While I was in London for the weekend for the hallmarking seminar at The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office and also my visit to see The Cheapside Hoard at The Museum of London, I was fortunate enough to have met some great people, other independent and hobbyist jewellery designers like myself. What more, I came away with a friend in Anne Tweed of .
As promised, I did an interview with Anne to get a better understanding of the jewellery making process, in particular chain maille.
What prompted your interest in jewellery making?
I used to do courses with the local Adult Education group. I tried all sorts of different topics: Tai Chi, Russian, Woodworking, Neurolinguistic Programming and Circus Skills – all of which were interesting in their own way. Then they had a day class for Making Beaded Jewellery and I signed up for it because I was bored. It was a typical one day workshop with silver/gold plated wire and cheap beads provided by the teacher, but I really enjoyed making a couple of pairs of simple earrings by attaching twists of wire to beads and hanging them from premade earwires. I went home and bought some silver plated wire, beads and cheap pliers etc from Ebay.
Did you attend any courses or did you learn independently?
I did the Making Beaded Jewellery course, then I also did a Silversmithing – Beginners course with the same Adult Education group – it was not quite what I expected it to be. Most of the people in the room had been there before, and the teacher ended up being grabbed by them every week and really didn’t seem to have much time for us real beginners. It was not much fun in the end which was disappointing. The one good thing I got from the course was my introduction to the Cookson Gold company which I now use for supplies.
Since then I have taught myself how to make ear wires and s-clasps based on pictures and the odd tutorial that I’ve found online. I taught myself to make chain maille from books and online materials. I have picked up ideas and tips from members of various jewellery forums who gladly give answers to stupid questions all the time.
What got you interested in chain maille?
If I remember rightly, I was in a book shop and noticed the “Hobbies” set of shelves. There sitting with its cover showing was a book called “Handcrafting Chain and Bead Jewelry” by David Scott Plumlee and I loved the design on the front. It looked so pretty and it seemed to flow across the cover (see David Plumlee’s website). I also liked the simplicity of the instructions in the book so I bought it The first pieces I made from the book were of Byzantine weave, probably partly why it is still my favourite. It was the idea of putting beads with chain maille that caught my attention.
Can you tell us a bit about the how it’s made?
Chain maille is made from rings of materials (commonly called jump rings). I say “materials” because some makers mix metal and rubber rings in one piece. Each weave requires the rings to be of the right “Aspect ratio” (AR) for the weave to hold together correctly and to retain its shape. Some weaves require more than one size of ring to complete the pattern. The “Aspect ratio” is the relationship between the width of the metal (or other material) and the inner diameter of the jump ring. For example, for the Byzantine weave to work nicely and be strong but not loose, the best aspect ratio is 3.25, so if making the weave from 1 mm thick wire the inner diameter of the jump rings will be 3.25 mm. Jump rings are generally made from round wire cut into sections and then wound around a mandrel (any straight item with the correct diameter for the jump ring required, knitting needles are popular) and then the coil is sawn or cut into the individual jump rings.
To create the weave the maker needs two pairs of jewellery standard pliers (e.g. no teeth on the pliers). Some makers use two pairs of the same type of pliers, some use two different types. It is personal preference really, I choose to use two pairs of chain nose pliers. A jump ring is opened by gently twisting the pliers in opposite directions, e.g. pull one towards you and the other away, so the gap opens at a slant to the metal. To close a jump ring, do the reverse. It can take practice to do. Then open and closed jump rings are looped together to make the weave. Each weave has its own pattern and depending on how large the rings are and how many rings interlink have their own levels of difficulty as well.
What kind of difficulty do you come across when weaving chain maille?
The Jens Pind weave is said to be quite difficult as the AR means that there is very little space to play with once the rings start to be joined. The AR for Jens Pind is 2.92 so when using 1 mm wire the inner diameter of each ring is 2.92 mm and when you start weaving two rings through a third ring there really isn’t a lot of space to work with!
What different weaves are there in making chain maille jewellery?
Many, many, many – see the list on M.A.I.L. – Maille Artisans International League for an idea. Under the Library menu is the weaves section and you will see hundreds of variants. It is not uncommon for a basic weave such as Byzantine to be added to/adapted by makers to produce a variant.
What’s your favourite piece out of all the ones you’ve made?
My favourite piece is one of the first I ever made in Sterling silver and it also incorporates my favourite semi precious stone – Carnelian. It is a necklace made using the Byzantine weave with two different shades of round carnelian and a larger centre carnelian stone.
I find the intricate weaves of chain maille fascinating and beautiful, but it doesn’t seem to be too popular in fashion at the moment. Why do you think that is the case?
I think part of it is that chain maille from Sterling silver is expensive to make. It is definitely a special item to buy and wear. Also, the trend recently appears to be more to the narrower chain bracelets with the large hole beads, like Pandora.
What kind of metals do you work with?
I work with Sterling silver in chain maille and plated metals for my “fashion” items. The problem with using a plated wire to make chain maille is, having formed a jump ring the plating around the cut can flake off making the inner metal visible. Since silver plated wire is commonly made with copper in the middle ,the colour difference can be very obvious. Saying that, I did start off learning chain maille using silver plated wire and do sometimes still use it for practice pieces as it is cheaper. Sometimes I practice with copper wire although I am not keen on selling it as it can easily discolour the wearer’s skin – I have not managed to try any of the products that might protect the copper from the skin.
Where do you find inspiration for creating new pieces?
It varies really. With chain maille I just like some of the weaves so have gone and found tutorials for those and made it because I wanted to.
I created one set of jewellery (necklace and earrings) using Lapis lazuli and Carnelian beads with Sterling silver after spending some time looking at Egyptian jewellery in the British Museum. What do you think? That photo isn’t great but you get the idea.
It looks great! I can definitely see the Egyptian influences in the colour and structure of the necklace and earrings.
For some items I get an idea, a picture, and I sketch the piece, then find the beads and metal to make that item. I own a number of lampwork beads (hand made glass beads) and sometimes one of them will give me an idea of how I want the resulting piece to look – sometimes, if I’m at home, I will just sit down and make it immediately and other times I will make a sketch to keep it in mind. I have been known to park up at work and grab an old receipt and scribble on that back of it to get down an idea I had while driving! Or wake up in the middle of the night and grab the notebook I keep next to the bed.
Have you worked on any other pieces other than fashion or chain maille jewellery?
I have been involved in Christmas challenges on the Cookson’s forum a couple of times – that’s when I made Christmas decorations to give to the person I’d been chosen to make for. That was fun and every year I mean to make more as gifts and for fun I haven’t gotten around to it. These are some of the ones I’ve made and gifted.
When you’re making any new pieces of jewellery, do you listen to music or do you prefer the peace and quiet?
Hm, if I’m cutting jump rings or weaving chain maille I like to have either music or the TV in the background as these activities do not necessarily need a jewellers bench. When I am working at my bench (my Ikea wheeled kitchen trolley) I tend to do that in the kitchen so the music is on instead.
Is there any significance to the name of your Etsy shop, White Oak Jewellery?
I spent ages looking for a name and domain to use for my shop. I wanted something organic but was not sure what I could use. Originally I was thinking of using the words “gems” or “beads” but it didn’t feel right, not to mention so many had already been registered. My favourite tree is an oak, I love the shape of the leaves and the acorns. It happened that while I was thinking about domain names I walked under an oak tree in town and a leaf fell in front of me. So I decided to look at using the word “oak” and the first that was free was white oak jewellery. I knew I wanted the word “jewellery” in the domain name as it helps people know what the site is related to instead of being confused with tree growers. I know some people will probably expect it to be jewellery made from wood, but I don’t mind if it means they have a quick look.
We went to the hallmarking seminar together at The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London. What did you feel was the most important thing you came away with from that day?
The history behind it all! I knew that hallmarking had been around for a long time but I had not realised just how long. Before I had signed up for a maker’s mark I had read up on a lot of the rules behind the hallmarking so I already knew bits of that.
You mentioned that you get your pieces hallmarked at the Edinburgh Assay Office. What was the reason for this?
My mum’s family is from Scotland and I myself went to school and university there, so I feel quite a tie to the country even though I do not live there. Also, I liked the picture of the castle as it felt more historic than the other pictures. Mind you, that was before I understood that the London Leopard was originally the King’s lion.
Do you have a piece of jewellery that is important to you?
Many years ago (as all good stories start) my father was working in Oman for a few years. While he was there, he bought me a silver charm bracelet made by Omani workmen and I love it. The charms include an Omani dagger and Bugs Bunny!
What other interests or hobbies do you participate in your free time?
I do a lot of reading (and I do mean a LOT especially since I got my Kindle and I no longer have to find space for physical books), watch a lot of TV and I love going to the theatre. I am also a member of the British Museum so I like going to the exhibitions and generally looking at the displays. Although I must admit I now find it difficult to look at anything other than the jewellery or pretty items.
If you could be in someone else’s shoes for a day, who would you be?
Hm, difficult one. I would love to be the curator of the Cheapside Hoard exhibition and to spend time with the items and the conservators finding out all about how the items have been conserved and displayed.
To see jewellery pieces, whether fashion items or chain maille jewellery, visit Anne’s store, White Oak Jewellery.
- Byzantine Style Necklace with Animal Print Hearts Necklace – Tutorial (betsybgood.wordpress.com)
- Made in London: Jewellery Now Exhibition (thegemstandard.com)
- The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Hidden Jewelry Treasure Revealed (thegemstandard.com)