Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Making a Handwoven Silver Chain

I have said before that I love weaving chains. They are quite labour intensive but the results are so beautiful. They also require a lot of patience and calm - each stitch must be perfect before moving on to the next. Once it is folded in place, the wire will kink if you try to adjust it.

Blatantly showing off my latest woven necklace.

This is where it all begins - 20 grams of wire, well annealed. I am using 0.4mm sterling silver wire for this project. The choice of wire - metal and thickness - influences the final chain. Some alloys are harder and less flexible, which will make both a stiffer chain and give you a harder time. Thicker wire will give a nice weight and make the stitches more visible. Finer wire leads to a more subtle chain. Some of my double or triple woven chains are made with wire as fine as 0.2mm while the thicker ones can be as heavy as 0.5mm.

The second design consideration is the thickness of your chain. This is mainly determined by how many stitches you start out with (5 to 7 is a good average) and how thick your needle is, which will make your chain tighter or more open. You can also work some fancy stitches for different textures. I am particularly fond of very large - huge! - stitches with a messy texture.

Messy weave with a twist

Ok, let's get started. I will mention other design ideas as we go along.

First, we need to make the initial row of loops. There are many, many ways of doing this and they all work if you end up with a circle of similarly sized loops for you to start making your chain on. I prefer methods that make a neat beginning but don't worry too much. You will cut the very beginning off at the end so just go ahead.

One way is to hold the tail of the wire, loop it over your needle and back to your fingers. Twist the loop a couple of times so it will stay together. Repeat until you have your starting loops. Wrapping the "stems" together will keep it neat and give you something to hold on to when you begin.

My favourite way, though, is to simply snip off about 2cms of chain I just finished weaving, before I stretch it or do anything else. To start a new chain, I tuck the new wire down the center of the old chain, give it a light twist around the old tail and start working. Of course, this won't work for your first chain but consider saving a few ends to use as starters. It saves time and makes the first rounds a lot neater, so you will have less waste.

Ooops - my starter chain is quite tarnished!

Now, let's make our first stitch. Push your needle through the first loop, hook the wire and pull it through. Don't pull a lot - just a little, to form the new loop. It is easier to make a little larger in the next step than to make it smaller without kinking the wire.

Hook the wire and pull it through

For your chain to look good and hang right, all stitches should be same size. To make this easier and to take the guess work, my crochet needles flare out in the middle. I choose a good loop length (so that it will be snug but not too tight) and I mark the right place on the needle with a permanent marker. Then, I push the needle straight down through the new stitch, until it just hits the mark, pulling enough wire to make it the right size.

I am using just the beginning of the flare to mark the stitch size
Fold the stitch up neatly and your first stitch is done. Move on to the next loop (I like to work counter clockwise, but that is a personal choice) and repeat. Be careful that you don't pull your first stitch out when you form the next one!

One stitch done - more to make (ok, I exaggerated a little)

Now, keep going round and round and round, as your chain slowly grows. Don't rush it. Make each stitch perfect and your chain will be beautiful. If they are uneven, your chain will kink, twist and not hang right. Every once in a while, stretch your chain out and check that all the stitches are lining up straight. Since we are constantly turning the chain to reach the next loop, the chain may sometimes twist a little as well. Hold the very end of the chain with two fingers of one hand and about 2 inches further down, with your other hand. Gently untwist the chain. Gently! If you move too fast or pull too hard, you may end up twisting it the other way or marking your work. Do this every once in a while, so that the entire chain grows straight. It is easier to do this as your work than trying to get any twist out at the very end.

Work patiently, make sure every loop is right before moving on and that it is growing evenly. Perfection is the result of making step perfect, not of trying hard at the end to fix something.

You can count on it stretching around 10% in the next step so you can stop when your chain is an inch or smaller than your final size for most chains. Once you hit that length, cut the wire and we can move on to finishing it.

Here is the first nerve wrecking step. You want to anneal your chain before we smooth it out and stretch it. Use a large, bushy flame, keep it moving constantly and never, ever concentrate the flame on one spot. Bring it up to annealing temperature slowly and evenly, so that the wire doesn't melt. If it gets bright red at any one point, pull the flame out, fast! Quench, pickle and let it dry thoroughly.

I like to use a wooden drawplate to even the chain. Here is my fancy-schmancy one:

Yes, I made it myself with drills and a ball burr (to flare one side a little). It also doubles as an anticlastic "stake". What can I say? I make do! There are commercial ones available but I hate spend money that could be better used for other tools or pretty stones. Extra holes are drilled as needed and I make a note of the size in pen.

Find the hole where your chain fits snugly and pull it through. I find that I can do this with my bare hands but use a pair of pliers if you prefer. Repeat in the next hole down, keeping the direction consistent. This should be enough to make it neat round and smooth. If you continue working your way down, your chain will grow longer but it will also be stiffer and the stitches will be distorted.

Finished chain, after stretching and tumbling

Now you can solder on some end caps and add a clasp. Brass brush and tumble to make it shiny and you are done!

One more safety note: don't polish a chain on a buffing machine! It can whip out of your hands, taking a few of your fingers with it and whipping you in the face. No, I am not joking. I am deadly serious - this is dangerous. While you don't need all your fingers to make fine jewelry (Tom Herman), it makes it a lot easier. Healing from an unexpected amputation also takes a long time and a lot of pain.

Next time, I want to show double stitches as well as how to increase and decrease the diameter.

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