The other day I picked up my son from his summer internship at Blue Buddha, one of the largest distributors of chainmaille supplies, which happens to be here in Chicago. Have you heard of chainmaille? I hadn’t, until my son got into it, making his own wire jump rings to recreate those weaves with which the metal knitted shirts were made that knights used to wear as armor. These days chainmaille is mainly practiced as a specific way of making jewelry.
As I watched him sawing metal coils last fall, I wondered whether he might be more of an artist than the budding engineer we always thought he was, and since metal working capabilities are rather limited in our house, I searched for metal working classes. Next thing I knew, he and I were taking a chainmaille class together at the Lillstreet Art Center. The two bracelets in the photo are my work from that class. Since I made silver wire jewelry as a teenager, making jewelry wasn’t ailen to me, and creating something tangible and as pretty as a brass bracelet turned out to be a wonderful antidote to my otherwise more cerebral work of writing. Plus a new creative pursuit fit in with my motto of “Create” for this year.
Speaking of creating, the other day I read an excellent blog post by David DuChemin (a photographer from whose books I have learned a lot) on Being More Creative. One of the steps he listed to be more creative was, “Do something that increases your inputs in an area seemingly unrelated to photography.” Well, in my case it would be “writing,” not photography, since writing is my primary form of creative expression. Photography is, however, another way I like to be creative, and I figure I’m doing both my writing and my photography a grand favor by learning chainmaille, because chainmaille is an entirely different creative process from writing or photography.
Chainmaille works your hands; it’s very fiddly (the lower bracelet, which I prefer, is a Japanese weave that uses tiny rings that are hard to work with), and it’s an exercise in spatial sequencing. I really have to concentrate on how I hold my pliers, and how I slip the rings into each other. In a way it feels like knitting. You’ve got to concentrate on the pattern, and you’re creating something tangible and beautiful to wear.
Like knitting, chainmaille is also highly addictive. Once you’ve figured out how to do a weave that you like, you want to do more and more projects with that weave. Sure enough, as I was waiting for my son to wrap up (as an intern he creates samples or tests new weave designs to make sure the instructions work), I paged through a few instruction books and soon my head was swimming again with all kinds of designs I could make. Of course, I already have a necklace kit waiting on my desk, but that won’t keep me from planning another one…
I have seen that done. There's an artisan who turns up at the farmer's markets here on occasion who runs what's called Thor's Trinkets. She does various things with chainmaille, including jewellry and actually devising full chain armor for teddy bears.
William, cool that you know about chainmaille! Thor's Trinkets is a great name!