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It's our 6th anniversary as I write this and we've just implemented a custom kit concept that I've dreamed of for as long as we've been making kits. I'm delighted with it and I want to take a moment to explain why it's such an important change and what it means for you.

As much as I love teaching through kits, I've never felt comfortable with the 'learn to make a bracelet', project based way of teaching. Almost all jewelry making lessons are project based, meaning you learn to make a particular thing, say a tennis bracelet, for example. Although the techniques used to make the tennis bracelet can be applied to any number of other types of projects, some of which are nothing like tennis bracelets, many people have trouble separating the design from the technique and see them as one and the same. Hence the 'tennis bracelet technique' becomes nothing more than a way to make tennis bracelets.

My goal has never been to simply teach people to make this bracelet or that necklace. My goal has always been to teach techniques that you can use to make fabulous things of your own design, things I've never thought of. That's the true joy in any creative endeavor; conceiving an idea and using your skills to make it real.

Imagine that I'm teaching you to make rope. I wouldn't need to tell you what to do with your rope, now would I? You know what ropes are good for and if you made one, I'm sure you could think of something nice to do with it. Making a chain for jewelry isn't much different. Weave this much chain and you have a bracelet, weave twice that length and it's a necklace, weave a single unit or three and it's an earring. When I'm teaching a chain weave, my job is to teach the weave (which is the technique), not tell you what to make with it (which is the design).

I believe it's vitally important to clearly define and distinguish technique from design when teaching. A weave is a technique. What you make with that technique is your design. The most common designs -- bracelets and necklaces made of straight lengths of chain -- are beautiful with a fluid look and feel, like pouring precious metal. And those are the simplest uses of the weave. While you're weaving that simple chain, you'll always think of ever more unique and complex ways to use it.

Obviously, in order to learn a technique, you must have something to make as you follow along with the instructions. My goal has always been to thoroughly teach a technique while keeping to the shadows with regard to design; to make a kit project as much a blank canvas as possible so your burgeoning ideas show up more brightly against it in your mind. Originally, I did this by keeping all our project pieces simple and elegant; simple designs, plain clasps, as little other componentry as possible, offered only in the ring size or combination of sizes that results in the most perfect example of the weave at its best. However unobtrusive, though, simple and elegant is still a style, an element of design. What I really want to do is leave a vacuum where design belongs so that the design, even for the learning project, is yours rather than mine. I always knew how to do it... but it's taken six years to build up the teaching experience and the manufacturing muscle to pull it off.

And that's where we are now. Our new KitWorks is not a product, it's a tool that you use to design your own learning project. You choose every component of your kit: instructions, ringpack, clasp, everything. There is no design except your own. The instructions teach the technique, the weave itself; you decide what to make with it. You choose the metal(s) and ring size(s) from among the matching ringpacks, each of which will make 10" of beautiful chain. If you want an Argentium necklace, choose two Argentium ringpacks in the same gauge. If you want to make graduated sterling necklaces, choose sterling ringpacks in the range of sizes you want to graduate and combine them for the look you have in mind. Each item is sold separately and you choose as many or as few of anything as you want for the project you have in mind.

KitWorks is all about freedom and it isn't a foolproof concept. I'll always include recommendations (and the whys of them), such as why it isn't a good idea to try to learn a weave with 22g rings... but you are free to disregard those recommendations and do it anyway. In designing your own learning project, you get to thoroughly exercise your freedom of choice, cater to your own your tastes and push your creative boundaries. You also have the freedom to get in over your head with big rings that are uncomfortably stiff or small rings that are hard to see... but true freedom always includes the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.

I hope you love our KitWorks as much as I do. Now go make something you love. *s*

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The Role of Aspect Ratio in Design

These two rings have the same inner diameter but wildly different aspect ratios. The top ring, which is thin and spindly like a hula hoop, has a high aspect ratio. The bottom ring, which is fat like a donut, has a low aspect ratio. The row of rings at the bottom are all the same aspect ratio.

An aspect ratio of 3 or less indicates a fat ring with a small inner diameter (ID), like a donut. The smaller the ID, the stronger the ring; the fatter the wire, the stronger the ring... so a small aspect ratio means a very strong ring. A large aspect ratio of 5 or more indicates a big, skinny ring that isn't going to be all that strong. Such rings should only be used when the weight of the piece will be distributed over many rings. Never leave a ring with a large aspect ratio to take stress on its own.

Any time your design requires just one ring to take the stress alone, you must either use a ring with a small aspect ratio, or solder the ring closed in order to maintain the necessary strength. If a larger aspect ratio is required and you don't want to solder, then you must alter the design to allow the use of multiple rings in that spot to share the stress. Using 2, 3 or even 5 rings, side by side, instead of just one ring alone can be a really beautiful design element and often looks much better than one ring would anyway, so it's no great hardship to make these adjustments and design for strength rather than resorting to solder.

Butted maille -- meaning chain that's made with butted rings rather than rings that are fused, soldered or riveted closed -- requires more skill of the designer than closed ring chains do. Even an unbalanced and poorly designed chain will stay together if every ring is soldered closed, so when speaking of closed ring chains, strength and design skill bear little relationship to one another.

With butted maille, however, strength is all about materials and design. If you're using stainless steel rings, you don't have to be a very skilled designer to make strong maille. Stainless steel is very hard and strong which makes it unforgiving to your hands, but very forgiving of design errors. *s*

Though our ring making process hardens the metal considerably, sterling and most other precious metals will never be hard enough to cover for poor design. To make really strong butted maille from precious metals, it's necessary to understand aspect ratio and how to use it to your advantage. The rewards of this knowledge are great and well worth the time spent acquiring it. Not only does it enable you to make strong and beautiful jewelry from pure, smooth precious metals and nothing else, but it teaches you how to *design* as opposed to just making stuff... and you can't put a price on the value that brings to your work. *s*

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Our Philosophy on Design

Our kits are designed to teach not only chain weaves but the technical skills required to execute those weaves at the highest level of quality. The finished products are intended to serve as examples of those chains at their very best so great care and attention to detail goes into the ring choices for each kit. The projects used to teach these skills are quite intentionally unadorned in order to keep the focus purely on the experience of learning the weave and to avoid cluttering the mind with stylistic elements that have nothing to do with the weave.

Once the weave is mastered and practice has honed the technical skills required for flawless execution, most people want to begin making projects of their own design. Design skills are not issued automatically with chainweaving skills; they're a different thing altogether and require development and honing all their own. It's quite common to see chains in which the rings are in perfect order and every one is perfectly closed... but the chain just doesn't look good. Or it might look fine, but it's weak and doesn't hold up to normal wear. These are design flaws. It has nothing to do with how well a person knows the weave or how skilled a chainweaver that person might be. It's possible to be have impeccable technical skills and no design skills at all.

Then there are those people who claim design skills, who call themselves designers, yet lack the technical skills to make what they're designing. It's impossible to design something with no feel for what your medium or materials of choice can do. You must have well developed technical skills first in order to become a competent designer. If you develop your design skills to that same high level, you could well become a really good designer.

This section is intended for people who've developed their technical skills, whether by working through our kits or elsewhere, and are ready to begin designing their own projects or who are already doing so and want to further develop their design skills. Design, even just as it relates specifically to chainmaking, is a big subject and there's a lot of ground to cover so this section will be under development for some time.

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