Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chainmaille suppliers/references (or, Where do you find those things?)

I've had a lot of people who aren't familiar with chainmaille (and even a few who are) ask me 'Where do you even find that stuff?'  So I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of some of the more common and/or my favorite sources for patterns, materials, tools, inspiration, etc.  This is by no means an exhaustive list (I'm not quite that obsessed yet), so feel free to drop me a line if you have another source that you like that I haven't listed here.  I'm always looking for new suppliers to feed the addiction!

You can't make chainmaille without a steady supply of jump rings.  And in my experience local hobby stores just don't seem to carry the selection/quantity that most chainmaillers would need.  A paltry bag of 50 16g jumprings will not cut it for any of my projects short of maybe a zipper extension.  And I do not have the patience or desire to make my own rings (if you do, more power to you).  As such, I get most of my jumprings from on-line sources.

My favorite source for jewelry rings is by far Blue Buddha Boutique (B3).  They have a wide selection of ring sizes, both in diameters and gauge, as well as almost any metal you could wish to work in.  Their bright aluminum is so shiny that sometimes I wonder if they slipped me sterling silver instead!  They anodize their niobium in-house and have a great variety of colors available.  They are located locally (to me) in Chicago and all of their anodized aluminum is made in the USA!  They also supply me with the small anodized scales that I use for my scalemaille earrings.

Another good bulk-ring source on-line is The Ring Lord.  They sell their rings by weight, not quantity, but they give an estimate of how many rings per ounce each size/gauge gives you.  They have a nice variety of metals and sizes, and I have used their aluminum rings in many patterns.  Make sure you pay attention to the type of cutting used on the rings you buy, they offer pinch-cut and saw-cut.  Their prices are cheaper than B3, but I don't find their aluminum as shiny, so I typically use them in patterns where the rings are not as visible (such as my scalemaille dicebags) or when I am testing out a new weave that I don't plan on selling the tester item.  Ring Lord is where I get the larger aluminum scales that I use for my dicebags as well as the rubber o-rings that I used in a couple dicebags and that my friend Kathy uses for her strechy bracelets.

There are many other chainmaille ring suppliers available that I have not (yet) had a chance to use, but are worth looking into.  C & T Designs has a nice selection of square/flat jump rings in a variety of materials if you want to give your project a unique look.  Metal Designz has a nice variety of rings as well offering a bulk-buy discount.  Fire Mountain Gems is more well-known for their crystals and beads, but they have a nice selection of jumprings in a variety of sizes, materials, and colors as well.  There are also craftspeople who make jumprings for purchase on Etsy, search for jump rings or chainmail rings to see what you can find.

Patterns and Classes
There are 2 main categories of pattern sources available: books with multiple patterns and single-pattern sources.  I'm a huge fan of books myself, as I often don't know exactly what type of project I want to do next to expand my maille horizons and you can often get 20+ patterns for around $20, but the single-pattern sources are handy if you are looking for something specific or had someone ask if you could make Project X.  There are also several jewelry magazines that feature chainmaille patterns fairly regularly, including Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry, Bead Style Magazine, and Bead and Button Magazine.

For books I find it easiest to go to my local library and/or bookstore and browse their selection of jewelry-making books.  Don't limit yourself to only books with chainmaille listed on the cover, I've found many chainmaille-based patterns in books focused on beading or wire-work jewelry.  What I will often do is look through the books, making note of any (such as "Chained" by Rebeca Mojica, "Classic Chain Mail Jewelry" by Sue Ripsch, or "Link It" by Susan Thomas) that had patterns I liked or gave me ideas and I will then search for them to purchase.  This allows me to avoid buying a book that doesn't have what I am looking for and/or being disappointed with an on-line book purchase that only has a few patterns I like.

For single-pattern sources there are numerous potential suppliers.  Most on-line companies that supply rings also have patterns available for purchase.  Local crafting stores will also periodically have chainmaille artists come in and teach classes, and these teachers will often have copies of their patterns available for sale.  M.A.I.L also has a very active community that posts patterns and ideas on a fairly regular basis.  And there are a surprising amount of videos available (although the quality and/or instruction varies greatly) to be found by a search on YouTube.  Conferences such as the Bead and Button Show will also often have seminars and classes you can take to learn new patterns or perfect your technique.  Search for the various craft expos in your area to see what is available in your region (or come to Milwaukee, WI in June for the beading show to end all shows!).

The proper tools are essential to a successful chainmaille project.  The variety of tools that you collect will be based on your personal preference and how 'aggressive' you are (aka, how often you break/wear out your pliers).  Where you get your tools can be as simple as your local hardware store, purchasing at a local craft store, or from an on-line ring/chainmaille supply dealer.  The most important thing to remember is that the tools you use MUST be comfortable for you to use for an extended period of time and the pliers cannot have teeth or ridges that will scratch your rings.  I'll go into more detail on what to look for in your tools in a future post, but for now be confident that you can spend as little as $5 on a pair of pliers at the hardware store or you can spend over $30 for some very nice pliers on-line.  I have several different pairs that I tend to alternate between based on the project, and all of mine have been purchased from stores locally.

Beads/Embellishments/Finishing Touches
Your jewelry can embody the simple elegance of just jumprings or you can embellish with the riot of colors, finishes, and textures available from adding beads and charms to your creations.  How much you embellish is a matter of personal preference (and, in my case, space constraints).  And much like tools, you can find many of your desired finishing touches at local craft stores or by browsing your local craft fair.  I've seen some fantastic lampwork beads at my local flea markets and consignment shops, if you take the time to look for them.  But, as many people like to shop from the comfort of their home, here are some examples of suppliers for you to help get your glimmer on...

Rio Grand Jewelry Supplies
C-Koop Beads
Saki Silver
Fire Mountain Gems
Blue Buddha Boutique

The list of suppliers for the various 'tools of the trade' for chainmaille creations is changing on a daily basis as new suppliers join the market, new patterns are created, and your local shopping center adds a small beading boutique store.  Be sure to check you local craft fairs to find that next great supplier, and feel free to drop me a line with any suppliers you think I should check in to.  I'm always looking for more jump-rings to add to my collection...

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