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Friday, December 2, 2011

In the Beginning...(or, How I started mailling)

I'm enough of a fantasy/sci-fi nerd that I had heard of chainmaille and scalemaille before (in the context of 'woot, my level 14 paladin just found new scalemaille pants!), but I'd never dreamed of doing anything like it myself. The few pieces of armor I'd seen were INTENSE, thousands upon thousands of rings each woven into the pattern by hand, hundreds of hours invested into a piece of clothing that weighed a ton and would succeed in making you the coolest person at the Ren Faire but the weirdest person on your block. Days at a table with a pair of pliers and a magnifying glass? Yeah, sounds like a blast (insert sarcastic tone and eye roll hear). I blame my friend Kathy, a local craft store, a dedicated chainmaille artist, and a wonderful annual trip to an event called GenCon for changing that attitude and launching my addiction to tiny jump rings, multiple pairs of pliers, and desk lamps with built in magnifying glasses...

My husband and I, along with a group of friends, have traveled to GenCon every year for quite some time now. If you are at all into gaming (card games, board games, computer games, role-playing games, console games, etc.), you may have heard of GenCon. It is THE place to be if you want to experience 24-hours straight of gaming goodness while also allowing the release of that inner nerd we all have buried deep inside us. They have discussion panels, thousands of different games, hundreds of vendors, and a nice variety of crafting classes. Many of these are of the 'build your own foam weapon or leather breastplate' variety, but several years ago Kathy decided to take a class focused on making a chainmaille dicebag. Every good gaming nerd must have a trusty dicebag to keep those 3-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, etc., etc., etc., dice in, after all. Eventually Kathy had created several dicebags as well as a lanyard to wear her GenCon badge in style. I loved what she had done, so the next year I decided to take a class as well, but (being a glutton for punishment and just a smidge competitive) I decided to 'take it up a notch'. Chainmaille dicebag (pffft), I decided to go straight to scalemaille.

Scalemaille could be considered the angry big brother of chainmaille. You don't just weave the rings, but you also attach metal scales to the rings themselves. My bag wasn't pretty (being that it was all in unanodized (plain) aluminum), but to this day it gets many oohhhs and ahhhs from people when I place it on the table. Plus, I figure it doubles as a weapon since you could really leave a mark if you decided to wack someone with it! Making this bag involved many hours of time (and more than a little inappropriate language), but I enjoyed the challenge and the final product, and though 'hey, I'll try something like this again'. But life dictated that I wouldn't have another chance to touch my rings for a year.

For this year's GenCon I decided I was going to take several chainmaille classes, as I had finished school and had more free time to take up a hobby. Since a good D20-playing nerd can never have too many bags of dice, I chose to create a rubber/metal ring dicebag, and then to try something more 'wearable' I picked the 'Create a Chainmaille Ring' class. My husband was rooting for the 'Chainmaille Bikini' class, but I (naively) thought that if I didn't finish the project at GenCon I might never finish, and that is a mega-project. The dicebag was a straight-forward project, European 4-1 weave with aluminum, black, and yellow rubber rings. I was able to finish it within the time-frame of the class, which was what I was looking for.

Then...there was the first venture into the wonderful world of micro-mailling... My previous 2 projects had used fairly standard (larger) size rings, but that was not an option for something that had to be very flexible to be worn on a finger. So the rings used in this project were less than 4 mm across, which you can't truly appreciate until you try to hold them in a pair of pliers and match the ends of the openings up exactly. It took me 4 hours to put this little ring together, and there were (almost) some tears involved. But in the end, I had the first piece that I could wear and show to people without having to explain why on earth I needed a specific bag for dice... Since the ring (mis)adventure, I've worked with many jump rings as small or smaller than what was used in this project, but at the time all I could think was, 'what kind of crazy person does this by choice'.

That was around 3 months ago, and since then I have taken over the desk in our spare bedroom (with dreams of a desk in my reptile room (long story on that room), have multiple containers of rings of all sizes and colors, and a dedicated album of photos on my Facebook page showing my latest jewelry creation. As my husband would say, 'this escalated quickly...'.

I can't even remember now what I wandered into Hobby Lobby looking for that fateful day (picture frames, I think...), when I saw the book CHAINED by Rebeca Mojica (founder/owner of Blue Buddha Botique, )on the shelf. I'll admit it, flipping through I got caught up in my 'I like shiny things' personality, and a purchase was made. And the rest, as they say, is history. I'll talk about projects I've worked on in future posts, but suffice to say since that first pattern book purchase, I have made many earrings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, etc., and have added countless jump rings and many more patterns to my collection. I've had people try to ply me with alcohol to talk me out of my current accessory, I've had many late nights thinking 'just a few more minutes and this project is done', and I've loved every minute of it. Who would have thought something so potentially frustrating could also be so fulfilling? Now, if I could just learn to control the swearing...

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