Friday, January 22, 2010

Chain Maille for Dummies

Chain Maille for Dummies . In this case, the dummy would be me.

I've made basic chain maille since I started beading. Chain maille is the art of weaving silver jump rings into a repetitive pattern to create a chain, and it was developed hundreds of years ago to create chain maille armor. Lots of traditional patterns translate well into jewelry.

Believe it or not, I don't own a chain maille bracelet. I haven't made myself one even though I've made dozens and dozens for customers.

Enter Chain Maille for Dummies.

I often bite off more than I can chew. I look at something and think, "oh yeah, I can do that". Chain maille patterns are either in the public domain or there are tutorials on line for them, so there are directions for every weave you can imagine. So I set out to make a byzantine ladder weave, feeling a little smug because, after all, I've made a bunch of the most basic of bracelets -- The Byzantine.

The ladder weave, however, nearly bested me. I didn't have enough hands, or enough fingers, and most certainly not enough patience. I made all the byzantine lengths, but couldn't hold them in the right orientation to hook them together. I'd hold the pliers, open a ring, and hook the pieces together, then drop the whole mess before I could scoop up another ring and get the orientation back again.


I sat in the local coffee shop when I started the bracelet, fully expecting to get it pretty close to done by the time my mocha was finished. Instead, I left in a foul mood with nothing done except a bunch of short Byzantine bits that mocked me the entire way home.

At some point, though, the light bulb went on.

I don't know how, but I got one ladder bit made. Angels sang, martinis were passed, all was merry. And as with most chain maille projects, everything went fast once that first piece of the pattern was started.

Here's what it ended up looking like:

Click the picture for a better peek.

The clasp is an amazing vintage Swarovski crystal:

All in all, worth it. Frustrating? Oh yes. I very nearly quit. In fact, I DID quit at one point and put the whole mess away for a while. I took it out again when I had a fresh mind and had successfully completed some other projects to bolster my confidence - something I think is important to remember when you're facing a fear of tackling a new technique.

Lori Anderson's jewelry can be seen at Be sure to visit her other blog, Pretty Things.


  1. You go girl! These are all beautiful pieces of jewelry. Your I have on a regular basis :) Keep on swimming, swimming, swimming....

  2. Kudos for hanging in there and finishing the job like a champ! The weaves are really beautiful~my fave is the Byzantine with the navy lampwork.

  3. That is really neat. I've tried chain maille, but I quit. I'm not that much of a detail person. I applaud you, Lori!

  4. Stunning! Aren't you glad you didn't give up?!!

  5. Wonderful inspiration, Lori! I took a chain maille class at the Bead & Button show last year expecting to be wowed by the process...instead I was a bit miffed that I paid that money. I could have just got the instructions off the internet and done it myself. I have Scott Plumlee's book and it is delicious to look at, but all the science and math of the aspect ratios and such is lost on me. I love the look, I just don't have the time or patience. And biting off more than you can chew? Well, that is my standard breakfast. I might be inspired to return to this and find those darned jump ring twisty maker things that I purchased after I was so excited by the idea of doing it myself. (I have no filters when it comes to shopping for tools, books or beads!). Thanks for sharing! Enjoy the day! Erin

  6. Your experience is so well written.. Love the splash of humor amid your frustration..and the piece...well it is...stunning!

  7. What a stunning piece! Love the clasp!

  8. Love the look of the Byzantine ladder...and the clasp is gorgeous!!

  9. As someone who simply does not have the skills and talent to do what you do, I am always in awe of what you create.

    I always, always, always love your chain maille bracelets and, if I could afford it, I'd buy them all. When I wear the one that I do have, I always get so many compliments on it. (Okay, that's true for all of your jewelry...)

  10. All beautiful pieces. I know if I was a jeweler, I'd be trying chain maille for sure.

    (And the fresh eyes approach always works for me too. Just wish I'd stop getting frustrated sooner, so I could then get to the fresh eyes part sooner, if you know what I mean.)

  11. I am truly impressed! Did you purchase the jump ring maker from Rio?

  12. way to go Lori! I think you already know how I feel about chain Maille, but the end results are always beautiful. I think you did well, not giving up. I've had to put some projects down for a while, then pick back up later, come back refreshed!

  13. Think you're a dummie, do ya? I couldn't get the hang of the Byzantine!!!!! Hmmm, does that mean you have to make me one?

  14. The bracelet is gorgeous. Well worth the frustrating effort it took. Hope your new year is going great!

  15. Love chain maille, been there in the 'dummy' gallery, too! Anyone who really wants to learn, check out Spider. She has the BEST DVD's for learning along with kits for each pattern - all at a great price.

    Lori - your piece turned out really belle with that clasp!

  16. Wow, these chain maille bracelets are awesome! Thanks for stopping by my blog today... I hope your new year is off to a great start =)

  17. You are way ahead of me. I can't seem to move beyond the first 5 rings of European 4-1. I had to put it aside before I threw it across the room. I hope to approach it more calmly and will less distraction this weekend.

    Your bracelets are beautiful and I want to get to that day.


Thanks so much for commenting!