jewelry

KerMommy wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 5:36 PM

I actually started with chainmaille and only recently got into other beading and wirework. My favorite supplier is Metal Designz, best quality I have found and very consistent rings. It helps that they are Canadian ( as I am) so I don't have to worry about duty and customs on my delivery. TheRingLord is good too for the metals I can't get elsewhere. Unless you have the right machine (the 'jumpringer'), making your own rings in large quantities and a variety of metals is more problematic, and you still have to find a quality supplier for the wire. I prefer to concentrate on the weaving myself, and leave the coiling and cutting to the experts :)

As well, good kits with the right sizes of rings and instructions are available from both suppliers. It isn't a technique for everyone, but I love it.

on Mar 9, 2012 6:32 PM

Thanks so much for this post, Jennifer. I am new to jewelry construction and don't have any plans to be an artisan, I just want to make jewelry for myself and my friends as a creative and meditative outlet. I don't expect to take a lot of classes, so I must rely on posts like this to teach me things (even books can be too complicated for me!). I really appreciate you sharing your experiment (failures as well as successes) because then it makes me a little less intimidated when considering a new technique. Now I'm inspired!

Tamara

on Mar 9, 2012 8:13 PM

Whenever I need to grasp something like jump rings, I use forceps.  They hold tightly and the long handles give me something strong to hold on to for easy manipulating.  Makes chain maille work faster and easier with no dropping!

wini1 wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 8:29 PM

Does anyone know if that helm chainmaille pendant with the swarvorski drop is on the site anywhere? I tried finding it but couldn't. Thanks

wini1 wrote
on Mar 9, 2012 8:30 PM

Does anyone know if that helm chainmaille pendant with the swarvorski drop is on the site anywhere? I tried finding it but couldn't. Thanks

on May 19, 2012 1:46 PM

Gripping chainmaille projects: Chain nose pliers coated with Tool Magic. Much better grip on rings, and no marring the finish.

Ring size: When making chainmaille, you have to pay a lot of attention to the aspect ratio (AR) to make sure the rings will fit and the final piece has a professional appearance.

AR = Inner diameter / gauge

Example using 20 gauge wire, which is 0.81 mm thick: 3 mm inner diameter / 0.81 = 3.7 AR)

You can pick up an AR calculator here: chainofbeauty.wordpress.com/chainmaille-resources (It's an Excel spreadsheet with all the formulas built in)

Shipton wrote
on Jul 28, 2012 11:55 AM

A good source of ring is theringlord.com in Canada and also check out Maille Artisans International League at http://www.mailleartisans.org/ for more weaves and tutorials.