Chain Maille Jewelry Making to Go with Kylie Jones
From the Sunshine Coast of Australia, chain maille jewelry artist Kylie Jones is fascinated with the possibilities of simply connecting metal rings to create jewelry that is stylish, easy to wear, and easy to make. She has been exploring this technique for decades and is always coming up with new ideas. We recently asked her to share some of her story and insights with us.
ABOVE: Kylie Jones spent 18 years traveling around Australia captivated by nature. Here she captured an image of a sunset at Venus Bay in South Australia; photo Kylie Jones.
Q: How did you start making jewelry?
A: I started making jewelry as a creative outlet that I could earn an income from. At the time, my Mum had finished treatment for cancer with no promises for the future. So we left our home and decided to travel around Australia permanently.
We were living in a camper trailer trying to divert our attention away from unpleasant realities. It was a good choice. We continued to live in that camper, travelling around Australia for 18 years, being happily and completely overwhelmed with the beauty of the natural world.
I was drawn in by the similarity of chain maille jewelry and fabric. The idea of making patterns and jewelry out of rings really clicked with me. I was fascinated by how clever the chain-making techniques were in making beautiful complicated jewelry using basic tools and materials.
Q: What do you like about making chain maille jewelry?
A: The range of looks and styles you can create with chain maille is so varied. You can change the density and the scale. You can make loose, fine, and lacy structures, or chunky tight medieval-style armor–and all in between. I love the texture and patterns.
Just recently the Paco Rabanne label brought out chain maille dresses in their Spring collection. This label also used chain maille back in 1969. This new collection really highlights the versatility of chain maille as a fabric from ethereal overdresses to bold, shiny, chain-linked panel tunics.
Q: What don’t you like about it?
A: Stainless steel chain maille jewelry making can be hard on your hands, so you need to manage carefully how you work, and how long you work doing the same thing. I manage this with Lindstrom ergonomic pliers.
Q: What other craftwork do you do and how does that relate?
A: My travels turned me into a photographer. I love the beauty of the natural world and the amazing animals you can find in it. I feel most at home walking in the forest. Photography can easily capture the image, but trying to convey your emotional response is the real challenge. Having a deep connection to nature impacts all parts of my life, including my jewelry making.
I’m trying to find a new paradigm where progress isn’t pitted against the environment, where nature is seen as enriching our lives rather than us living in a hollow rush to consume more and more. Specifically in my jewelry making, I use commercially recycled sterling silver wire, and I seek out ways to reduce the amount of waste and chemicals that I produce and use.
Q: What are your favorite materials and what do you love about them?
A: I adore stones, their beauty, vivid color, and intricate organic patterns, and the way colors meld into each other. I love stones that you can see through and rutilated quartz with what looks like suspended shards of gold. I love translucent or opaque stones like agates with bands or other patterns.
When I was travelling, I loved fossicking for opals and sapphires. I wasn’t amazingly successful, but I do have some beautiful stones that mean a lot to me because I found them in the earth. I love being able to go to a fairly remote place and, just through digging or sifting, find something incredible that was created thousands of years ago by nature.
Q: Who and what have most influenced your work?
A: Before I made jewelry, I was obsessed with fabric and contemporary embroidery. I was inspired by women in the UK like Maggie Grey, Valerie Campbell-Harding, and the 62 Group. They were artists using a traditional craft form in a modern, mixed-media style. They really opened my eyes to new possibilities and ways of thinking about materials as tools of expression. Much in the same way as Denise Peck’s Wire Style book showed me the possibilities of wire. I was amazed at the different ways simple wire could be manipulated into artwork, decorative and/or functional.
My customers also have a big impact on my work. People contact me with an inspiration for a jewelry piece. Many have no interest or information about the technical realities of putting a piece together. The different ways they approach and see jewelry influences and broadens the way I see it. I always learn something new or discover something that changes my process or ideas. Collaborating with people who come from different perspectives always expands my thinking.
Q: What are your best tips or advice for novice jewelry makers?
A: Always push yourself to do a little better–whether learning more or pushing a design. The pieces you will be most proud of and will love the most are the ones that you put the most effort into. The pieces that can be made quickly and easily can also look great, but they aren’t the ones that will make your heart sing.
Q: What are you most proud of in your jewelry making?
A: I love being able to make jewelry for a diverse range of people. I love channelling different aspects of my personality and things I see in other people into my work. Jewelry has been used by people for thousands of years to show connections to their culture and tribe. Making something unique that will be cherished by someone is very special.
Q: What is the best lesson you’ve learned from a failure?
A: There is always something positive to be found in something that hasn’t worked out. That is really what learning is: trying something new. Over time you get it right, and then you continue to add more and more ideas and skills to the original. It rarely works out exactly as I imagined it would the first time.
I think failure is when you stop trying. Making a mess of something or not being able to complete a task as you expected is just learning.
Q: What has your biggest jewelry challenge been, and how have you tried to solve it?
A: When you are self taught as I am, there is no one there to say, “yes, that’s how it should be.” The only way is to work it out for yourself. Sometimes this is like re-inventing the wheel. Having a mentor to help guide me would probably make my learning much quicker and give me greater confidence in deciding if something is good. But finding out all of the pitfalls yourself does teach you a lot.
I try to solve this by reading magazines and books and watching videos about jewelry making and other types of expressive artwork. I saw the wonderful video about shell forming and synclastic and anticlastic forming by Andrea Harvin-Kennington. This had so much information, it started me incorporating metalwork with my chain maille jewelry.
This brooch made for the Australian National Brooch show was my first project using formed metal, and I just love the possibilities of this technique.
Check Out Kylie’s Awesome Chain Maille Bracelet Project
Kylie’s Snakeskin Inspired chain maille bracelet project appeared in the January/February issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. You can get exactly what you need to make this bracelet in either silver and blue or silver and black in our special supply kits, complete with instructions.
— Merle White
Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
You can find Kylie Jones chain maille jewelry online.