My friend Elena makes the most beautiful chain jewellery (see some examples at the end of the post). I was so inspired by her efforts that I really wanted to have a go at making my own. I bought a book on her recommendation: Handcrafting Chain and Bead Jewelry by Scott David Plumlee and started getting excited about all the beautiful things I wanted to make. Then I hit a snag! Making chain jewellery depends on having the individual chain links (jumprings) measure particular internal diameter sizes in order to get the right dimensions and designs. The commercially available jumprings that you can buy for making other jewellery tend to be sold by external diameter rather than internal diameter, and are therefore difficult to use for making chain. The book has a complicated formula for figuring out how to work out the desired external diameter you need.
Elena makes her own jumprings by winding wire by hand around a mandrel of the desired size to form a tight coil then cutting the coil into individual rings using a fine saw (she also makes all her own clasps and other bits and pieces – known as findings). If you are making lots of jumprings you can use a hand-drill or an electric screwdriver, putting the mandrel in the chuck, to get your coil. Cutting the coil into jumprings isn’t easy because you need to make sure that the internal diameter of your rings is correct and consistent. First step is to mark a straight line along the coil so that you are always cutting in the right place (otherwise your rings will be different sizes). Using a saw removes a small portion of your ring so you need to compensate for this by using a slightly larger mandrel. You can use wire cutters but they typically have wedge-shaped blades which leaves one end of the wire flush but the other end has a pointed burr so you don’t get a clean join for your ring. It is possible to make 2 sets of cuts to remove the burr but 1) it takes twice as long and 2) it makes achieving the right internal diameter much more difficult.
I bought some wire and mandrels to start making my own jumprings and discovered that it was a lot more difficult to do than Elena made it look. Also all the small movements in winding the wire and then sawing or cutting played havoc with my neck and shoulders so I couldn’t really continue with this jewellery. Elena offered to make me some jumprings but it seemed like an enormous imposition – although eventually after I offered to pay her we figured out that we could trade skills with my making something else for her e.g. cards.
Then I saw a kitset for making a chain bracelet in a craft catalogue and ordered it so that I could finally see whether I enjoyed making the chain and if it was going to be something I wanted to continue with. To start with I found it quite fiddly and I always struggled to get the second jumpring of a pair through the space. It also makes a difference if you have the right tools – 2 sets of chain nose pliers. I only had one and made do for the second with a different sort of pliers, but it made a huge difference once I got the second set later. But about half way through I finally got the hang of it and got into a rhythm – I was hooked!! Definitely time to work on what to trade with Elena.
On the off-chance, I looked to see where the kitset had originated from and whether they sold ready-made jumprings to individual customers. And they do! Weave Got Maille (love the name!!) is based in the US but supply wholesale and to individuals and will deliver around the world. They have a huge selection of different wires, pre-cut jumprings of all sorts of gauges and sizes in a fantastic range of colours, and various findings. I was also excited to discover the large number of kitsets and tutorials they had available. I ordered a selection of different kitsets to try out different designs and see what different colours were like; it also gave me the instructions for all of the designs so I could use them later. It only cost NZ$8 for postage and despite being over the Christmas/New Year period they arrived in 8 days. Finding a source of pre-cut jumprings has opened up the fascinating craft of making chain jewellery to me and let me focus on the creation of pieces rather than wire winding and cutting.
Watch my blog over the next months to see some of the things I am making but in the meantime here are some photos from Elena of her chain jewellery.