Chain Maille – often spelled chain mail, is one of the most impressive jewellery techniques you can learn. Finished chain maille jewellery never fails to deliver the wow factor! A finished maille bracelet or necklace has a silky, almost draping quality. It is comfortable and easy to wear. You’ve probably guessed that I really like it! I like wearing it and making it. I run a workshop at the studio and get asked quite a lot of general questions about chain maille. So I’ve put together this quick page just to clear up some of the mystery surrounding the subject.
So where did it all begin? The first evidence of chain maille is found thousands of years ago on the battle field. The name is derived from the old French roots of the word maille meaning mesh. Like a lot of our modern day trappings, military application was the starting point for chain maille. It is thought that the Celts were the first to wear decorative chain weaves as armour. The words themselves instantly inspire images of King Arthur and his Knights fighting for fair maidens. Thankfully the only fight you are likely to associate with chain maille nowadays – is with your friends and relatives trying to wrestle your precious treasures form your wrist.
Chain maille designs are made entirely out of wire and are called weaves. However, there is not literal weaving involved. You do not ‘weave’ the wire; the designs are made entirely out of jump rings. So in a nutshell – you get a length of wire, coil it in to jump rings and cut them up with a piercing saw. Then you join the jump rings together in a dictated order and number depending on the design you are aiming for. It is very simple and easy. I will be honest though, some of the weaves can be fiddly. And all the weaves are time consuming. If you want something truly absorbing to do, to distract you from your everyday life this could be the answer. But beware; you could become a maille addict! (I am)
I can hear countless mutterings – ‘I hate sawing – do I have to saw the rings?’ Unfortunately the blunt answer is: YES. If you cut your jump rings with wire cutters your maille will fall apart. So get out your saw and get stuck in. Do a small batch at a time – make them in to a length of maille, and then do another batch. That way you won’t get bored by the process and bogged down by the sawing. You may also find that you become very slick at sawing. I used to hate sawing because I used to struggle. But the more I’ve done – the better I’ve become at it. Now I really enjoy it. If you attend the one day Chain Maille for Beginners workshop at Silverpetal – jump rings for the prototypes are supplied for you. There is a small amount of sawing on the day, but not much, so the majority of the time is spent learning the weaves.
One of the most appealing aspects of making chain maille is how ‘low tech’ it is. You don’t need many tools. There is no soldering involved so that instantly cuts out all your soldering equipment needs. You will literally just need a saw with some sawing dowels and forming mandrels. A vice to hold the mandrels and dowels whilst you make your jump rings. Then you will need a couple of pairs of flat nosed pliers. So this is a very portable subject. I’ve made most of my chain maille in-front of the TV.
So whether you want to attend my workshop, or are just trying the subject in your home studio – enjoy the wonderful world of chain maille.