Hello AJE world! My name is Karen Snyder and I’m the jewelry designer/maker behind O. Sebastian Chainmaille Jewelry. I’m so thrilled to have been invited to do a guest blog post for AJE. I’m a wife, mother of two, and have been making jewelry for about 15 years. I started with simple stringing because I wanted to make myself a bracelet that would actually fit (5 ½” wrists here). About three months after making that first, simple strung bracelet, I came across an article in a jewelry magazine that showed a necklace made from chainmaille. It was a mixed weave of Byzantine and Queen’s Link (also known as box chain) and that was all it took – I had to make that!
My first project was made in sterling silver because it was incredibly cheap to buy the wire back then (about $7 an ounce if I remember correctly). I coiled the rings myself around a plastic mandrel and then cut each and every ring with flush cutters. I was so proud of the finished piece but even more importantly, I was completely hooked on chainmaille. I spent the next several years searching for information on weaves to conquer and eventually bought the equipment to cut jump rings with a rotary tool. I’ve been in love with the art form since I found it. As I began to understand the mechanics of working with rings, I began to design original pieces.
Designing within the maille medium is pretty challenging because what I see in my head does not always translate into what is possible with rings and pliers. Most of my designs start with an idea in my mind and I usually start with an array of rings in different sizes and gauges and fiddle around until I get something close to what I’ve envisioned. Sometimes this goes pretty quickly. Sometimes, as in the case of my Phaedra© captured rivoli design, it takes six months of trial, error and pages of note-taking.
I’ve learned to write down what I use in every attempt so that I don’t repeat attempts and have a clear “recipe” for what finally does work. Sometimes I simply sit down with a bunch of rings and start playing with how to interconnect them. I often do this when I’m blocked for ideas or am just worn out from doing long or repetitive projects. I also find myself inspired by certain weaves when I learn them. The way the weave moves, the way the rings are oriented or even something that I find displeasing about a weave can trigger ideas of what else could be done with it.
One of the most interesting facets of maille, to me at least, is that there are “chain weaves” and “unit weaves.” Chain weaves are a series of steps repeated over and over to form a chain, as in the photo below.
Unit weaves are a series of steps that produce a piece that can certainly be linked together into a chain but can also be used as a focal or a design element. I find that I am constantly asking myself what I can do with those chainmaille units.
Maillestrom is an example of a chainmaille unit:
Yes, they make beautiful pendants. Yes, you can make them in their smaller sizes for great earrings. But that’s not particularly creative, and most of us who make jewelry enjoy being creative.
So I decided to challenge myself with my own designs to see what I could come up with beyond the basic pendants and earrings.
A choker is a good idea because people have different length preferences and this single unit makes a great focal for a choker. I always have pre-made chain around for a variety of uses.
Several smaller units linked together make a pretty focal for a longer necklace.
Experimenting with different metals and patinas creates completely different looks for those who don’t prefer a shiny silver.
Leather is very hot in jewelry right now, and chainmaille unit pieces make a gorgeous statement for a leather bracelet.
For the person who loves the pure luxury and richness that sheet maille gives, a focal in a different weave breaks up the weave and adds additional interest.
I had quite a bit of fun going beyond simple pendants and earrings with these units! Instead of stopping when I had a finished piece and adding a bail or ear wires, I pushed myself to get even more creative and it was incredibly satisfying. I hope you will have the same fun, satisfying experience with the techniques you already know!