Chain, Chain, Chain Maille!

With the addition of all of our new colored jump rings, we thought we would ask our resident expert, Nora Olsen, some questions about chain maille.

Which chain maille technique would you recommend for a first timer who is new to chain maille?

Byzantine, definitely!  This is a classic, simple weave that is easy to start and very stable.  It also lends itself to many variations and sizes.

What tool(s) would you say are the best and most essential for chain maille? What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

Two chain nose pliers.  The great thing about chain maille is that you don’t need a lot of fancy tools or gadgets to create beautiful jewelry.  If you are just starting out, you can start with a pair of cheaper pliers, however I always recommend investing in a pair of really good pliers – your hands and wrists will thank you!  I recommend the Tronex or Lindstrom Ergonomic pliers.

Many people like flat nose pliers because they have more surface area, making them less prone to slipping off of the ring.   Bent nose pliers, while not as popular, are useful because you have the option of using the smaller tips of the pliers to get into small spaces.

As for me?  You’d have to pry my Lindstrom Ergonomic pliers from my cold, dead hands.  And then ghostly me would have to haunt you.

What is the best tip you would give to someone making a chain maille piece?

Your chain maille is only as good as your closures.  Take your time, practice your opening and closing techniques, and concentrate.  It isn’t about how fast you are or how many weaves you know.  Chain maille should be all about the zen.  Focus on one ring at a time.

If you didn’t have a chart that told you what size jump ring to use, how would you determine which size jump rings to use with each design?

This is a tough one.  In a perfect world, you’d always have a chart (ahem, there’s an app for that: iChainmaille).

Another way to determine what size of jump ring to use is math.  No, no.  Don’t run.  It’ll be okay.

The best way to get a new size is to use a size you already know works for that weave.  Do a little math and you’ll get Aspect Ratio (AR).  For example:

A good size for Byzantine is 18 gauge; 3.5mm ID (Inner Diameter).  Make sure all of your units are the same by converting gauge to diameter in mm (use Google).  18ga wire = 1.02mm*

Aspect Ratio = Inner Diameter (mm) Aspect Ratio = 3.5mm AR = 3.5
Wire Diameter (mm) 1.0mm

So, say you’d like to make the same weave but using 16 gauge wire.  16 gauge = 1.29mm*

Aspect Ratio = Inner Diameter (mm) 3.5 AR = ?? mm ID = 4.5
Wire Diameter (mm) 1.3mm

Therefore, you’d use 16ga 4.5 rings.  Typically, depending on the weave, there is a little leeway on either side of the AR.  For example, Byzantine will work with an AR range of 3.4-5.  See, easy peasy (and won’t your high school math teacher be proud)!

If you have no idea what ring size works for a given weave (and your library and internets are broken), you’ll have to experiment using various sizes of rings and gauges.  This is actually a really good exercise and can help you build confidence as a mailler.  You may even develop a new weave!

*There are 2 kinds of wire – Standard (Imperial) Wire Gauge (SWG) and American (Brown & Sharpe) Wire Gauge (AWG).  There is a size difference, so be careful if you don’t know which one your supplier uses.

Nora became interested in making jewelry after college, but sometimes felt she wasn’t “artsy” enough with her designs or color choices. She took a Byzantine class and was hooked. Not only is color unnecessary, but chain maille is relevant to her Norwegian ancestry and appeals to both the left and right sides of her brain. Win! She says she loves almost every weave, but gravitates towards Half Persian 4-1 and Japanese 12-2. Nora teaches chain maille classes at Fusion Beads in Seattle.

Thanks, Nora!


6 comments to Chain, Chain, Chain Maille!

  • I am just beginning and have no special chain maile
    pattern I prefer. I hope I can win the jump rings as I am 80 years old on Social Security which isn’t going very far these days. Thank You for the opportunity to have a chance to win these marvelous
    jump rings.

  • Marisela Campos

    I have never done any chain maile but I would like to learn. Is something that I can do for my granddaughter and give it to them they just love jewlery. I hope I can win and have them to have a starter package.

  • Tricia

    Can you tell me the names of weaves that appear in the photo in this article? I especially like the one in the top right corner! thanks!

  • Nora

    Hi Tricia –

    Weaves from left to right:
    European 4-1
    Helm Chain
    Flower Chain
    Japanese 12-2(also called Japanese 6-1 doubled)


  • Stephanie

    Want to get started into chain maile as soon as the kids go back to school and I get my house in order! I work in a small store that sells work boots, and we aren’t usually that busy, so this would be an easy craft to take on the go and work on! Hoping to make some Christmas gifts this year with beads and jump rings.

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