Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Edition: Chain Maille Tricks and Tips

Sultry summer greetings to all on this steamy Sunday afternoon! It's HOT! But I don't really mind. It's better than winter - I don't have to shovel sunshine! And it gives me the perfect excuse to sit somewhere quiet and cool and shady, and work on some chain maille creations. Not that I ever really need an excuse!

Anyway, that brings me to the first installment of my new column: Chain Maille Tricks and Tips. Here I will introduce some of the more basic elements of creating chain maille, and show some of the little things I've learned along the way that have helped me with my chain maille designs.

*N.B. If you're not planning to make your own chain maille, the column might still be of interest to you, as it will give you some insight into how the jewelry is made :)

Let's get started.

First things first: safety is a MUST! Do whatever it is that will make you the most comfortable while you work. This kind of close work is perfect for giving you a bad case of eye strain, neck cramps, and repetitive stress injuries. Do wear some kind of glasses if you need them - often times, the metal is very reflective and the tiny rings can be hard to see. A pair of drugstore type reading glasses or a magnifying glass will help a lot with this. If your eyes are perfectly adjusted to this type of work without the help of glasses, do take frequent breaks to give them a rest. Ditto for neck cramps, shoulder cramps, and repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. I know you will be excited to finish just a little more, and a little more while you work. I strongly urge you to put it down now and then, and take a break. Stretch your fingers, back and arms. Rest your eyes a bit. Take a walk. Have a snack. Watch Oprah. Whatever! TAKE A BREAK! 'Nuff said.

Chain maille is made up of lots and lots of metal rings that are woven together in a particular pattern or weave. It's a lot like knitting in that regard. Once you know how the weaves go together, the pattern usually becomes self-evident, and you are on your way to creating your own designs. The metals used can be anything from gold to aluminum, and everything in between. That part is up to you.

In the photo below, you will see two copper rings attached to a twist tie from a bread bag. This is a great way to begin a chain. The twist tie gives you a little handle to hold on to while you are beginning the weave. It would be very difficult to hold on to those two tiny rings, and start weaving your chain without the twist tie handle. I suppose you could if you were very dexterous, but why make things more difficult than they have to be?

In the photo above, you can see how having a little twist tie handle to hold on to can make a big difference. If you look at the size of the rings compared to the size of my fingers, you should be able to see that the rings would be very hard to hold on to without the handle, at least at the beginning of the chain. As the length of the chain progresses, this becomes less of an issue.

One last thing before I finish this up for today: it's a good idea to set out all of your materials before you start to work. It is very frustrating to get everything in the perfect postition to weave the next set of rings, only to discover that you have to put it all down so that you can open more rings, find your pliers, locate your glasses, or crawl around on the floor to find that ring that just flew out of your hands before the puppy eats it. As you can see from the photos, I usually lay down a cloth or pad on my work surface before I start working. That way, the rings don't have as much of a tendency to roll around or slide off the surface of the table while I am working. Also, I usually open up all or most of the rings I will need for the particular project I am working on before I start. That way, I don't have to stop in the middle of working to open more rings.

See below:
Okay, I guess that's all for today. I'm going to get a big glass of icy cold lemonade, and relax in the shade for a while. Cheers!

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