March 3, 2014

Handmade Wire Link Chain and Pearl Necklace...and Some Tips for Making Wire Chain Links

Last week I was pretty much out of commission the entire week with a sinus infection, which meant a lot of hanging out on the couch. I'm not a huge fan of sitting around on the couch doing nothing, so I decided a new jewelry project was in order. One of my favorite jewelry techniques is wire working--mostly because I love the intricate, lacy look of hand-formed wire jewelry, but also because it's the perfect project when you want to work on the couch (rather than at a work table or desk) but don't want to drag along a bunch of tools, beads, and findings that inevitably roll all over the couch and fall through the couch cushions. Making simple wire chain links requires only a couple of tools, some jewelry wire, and some beads, if you wish to add them.

Once I decided to make a wire link necklace, I had to decide if I wanted to add beads. Now I have a lot of beads and jewelry supplies. After 10 years of beading you just acquire a lot of stuff, you know? And I recently decided to close my Etsy shop, which means I can't really justify buying new supplies anymore. So, lately I've been trying to go through my beading supplies and use up beads I already have rather than buying new beads. I already knew I wanted to use several different styles of wire links in the necklace, but I wasn't sure what beads to use to best compliment the delicate chain links. In my bead stash I found a few boxes of glass pearls in multiple sizes (which I originally purchased for this project) and right away I was inspired. I knew using differing sizes of pearls throughout the necklace would be a great way to add visual interest, while sticking with a monochromatic color scheme would keep the pearls from detracting too much from the delicate and artistic chain links. I chose three sizes of pearls and decided on three styles of chain links, and got to work.

Now forming wire chain links is not difficult. It does take a little practice to get comfortable with manipulating the wire and creating uniform shapes, but all in all, the most tedious part of the necklace is just cutting the dozens of pieces of wire needed to make your shaped links. I was originally planning to post a few tutorials on how to make some simple wire links (I even have two of them written up already), but I'm running into photographic issues. Unfortunately I don't have a camera--only my iPhone, which is great for some photography; however, without a special macro lens, I often have difficulty getting clear, non-fuzzy close-up photos of small tiny wire links. So I thought instead I'd just give you some basic tips and technical details for how I create wire link necklaces, and then list a few web links to other lovely tutorials for wire links that are already out there in blogland.

So here we go, some tips and tricks for creating wire link necklaces.

**Warning: there's a bunch of math below. I apologize ahead of time--I'm a super planner and a mathematician, and calculating all the measurements below is just part of my super-plan-ahead personality. If you don't like being technical and don't really care about finding the exact amount of wire you'll need or the exact length of your finished product, feel free to skip the math steps and just start creating links and putting them together and you'll still end up with a lovely necklace! I just really hate having a particular necklace in mind, starting the project, and then realizing halfway through that I'm going to run out of wire before I have all my links drives me totally nuts! So I'm a super pre-planner.**

1. First off, decide roughly how long you'd like your necklace to be. A simple short 18" chain? A long 36" strand that can be worn long or doubled (or even wrapped three times) around the neck? The chain I made above is quite long--between 36" and 40"--and is perfect for wrapping two or three times around my neck, depending on how long I want the necklace to be with whatever outfit I'm wearing.

2. Select your wire. You'll want to use a sufficiently heavy gauge wire for the actual chain links; too light of a gauge and the links won't hold their shape (you can use a lighter gauge for wrapping and attaching any beads though). I suggest no lighter than 20 gauge wire (my preferred gauge) for chain links, and I suggest not to go heavier than 18 gauge; gauges heavier than this can be difficult to form into smaller, delicate shapes. For attaching beads I prefer 24 gauge wire, although 22 or 26 gauge would be fine, depending on the size of the hole in your beads. If you're new at working with wire I suggest starting out with basic copper or brass jewelry wire rather than semi-precious wires like sterling silver or gold-filled; you can find copper and brass jewelry wires in various gauges in the jewelry sections of craft stores.

3. Once you've decided on overall length, figure out what style of chain links you'd like to use. In the photo above are what I call 'figure 8' links and 'uneven figure 8' links, both of which I used in the finished pearl necklace above. I also used a sort of uneven w-shaped link in the necklace. Be creative here, and have fun. Once you're comfortable working with wire you can start creating all kinds of shaped links!

4. Once you've determined the links you wish to use, there are two measurements you need to find for each link--the length of the original piece of wire used to create that link (I recommend that you stick with easy rounded measurements like 3/4", 1", 1 1/2", etc., rather than getting into random measurements like 7/16" or 2 3/8", etc.; this makes for much easier mass cutting), and the measurement of the completed, shaped link. For example, I like to make my figure 8 links starting with 3/4" pieces of wire, and the finished link generally ends up measuring around 5/16".

5. Once you've determined the measurements above, you can determine roughly how much total wire you'll need for the necklace and how many pieces to cut:

a. Take the total length you wish your necklace to be and divide it by the length of a finished link (for example: I want a 36" necklace. To determine how many links I need to make, I divide 36" by the measure of the finished link I want to use, say the 5/16" figure 8 link I mentioned above. 36" divided by 5/16" = roughly 115 links.) A couple things to keep in mind here:
-When the links are linked together they overlap a little, which means that that three 5/16" links linked together won't end up being exactly 15/16" long. Don't worry about this! It's a tiny amount, and a rough estimate is really just fine.
-If you plan to add in beads, they will take up some 'space' in the necklace as well, which means you'll need fewer links. To determine the amount of 'space' the beads will take up in a necklace, I first create a bead component (a bead with a wrapped loop on either end, so it can be easily connected to a wire link on either side), then I measure this component from end to end. Multiply this measurement by how many beads you plan to use in your necklace, then subtract that total from the total length of your necklace. The resulting measurement is what you'll use to determine how many wire links you need (using step 5a above).
b. Once you know how many finished links you need, multiple that number by the length of wire needed to create that link. For example, say I need 115 figure 8 links that are each 5/16" when finished. I know that I use 3/4" wire to create each 5/16" figure 8 link. Multiply 115 by 3/4" and you get 86 1/4" as the total amount of wire you'll need for the necklace. A couple things to keep in mind:
-Each time you cut a piece of wire you'll lose a very small amount between pieces (just trust me on this), so you'll want a coil of wire that's a little longer than the total measurement you worked out above.
-It's pretty much guaranteed that you'll end up with a few wonky links that just don't shape up quite right...and you might not want to use these in your necklace. Always plan to make a few extra links, just in case.
6. Okay, enough with the math. Now that you know how much total wire you'll need and how many links you need to cut, cut all of those links all at once. Just get it done all at once. It's so much easier than cutting one link, putting down your wire snips, picking up your round nose pliers, shaping that link, putting everything down, and then starting the process over and over again. Get all your links cut first, shape later.
Tip: While I wouldn't worry too much about this in the beginning, one tip for making your wire jewelry look more professional is to cut both ends of each piece of wire. Confusing? So on your wire snips you'll probably notice that one side cuts the wire flush (flat), leaving the wire on the other side of the cut slightly diagonal (just make a cut in a piece of wire and then look at each of the cut ends and you'll see what I'm talking about. If both ends are diagonal or jagged, you might need new or sharper wire cutters.). So when cutting your pieces of wire, make sure you're cutting off each piece with the flush side of the wire cutters, then turn the cutters around and flush cut the end of the wire that's still left on the coil. Then you can cut the next link piece off the coil and so on, and each side of your pieces of wire will be flush cut. If this totally confuses you, just skip it! After working with wire for awhile you'll eventually start to notice uneven ends on your wire and this will make sense.
7. After all of your wire pieces are cut, shape them all at once. Don't worry about linking them together yet! Get them all shaped first, then set the finished links aside.

8. If you will be including beads in your necklace, now is the time to prepare them. Create all of your bead components all at once. I prefer a wrapped loop over a simple loop, because it allows me to use a thinner gauge of wire and therefore more delicate beads. Click here for tutorials on creating simple and wrapped loops.

9. Once all of your components are created, it's time to put them all together! Needle nose and flat nose pliers are essential here. Connect your links using the same techniques you'd use to open and close jump rings.

10. Once all of your components are linked together, add your clasp and you're finished!

Here are a few tutorials for making some fun wire links:

Wire Links and Connectors (this is a great link to begin with)
Oval Links/Bracelet Tutorial
Tear Drop Links/Necklace Tutorial

I love how my necklace turned out! And I love that the unique chain links give it so much more personality than any necklace I might find in a department store. It's artistic and delicate; and while the chain makes it pair well with casual outfits, the pearls will also compliment any dressy outfit I might pair it with as well.

I hope this inspires you to try your hand at simple wire working. Once you've mastered making chain links you'll be hooked and ready to move into more detailed wire working...and boy, can you make some amazing jewelry creations from a simple material like wire!

Have you tried wire working? Do you enjoy the look of wire link jewelry? I'd love to know.

Sarah Marie

Linking up with:

Take-A-Look Tuesday at Sugar Bee Crafts
Your Whims Wednesday at My Girlish Whims
We Did It! Wednesday at Sew Much Ado 
Show & Tell at Gingerly Made
Frugal Friday at The Shabby Nest
The Party Bunch at Thirty Handmade Days
Link Party Palooza at Tatertots and Jello
Think Pink Sunday at Flamingo Toes
I Made This and Love It at Make It and Love It


  1. Beautiful! I havn't tried making links yet, i should!!

    1. Thank you Rebecca! It's addictive once you get started, and so easy!

  2. Very pretty. Haven't made jewelry in a while, but this is definitely inspiring :)

    1. Thank you Betsy, I hope you do pick up your tools again soon :)

  3. Gorgeous necklace and great tutorial!
    Beth at AlyssabethsVintage


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