As a teenager, I loved drawing and painting. But most of all, I loved photography. I went to college for studio art, where I experimented with a variety of materials, but stayed with photography. I was drawn to the process of printing pictures much more than to taking them. The magic that happened in the darkroom, where a good image could become a great one, was what mattered to me.
Shortly after graduating, I moved to New York City, where I found photo work in the publishing industry. My first break came when I was hired by The New York Times Syndicate Division. This position brought me into the world of photo publishing. From there I went on to work at Rolling Stone and Spin magazines.
At Rolling Stone, I had the good fortune to meet not only incredible musicians, politicians and public figures, but many of my personal idols; photographers, illustrators and cartoonists whose work influenced a generation. But even greater than meeting many of my heroes, I was particularly influenced by the magazine’s visual creative staff; the Art Director, Photo Editor & team of designers whose combined efforts brought a fresh look to every issue.
What I discovered working in this environment, where the visual side of the magazine was created, was that the attention to detail exceeded anything I’d ever experienced before. The multitude of decisions that went into the typeface of a story heading was staggering. The amount of thought and care and work that went into every design was remarkable. Each perfect page was the result of numerous small decisions, and many hours of both independent thought and collaboration. The end result was a magazine that looked effortlessly beautiful. I came to appreciate how creativity and hard work dovetailed to create an incredible result.
Ultimately, I chose to leave publishing, knowing that I wanted to do work of a more personal nature, even if I wasn’t certain at that time what form that work would take. It wasn’t until I encountered chain maille, this unique subset of jewelry making, that I had a “eureka moment” where I knew I’d found what I wanted to do.
Chain Maille (maille is the French word for “mesh) is made by combining small rings together in various patterns. It’s a simple process requiring only two pair of pliers, which allow you to open and close rings to connect them. There are many chain maille patterns that have been around for hundreds of years, such as “European Four-in-One”, the weave that is used in flat mesh pieces, like clothing. Others patterns are more contemporary. Many of my own designs are variations on existing patterns.
I work in a traditional, even conservative, style and predominantly work in precious metals. I started my chain maille business in 2011 and currently show my work at craft fairs, select stores and at studio events. I make pendants, earrings, bracelets and necklaces, including custom pieces.
For me, there is something deeply satisfying about repetition – whether it is making the same pattern over and over as I make a 24 inch necklace, or when I’m making small batches of a pendant. Some pleasure center is activated by the “over & over & over & over”-itness of chain maille.
In these moments, it is as if a little voice in the back of my head is saying, “better, make the next one better” or “perfect, aim for this link to be perfect.” Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like a conscious thought, it’s just the underlying hum that sounds in my mind as I hit “the flow” in my work. Perhaps it defies any clear description, beyond to say that there is something deeply satisfying about the process of making maille.
Meeting my customers at craft shows customers has also influenced my work in myriad ways. They’ve asked for custom pieces and one-of-a kind pieces be designed for them. And they’ve had many suggestions…”make this bigger…and this smaller.” My first reaction is to always think, “No. I’m not changing this.” But ultimately, my customers are almost always right. The design needs to be bigger or smaller or in mixed metals…or whatever it is they see that I can’t. I am grateful for all their ideas and suggestions. They know what they want and seem to instinctively have good taste.
And perhaps the best gift of all that my customers have given me is that they’ve shown me the secret gift of jewelry. Jewelry is all about connections between people. It is a true physical symbol of love. Even when it’s a piece someone buys for themselves, it’s a symbol of self-love and self-respect.
At every show, siblings will argue in front of me, or I hear a friend say something tactless or rude to the person she’s with. But it’s those same people who are the ones who sneak back to buy something special for the sister they were just harassing, or the friend they were irritating. They make me smile and remind me that life isn’t perfect, and relationships are messy, but love is greater than the sum of its parts.