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?

Playing with wire

There are too many crafts out there to keep up with (not a complaint!). Last week, E. told Suncat and I about a community ed class on Viking weave that she was planning on taking, and invited us to join her. The class was called, enticingly, “Viking Weave: Knitting with Wire.” Weaving or knitting, I’d never heard of it, and although Suncat couldn’t make it, I decided to give it a try. It was just a one-shot class, which promised to be an interesting way to spend an otherwise mundane Thursday evening. Suncat found a video on YouTube and sent it our way, so we did go into the class with a vague idea of what we might be bringing out of it.

Viking weave in process
The weaving.

The instructor had provided all the supplies and equipment, saving us from having to go out and buy stuff without knowing what we were doing. This looks like a craft you could get into without a huge initial financial investment, especially if you already do beading. The class description had stated that silver, copper, nickel, and bronze wire would be available, but I hadn’t realized there would be all sorts of pretty colors to choose from. E. and I independently decided we liked the same color: rose gold. (Although the deep green was really tempting—perhaps a future project, if I can find it on my own.)

Generally, the class went well. The major problem was that while the weaving is easy to get the hang of once you see it done, the teacher didn’t have any way of showing the class as a group how to do it. She had to walk around showing each student how to get started, and later on, how to finish it off, how to attach the findings, and so on. Although that gave me plenty of time to slip over to an empty table and take a picture of the work in process without disrupting the class.

Viking weave bracelet
The finished bracelet.

And yes, the weaving itself really is easy to learn. You use a bit of scrap wire to form a daisy of five loops that you stick on the end of the dowel. You then take a length of your wire and make what is in essence a twisted stockinette stitch cylinder. Like embroidering with a needle and thread, you poke the end of the wire through a loop, go to the next loop, make a little loop in that loop with your wire, and around. For the next round, you pass the wire behind the little “x” at the bottom of the previous round’s loop, loop it around, and move on to the next “stitch.” When your work is long enough, you remove it from the dowel and pull it through a succession of increasingly smaller holes in a draw plate. This evens your work out and compresses it. My bracelet started out at 13 mm and ended up at 5 mm in diameter.

The instructor had samples for three kinds of weaves we could do. I chose the single weave—what I just described—because it looked like it would make the thinnest, most delicate-looking bracelet of the three. E. went for a double weave, where instead of weaving your wire through the round you’ve just completed, you weave it through the second round up. Other students went for the triple weave, using the third round up. These variations make the piece progressively thicker and denser, but they also consume wire faster. I had enough to make a bracelet, with even a bit of weaving left over, but other people, including E., had to either add more wire or decide to make something else with their piece.

I like Viking weave enough to want to try it again sometime. (E. was also enthusiastic about it.) I just don’t know how many wire bracelets I need, even if they’re in different colors, and I don’t think I’d be likely to wear necklaces made this way. But maybe learning more about it will give me more ideas of what to do with it.

Optical illusion

While the knitting putters along (the front and back of the Wedge Pullover are blocking as I write this), I made another detour into beading. This is the Bali Rope Bracelet, the last of my purchases from when my local bead store closed this spring. While beading is much faster than knitting or crochet, I thought this would take a while. I pictured having to do some sort of complicated threading or weaving to get many small silver beads to form that rope pattern. In fact, I’ve been putting off tackling the project because I figured it was going to be a major investment of effort (by beading standards).

Bali Rope Bracelet
Bali Rope Bracelet.

No, it’s a trick. Those aren’t tiny round beads woven together, but a lot of heishi beads lined up in a row. Each bead naturally nestles at a 45º angle to the one next to it, creating the illusion that you’ve made a thick silver cord. Seven Swarovski crystals add color and sparkle. I had to shorten the bracelet by about an inch to fit my wrist, but then, that’s easy to do when you’re custom-making the bracelet. Oh, and the entire project, start to finish, was about 40 minutes. Now to find an outfit to wear my new pretty sparkly thing with.

heishi beads
Heishi beads.

The amazing convertible piece of jewelry

I made it back to the bead store for the first time this year. (Do beaders refer to their local bead store as an LBS the way knitters and crocheters call their local yarn store an LYS?) I left with only one kit, not so much because I was practicing self-restraint as because they’ve only created a few new kits since I decimated their stock last year and only one of the new batch was one I was interested in. This kit, Santa Fe, makes a necklace that can also be worn as a bracelet (or perhaps it’s a bracelet that can also work as a necklace). It’s not my normal style of jewelry, but I liked the colorway (Spring; they also sell a reddish-golden colorway called Autumn) and there was just something about the scatteredness of it that appealed to me.

SantaFe (single strand)
Santa Fe necklace, single strand

Assembling this kit was a different challenge for me than I usually find with beading projects. Technically, it wasn’t difficult: thread the included beads onto the beading wire, making sure that the charms fall at certain points so that they’ll hang in the proper places when it’s worn as a necklace, then attach the lobster clasp and jump ring. Where I was challenged was in the very scatteredness that had attracted me to it in the first place. The designers figure you’ll use the photo of their sample just to give yourself ideas on how to mix the beads and that your creativity will spill out as you play with it.

Santa Fe, double strand
Santa Fe necklace, double strand. Note how now the charms are centered relative to the clasp.

I’m quite willing to believe that other people are blessed with inspiration when given suggestions like that. Me, I have an addiction to symmetry. Left up to my own devices, this necklace was going to be mostly symmetrical, only not quite, because the beads weren’t going to come out right, and the whole effect was going to disappoint me. So I ended up following the sample photo slavishly. I’d say there’s about 99% similarity between them. I am inordinately proud of the one bead I put in on impulse. But overall, I’m happy with the results, which leaves me wondering which is “better,” to basically copy the original and enjoy the necklace, or go off on my own and end up beating myself up for not being naturally random.

Santa Fe (bracelet)
Santa Fe necklace as bracelet (5 wraps)

Oh, and after all that fuss, I’ll probably end up wearing as a necklace more than a bracelet, even though when I bought the kit, I thought it would be the other way around. With actual wear, some loops become loose, others tighten up, and I’m worried that I’ll snag it on something and break it. But I do have ideas for a future one . . . that is, one that I come up with on my own, and have to be all asymmetrical and randomish with by myself!

Santa Fe (on wrist)
Santa Fe bracelet in action

Summer’s end

Here’s the thing about bracelets: I don’t wear them with long-sleeved shirts or sweaters. The temperature has been dropping for the past few days—okay, not terribly surprising given that this is Labor Day weekend. Long sleeves are on the horizon. And it hit me that if I didn’t make this bracelet soon, I wouldn’t wear it for months, possibly not until next summer. Which would be a shame, since this bracelet was the third project to push me into beading, along with the Ice Cube Bracelet and the Beadstrology necklace.

Back in July, I went to CONvergence, one of our local science-fiction/fantasy conventions. One of the vendors was selling a simple bracelet of green stones. I liked it enough to visit it several times over the course of the convention, but it was difficult to overlook two problems: I couldn’t put the bracelet on by myself because of its clasp, and it cost $45. But during one of those repeat visits, I noticed that they had a basket of beads for sale. Buried in the heap was a string of green beads that looked similar to the ones in the bracelet, and for only a fraction of the price. When my beading friend assured me that that kind of bracelet was easy to make, my course was clear. But then I got sidetracked by class and summer and beading kits, and suddenly there was a clock ticking over my green bracelet. So let’s hear it for long weekends, and the chance to catch up on a few summer projects.

green stone bead bracelet

The vendor told me what kind of stone this was, but I’ve forgotten. It looks like photos of African jade, though, so I’m calling it that unless a better match comes along. And unlike the lobster claw clasp of the original, I can manipulate this toggle clasp just fine. And even if the temperature plummets tomorrow, I have been wearing this bracelet as I write this post, so it has gotten some wear this season.

I still have thirteen beads left. I expect I’ll be making a pendant out of one of them. And then there were twelve. I seem to be building up a leftover beads stash just like I already have a leftover yarn stash.

Twinkle, twinkle

This is the troublemaker. Meet the Ice Cube Bracelet, the kit that got me into all this trouble in the first place. See, while it’s kit #2 in terms of being assembled, it’s the first one that caught my eye at the bead store. I credit this to the fact that it sparkles. The bead store had artfully arranged the display model so that bright lights would hit it just right, and there it was: a twinkling rainbow reaching out to grab my attention. (Put it in sunlight, and the effect is not unlike a disco ball). My inner magpie just had to have it. Even so, I resisted acquiring it for a while, since I thought that it might look a bit too formal to go with my casual-to-the-point-of-unnoticeable wardrobe, and what’s the point of making a piece of jewelry that never gets worn? (I’m already having that problem with Sally’s Favorite Summer Sweater—aargh!). But now that I’m actually wearing it, I see that plain clothing just gives it a quiet background to sparkle against and that it probably will get out of the jewelry box more than once.

Ice Cube bracelet

Oh, and I’ve increased my vocabulary. The black beads are in a shape called “bicone” (and the colored beads are “cubes,” but yes, I did know that term already). Now is there any other aspect of my life in which I’ll be able to use this new word? It’s not just craft: it’s educational!

The slippery slope

Evil, evil bead store. I only went there to get beads that looked like planets. But the evil, evil bead store had put kits by their door, kits that would allow a beginner to put together attractive bracelets, necklaces, and/or earrings. So in addition to beads that looked like planets, I brought home some kits. So there’s going to be beading beyond Beadstrology.

Meet kit #1: the Echo Bracelet. Not the first kit I saw, actually, but the first one I’ve attempted. This project taught me what a 1×1 crimp bead is and that I’d prefer to never use one again, much less fourteen of them (that’s 1×1 as in 1mm long by 1mm in diameter). I’m proud as all get-out that I didn’t drop one on the floor or inhale one just by breathing normally. Things did stall out for a while when it turned out that one of those specks of dust was defective (the hole was too small. Imagine that.), but the bead store very nicely replaced it. All whining aside, however, I do like the finished bracelet. I find it surprisingly lightweight—of course, the fact that most of my other bracelets are stone or metal might have something to do with this. And with that colorway, it’ll go with scads of things in my wardrobe.

Echo bracelet