Stitch Craft Create Blog

Discover Chainmaille with Rebeca Mojica

More than 14,000 titanium jump rings were
linked one by one to make Poseidon’s
. Photo by Larry Sanders.
Nearly ten years ago, I discovered chainmaille—the ancient craft of linking small metal circles together to form armor or jewelry—and I was captivated. I started teaching a mere five months after I began making maille. My company, Blue Buddha Boutique, now has customers all over the world, and I’ve enjoyed personally introducing hundreds of students to this addiction, er, I mean, craft! I’ve linked together more than half a million jump rings and created everything from fabric-like necklaces to heavy-duty belts and sculptures.

Approximately 6,000 aluminum rings were used to create
It’ll Always Be Sears to Me. The sculpture is solid all the
way through. Photo by Larry Sanders.

If you’ve seen my book, Chained, or spotted chainmaille on the likes of Rhianna or Lady Gaga, you might have an idea of how diverse this medium is. Once you begin to poke your head around the world of maille, you realize the possibilities truly are infinite: First off, there are more than 1,000 patterns as documented on Maille Artisans International League. Then, there are countless different ring sizes in many different metals, and changing one ring size even the slightest bit can affect a weave in dramatic ways. Changing multiple ring sizes within a weave can yield new textures that barely resemble the original pattern. Additionally, there are dozens of different colors available across the various metals, so individual pieces of jewelry can be perfectly customized to suit the wearer’s tastes.

In the book Chained, you can find the basic pattern used to create
this stunning sterling silver and Swarovski® crystal
necklace. Photo by Larry Sanders.

One reason I fell in love with chainmaille is because it is so diverse, yet still accessible—even folks with limited experience can create stunning pieces of wearable art. People always compliment the use of color and finishing techniques on my pieces. I want to share with you some of my thought processes on this. If you are able to effectively use color and select components that complement your pattern, your jewelry (whether it is chainmaille or not) will be a step above the rest. ?

Color can be used to accent parts of a jewelry
piece, or the color itself can create a pattern all on its own.???

My favorite way to make my chainmaille stand out is by using color. Sometimes the use of color is very subtle, for example combining black rings with aluminum, and is only meant to draw attention to certain structural aspects of the weave. At other times, I use color to bring personality and character into the piece: a bold and daring red statement necklace, or a calming blue and green “water” bracelet.

Choosing a color theme can be an academic endeavor—entire books have been written about colors used in art, jewelry and fashion. Those tomes certainly have their place in the world and many are a fascinating read, but if you get too bogged down in intellectualizing everything, it’ll take the joy out of creating.

Put aside what the academics say, and just have fun with color! I encourage you to play (see, “play” = fun, right?) with color and push yourself to try a variety of color combinations. Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the process of exploration. You don’t have to like everything you try. Make a small sample first, and if you’re happy with the results, you can continue your piece. If not, save the sample so you can remember why you didn’t like it, and start over again. Our tastes change over time, so don’t be surprised if a few years down the road, those failed color samples now spark something inside you.

I showcase some of the standard color
fades on so that customers can
see what appeals to them and begin to visualize the colors
in the piece of their choosing.

If you’re stumped for color inspiration, these tips should help jump-start your creativity:Search for “fashion color forecast” on the Internet. You’ll find out what colors designers will be featuring during the upcoming seasons.

  • Heck, simply do an Internet image search for “color inspiration.” Blue Buddha Boutique maintains a color inspiration board on Pinterest, and lots of crafty companies have similar resources.
  • Go to your local bead/craft store and grab packs of colored jump rings, beads, yarn or thread. Set them on a flat surface and group them by twos and threes, seeing which combinations jump out at you.
  • Browse the paint selection at a hardware store. Most have slick brochures (also available online) with samples of design and color trends to inspire you.
  • Watch a movie and pay attention to the interiors to see what colors are being used. Color expert Leatrice Eisman points out that millions of people all over the world see blockbuster movies, and due to video streaming, movies can have an effect that lasts longer than the traditional theatre run. Color trends can be created simply by so many people watching the same images and being inspired by them.
  • Take a walk outside during your favorite season, and note what colors you are drawn to. Take photos to remind yourself later.

Sometimes just a little pop of color makes all the
difference in the world. Jewelry brass with enameled copper
rings in gunmetal color and peacock blue color.
Photo by Larry Sanders.

One of my favorite ways to try out new color combinations on a familiar chainmaille weave is to scan in an all-aluminum version and print a black and white copy. Then I’ll use coloring pencils to try out different color combinations on the weave. If you haven’t colored anything in a while, I strongly urge you to try this method, and even to use crayons every now and then. The long-forgotten act of coloring will remind your body and mind what it was like to have the uninhibited creativity of a child. We adults often forget to give ourselves permission to explore without limits. Sometimes we just need a little push. And anyway, why should kids have all the fun?

One of my favorite color combinations is one
that I call “flame.” In this anodized aluminum piece,
a rich red fades to orange which in turn transitions
to gold. Photo by Larry Sanders.????

Another way to elevate your jewelry is to bring the piece to a logical and elegant conclusion. This means the pattern doesn’t abruptly end, with a clasp simply stuck on with any old jump ring. Instead, the pattern tapers to a point, or different sized rings (or beads, or whatever medium you are using) minimize the amount of white space. The clasp either blends as seamlessly as possible with the jewelry, or—in the case of fancy clasps—the clasp itself can be a focal point, with the rest of the jewelry a background.

Clasps should be not too big, but they shouldn’t be too small either, especially for bracelets. Most people’s fingers aren’t as dexterous as the crafter who is making the piece! Trying to stick a teeny tiny bar through a small toggle is tough for 90% of the population. So think twice about using small clasps, and have an alternate clasp in mind should a customer wish to swap.

Once you have the perfect piece and the perfect clasp, making them seamless is the crucial last step. Here are various findings and ways of finishing that I’ve used in my pieces.

Slide clasps (sometimes called tube clasps) are perfect for “cuff” weaves. They take up minimal space, so your creation can really shine. Try to connect to the slide clasp in a symmetrical way. You might need to use smaller or larger jump rings, doubling some of them up, in order to achieve the desired symmetry. Photo by artist.
This clasp is perfect for weaves that use my “coiling” technique, as the clasp echos the overall look of the weave. Photo by Larry Sanders.?
This clasp reflects the angles found in the beads and in the chainmaille itself. Photo by Jenna Deidel.?

Occasionally, no matter how hard you look, you might not be able to find the perfect clasp for your piece. Of course it’s okay to use the best option you can find, even if you think it’s not ideal. Or, for truly spectacular and one-of-a-kind pieces, consider abandoning the search for pre-fabricated clasps and forging your own, or collaborating with someone who can. ?

This hand anodized and handcrafted niobium clasp is the perfect
complement to the rainbow of colors found in this chainmaille
box weave. Photo by Jenna Deidel.

For this piece, the customer wanted a closure that would flow with the bracelet.
I knew pre-fabricated  clasps would either be too small, not durable enough,
or plated with silver (which means the plating would  eventually flake off, leaving a
cheap-looking clasp for such a magnificent cuff). So I enlisted the help of friend
and talented metalsmith Sarah Chapman to create this elegant and functional clasp.
Photo by Guy Nicol.

Sometimes the length of your jewelry piece will be too small, but adding an entire unit of your pattern (or an entire bead, if you’re using very large beads) would make the piece too long. It is easy to add length to a jewelry piece by creating a chain of links, one by one, however that can be boring and could detract from the beauty of the weave if the 1-in-1 chain is too long. Instead, use or adapt a motif from the weave to add length.

To finish this bracelet from Chained, I first tapered the “center” of the weave down using smaller rings (blue arrow). The piece wasn’t quite long enough, so I attached another set of doubled rings (purple arrow) to add length, while still keeping the look of the pattern intact. Photo courtesy North Light Books.

No matter how you finish your piece, the result should ensure sure the finding sits properly and is functional! The recipient may not even notice the subtitles that contribute to a seamless finish. Which is perfectly fine because it means you’ve done a professional job and nothing jumps out at them as being “wrong” or amateur. An understated piece can be a good thing! On the other hand, if you’ve done a fantastic job and have a superb clasp, the customer might notice, and may even remark aloud, “Wow, it’s perfect, right down to the finishing touch!” And that would be music to any crafter’s ears.?

To fall in love with this fascinating craft, I suggest starting with a free download of the Japanese Cross Earrings from my book, Chained. These easy earrings are quick to make and will introduce you to some of the basics of working with jump rings. You can register to download the free project here.

If you find yourself hooked, check out Chained, which is on sale until March 18 for 50% off the retail price!

Rebeca Mojica is an award-winning chainmaille artist and instructor. By using colorful rings and combining classic weaves in new ways, she has redefined this ancient craft. At current count, this self-taught artist knows over one hundred weaves, including more than a dozen patterns of her own creation.

Rebeca has been teaching maille for almost as long as she has been making it. She helps students discover that they, too, can create beauty using only their hands, pliers and jump rings.

When she had difficulty finding high-quality supplies for her designs, Rebeca decided to found Blue Buddha Boutique in 2003 with a focus on precision sizing and clean, polished rings. Originally operated out of a spare bedroom in her home, the company is now one of the largest chainmaille suppliers in the world, shipping orders to all fifty states in the U.S. and more than thirty countries.

Rebeca is considered a pioneer and one of the industry’s only experts. She teaches regularly at local bead stores and art centers, and has taught at the international Bead&Button Show. She has also been a guest instructor for the Fashion Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her instructional projects have been published in multiple books and magazines.

Rebeca’s necklace Poseidon’s Embrace, made of 14,500 titanium and stainless steel jump rings, won 3rd place in the Finished Jewelry category of the Bead Dreams 2009 competition.

Rebeca is a member of the Chicago Craft Mafia and Chicago Metal Arts Guild. She is a contributing editor to Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine. Her work has appeared on CLTV and in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

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