Silver Threads

a knitting blog with occasional side trips


Supposedly simple double orbital

Having made the two Byzantine bracelets and enjoyed doing so (eventually),  I wanted to learn a different weave. I had a lot of jump rings left over from the first Byzantine bracelet, so I tried making samples of different weaves. Mixed success on this front. Some, like the spiral weave, worked fine, although I discovered soon enough that spiral didn’t interest me all that much. But much of the time, even though I understood how the rings were supposed to go together, I couldn’t physically get them to do what I wanted. Welcome to the concept of “aspect ratio.” Basically, jump rings vary in their inner diameter and the thickness of the wire they’re made from, and the two together are the aspect ratio (aspect ratio = inner diameter divided by wire diameter…okay, I’ll stop with the math now). If the wire is too thick in proportion to the inner diameter for the weave you’re attempting, you’re not going to be able to cram the rings into the space available. If the wire is too thin, I’d guess you’d be able to make the weave, but it’d be flimsy and loose and not look very attractive. This latter possibility is all hypothetical to me, since I was having the first problem. Apparently 16 g rings of 7/32″ inner diameter are fine for the Byzantine and spiral weaves, but other weaves like double spiral and box were just not working.

I put the loose rings aside and bought another kit, figuring that at least they’d give me rings that were the right size for the design. Sure, I’d decided these kits weren’t great for beginners, but now I had all the experience of two bracelets behind me (!). Plus, I liked several of the vendor’s other designs. I chose one in double orbital weave and in an attractive combination of rainbow  and silver rings. Silver colored, that is, not real silver. I was still going to be working with enameled copper.

The first stage was encouraging as all get out: make a chain of the silver rings. This took me twenty minutes, tops. Two rings alternating with one ring. I gloated silently at my proficiency. Yes, all problems were behind me and I was on my way to being a chain maille queen. All I needed to do was add in the colored rings, and…


It sounded simple. Lay the chain on the mat, which would cause the paired rings to move apart slightly, like a metal Venn diagram. Then take a colored ring and wrap it around the marquis shape in the center of the “diagram,” close it, then repeat with a second ring of the same color. Again, does this not sound simple?

The first ring of each pair, which I thought would be the more challenging of the two, went in with a bit of a fuss, but not much. The second was hell. I’d poke one end in, and you’d think that the first ring would hold the whole arrangement steady, but no. The second ring would get snagged in the first ring, or it’d go through the silver rings wrong, or it’d go through one of the single silver rings. Twenty minutes for the entire silver chain turned into fifteen to twenty minutes for each second colored ring, and often that ring was scratched by the time I finally got it closed.

The solution was in how to insert them. The best way I can describe it was that at first, I was putting the rings in like a needle and thread: point one end in the direction I wanted it to go and use the pliers to pull the ring into position, assuming that the rest of the ring would follow. That’s what the various books I’d read had instructed me to do, and it had worked just fine for Byzantine weave. For double orbital, I needed to put the ring in like a staple: both ends in at once and then close the ring. Okay, jump rings aren’t staples, and I couldn’t put them in simultaneously. But the moment I got one end in, I’d move to put the other end in, and then wiggle the ring a bit to bring both ends up where I could grab them again and close the ring. Success, usually in two minutes!

And finally: one rainbow double orbital bracelet:

Chain maille bracelet, double orbital weave

I’m taking a break from these kits. I’d still like to make some of these designs, but clearly my tolerance level for working with small enameled copper rings is not high. Plus, I’ve ordered several packs of aluminum rings in an aspect ratio that should work better for the weaves that interest me. And after I’ve played with them a while, maybe niobium? I have ideas for how to use that in a bracelet. It’s too bad I don’t wear bracelets in cold weather because they’re hidden by long sleeves, since at this rate, I’m going to have bracelets all over the place.


Byzantine, Byzantine

My interests wax and wane.  I got all enthusiastic about chain maille back in November. I ordered a kit, had some trouble with it, and ordered some more beginner-suitable supplies. When they arrived, I made a start at Byzantine weave. Yes, it was better to practice on bigger rings, and what I’d suspected proved to be true: aluminum is easier to work with than copper, and anodized color doesn’t scratch as easily as enameling. I did a couple of pattern repeats, was delighted to make some progress…and then didn’t touch it again until last month. The holidays? Other interests? Just too much to do? I dunno. What it came down to was, I put the supplies away in the closet, and didn’t take them out again.

I’m getting into setting definite goals for myself this year with the intent of accomplishing them. (Our HR department would be so proud of me, except that most of these are personal goals, not work-related ones.) Looking around for loose ends to tie up in my life, I remembered chain maille and set finishing the aluminum Byzantine weave bracelet as a goal. I don’t know if something was percolating in the back of my brain or what, but despite the lack of practice, this time, I could see real results. Encouraged, I kept adding rings. (I bet the chain maille equivalent of “just one more row” is “just one more pattern repeat.”) Sure, I was still scratching rings or having to reclose them because the ends didn’t quite line up the first time, but actual chain maille was dangling from my pliers.

And then it happened. I closed enough jump rings that I stopped focusing 100% of my attention on trying to do it just right. I kept working, but I started thinking about other things, and then I looked down and realized I was closing rings pretty decently. Not perfectly, but good enough for a beginner’s first piece. That was encouraging as all get-out, so I kept on, and boy, bracelets don’t take nearly as long to make as sweaters do. Meet my first chain maille bracelet:


Since I was still in happily obsessed mode, it was good that I had that kit on hand to work on. Now with a real sense of what it feels like to open and close jump rings, the kit was comparatively easy. Comparatively, mind you. I still need practice on closing rings well. (Darn. Must make more bracelets, I guess.) And I still think enameled copper scratches way too easily. But look—I made a second bracelet!


I’m happy to be able to work with smaller rings, because I prefer the more delicate look they create. But of course, you need more rings per inch as you go smaller, so pieces take correspondingly longer to make. Still, practice helps speed things up. When I started the kit again, it took me about 45 minutes to do an inch of Byzantine weave in the smaller rings. By the end, about a week later, I could do an inch in 15 minutes. That’s not just because I’m faster at opening and closing each ring, but also because there are “speedweaving” techniques: methods of pre-closing certain rings in a pattern that let you join them together faster. Right now, I’m following the directions and trusting that it’ll work, but with practice, I’m hoping to understand why they make it go faster.


Together, to highlight the difference in jump ring sizes. The top bracelet is 3/8″ (1 cm) wide; the bottom one is 7/32″ (6 mm) wide.

I like Byzantine weave, and I want to do more in it. (I dream of a bracelet in rose gold.) But there are many different weaves, and I’m in the mood to try a different one now. Probably in silver, light blue, and/or dark blue, since I have a lot of those aluminum rings left over. It’s a good thing blue goes with so many things in my wardrobe.


A journey of a thousand links begins with a single centimeter

A few years ago, I was wandering through the dealers’ room at CONvergence when I saw my first chain maille jewelry. I ended up buying one bracelet and commissioning a second one, and after that, I made sure to visit that vendor every year. Alas, they were not at CONvergence this year, and while there were other vendors selling chain maille, nothing in their wares called to me. I’d planned on commissioning another bracelet. Now there seemed to be but one answer: I’d have to learn how to do chain maille myself.

The Internet has many flaws, but when you want to learn a new craft, it is a glorious resource. I found books, and the books pointed me to suppliers. I decided on a kit as my first project. From the bracelets I already owned, I knew I liked Byzantine weave. So a kit to make a Byzantine bracelet sounded perfect. It would give me the basic supplies, everything except the pliers—and I already owned chain-nose pliers for beading—and would spell everything out for me. I bought the kit, read two introductory books on chain maille, and started my first piece yesterday.

The good news: the kit’s instructions are clear and easy to understand. But even though Byzantine weave is fine for beginners, I don’t think this particular kit is. I’d assumed the rings would be anodized aluminum, a good beginner’s metal because it’s pretty easy to manipulate. Instead, they’re enameled copper, and besides that, they’re pretty small. That’ll be great in the finished bracelet, because I prefer small, delicate jewelry, but it’s not good for a first project. The copper and the small size of the rings together mean that the rings are much harder to close than I expected. My pliers kept slipping and scratching the enamel. Plus, I need better magnification. I did get a magnifier, and it helps, but I’d like something stronger. I can knit by touch, but if that’s even possible in chain maille, I’m not there yet! In knitting terms, this was like doing your first knitting project with excellent instructions, but with only cotton fingering weight yarn and size 3 (3.25 mm) needles to work with, one of which keeps snagging your yarn.

But enough of the hardships. Look what I made!Byzantine weave chain maille attached to a paper clip.

In real life, that sample is about 1 cm long. I may not be able to salvage it for the finished bracelet, but I’ll still keep it as My Very First Chain Maille. (I’m sure it looks better than My Very First Knitting did.) I ruined quite a few rings to get this far, and I’m stopping for now because I don’t want to run out of rings to finish the bracelet. But I’ve got better tools and a bunch of anodized aluminum rings on order. I got the weave right (like I said, I have good instructions), and some of those closures are surprisingly good, given my complete lack of experience. I just need practice. How long until my order arrives?