Chain maille is an ancient metal weaving technique originally used to create body coverings that would protect the wearer during battle. Now, the same techniques can be used to create unique and interesting jewelry pieces. Vary the color, size and gauge of the links to create your own.
How to Make Chain Maille Links
Chain maille links are sold in packages at many craft stores, but the size, color and gauge of the links can be very limited. Making your own links gives you the ability to work with a variety of sizes and colors, which can give you more personality in your work.
- Craft wire - use a minimum of 20 gauge; 18 gauge will give a sturdier link and 16 gauge will make a heavier link. Keep in mind that the lower the gauge, the heavier your jewelry will be.
- Wire cutters
- Screw, in the diameter you wish your finished links to be in
- Wrap the wire around the screw inside each of the grooves. Keep wrapping until each groove is covered and the screw is encased in wire.
- Grasp the end of the screw in one hand and place the fingers of your free hand on the wire wrapped around the screw.
- Twist the screw counterclockwise while you hold the wire tightly. The wire will begin to unravel from the screw in the shape of a spring.
- Cut through the spring in a straight line with the wire cutters to produce the links. The links will be "open", meaning they will have a small gap between the ends.
How to Make a Chain Maille Choker
The most simple chain maille pattern, and the one most often used for maille shirts, is the 4-in-1 pattern. This pattern can be used to create simple bracelets, or this easy choker.
- 75 links, 5/8-inch in diameter
- Chain maille pliers
- Silk cord
- Place an open ring on the end of a bent piece of wire to form the starting point. Hang a closed ring from the open ring and close the open ring.
- Hang an open ring from the bottom closed ring and place two closed rings on it. Close the open ring.
- Turn the rings over, so you are holding the bottom two rings and allowing the rest to dangle. Separate and flatten the two rings on the top of your middle finger so they lay side by side.
Take an open ring and weave it under the ring on the right and up through the ring on the left to catch them both at once. Add two closed rings onto the open ring and close the open ring. This is the beginning of the 4-in-1 pattern. To make any chain maille piece, simply repeat it until the chain reaches the length you desire.
Repeat the chain seven times and lay the links flat.
Spread out the links so the pattern moves one link, two links from one end to the next. Locate the areas on the sides where two links will lay side by side with a small gap between them.
Take an open ring and loop it under one of the side links and up through the link next to it. Close the ring. This is called adding "wings" to the piece. Add wings the rest of the way down the chain.
Turn the chain around and make wings down the other side.
Move in one set of links and make wings down one side of the chain again, ending in one set. This will start to form a triangle shape of maille.
Repeat this, adding wings on one side only, moving in one link each time until a triangle is formed.
Weave a piece of silk cord through the top set of wings and tie it to each of the end links to prevent movement.
Wear the piece by tying the cord around the throat.
Tips for Making Chain Maille Jewelry
There are numerous patterns in which to weave the links once you create them. No matter what pattern you use, however, or what the finished jewelry piece you are making is, there are a few things that will help you work the links properly.
Opening and Closing the Links
The links you create will be open; to weave them into jewelry you will need to close them. When opening and closing the links, use your fingers for lighter gauges and two pairs of chain maille pliers for the heavier gauges. Always twist the links open and shut, never pull them. Pulling them could change the shape of the link, while twisting will keep them uniformly round. It's a good idea to close several ahead of time to save time as you are weaving.
Use a paper clip or a piece of longer wire to anchor your first few links. This will enable you to quickly find the end of your chain and lay the links down evenly. Because you work a long line first, then move out sideways, being able to find your starting point quickly will save you time and keep your links from getting tangled.
If you are working with small or very lightweight links, lay out the maille on a piece of velvet. This will help hold the pattern in place and allow you to see the work better.
Choosing the Link Size
Keep in mind that the larger the link, the fewer links you will need to complete your project, but the more space you will see between the links. Smaller links will give you a tighter weave, but are more time consuming to work with. Try practicing with larger links first until you get the hang of the pattern, then move to smaller or lighter gauged links.
Work the Links Slowly
Chain maille takes time and patience to make - even small pieces like jewelry. Work the links slowly, spreading them out frequently to see the pattern. Once you've completed your first piece use the same steps to create your own patterns, weaving as much or as little as you choose.