So I've been looking at different methods of making Pop Tab Chain Maille on this site. The ones that use wire tend to be rather ugly, and the ones that don't tend to mangle and weaken the tabs.
I've been making tab-maille for a few years now, and thought I'd share my wire weaving method to those who want another option.
Step 1: Ingredients
Things you will need:
1. An idea: What are you going to make? I'm making a vest.
2. A pattern: If you are making clothing, you will want a pattern to follow so that you get things the right shape. For my pattern I am using a vest that I like.
3. Tabs. A lot of tabs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not drink all the pop you will need for this craft! Not only will it cost you a fortune, you'll get very ill, and probably die. >.< Enlist your friends, family, co workers, school, and others to give you their tabs. Be not afraid to jump into recycling bins for tabs. You can buy them in bulk on eBay, even. Some charities collect them. If you offer a dollar or so per pound, you can usually get them. (they sell them to recycling plants for ~$0.48).
To find out how many you will need, you can use this for reference: a 4x4 inch square for me is about 8x10 tabs, when 'closed' (squashed together) or 8x8 when 'open' (spread out). This means that for an area of 2x2 feet I will need ~960 tabs. Always round up to the next hundred, to be safe.
Figure out the area for your project, then figure out how many tabs you will need. Make sure you can get that many. (You don't need them all at once, remember! A few hundred to start with is good though.)
4. Wire. You will need a lot. I use plastic coated 'telephone' wire, simply because I have a lot of it on hand. It is approximately gauge 22 (in American), and approximately .6mm across. It is plastic coated copper wire, and quite flexible. Any wire that you cannot snap by pulling will do.
5. Scissors. To cut the wire
6. Patience. This will take a fair amount.
Step 2: Collect and Clean Tabs/ the Perfect Tab
The proper way to remove tabs is to wiggle them back and forth as though opening the can and pushing the tab back repeatedly. DO NOT simply pull the tab. If you do this, more often than not the tab will rip, bend, or still have the rivet loop attached. This is bad.
It's surprising how many people do not know this.
The best tabs are the round ones. The square ones are neat, but are better used for other things.
To clean the tabs just rinse in hot water. pat them dry, and then leave out on a towel.
If you got tabs from someone else, and they are bent, you can flatten them by placing them on a wooden board and whacking them with a hammer. Be careful. If you miss, you can end up with a sore thumb, or a pop tab in the eye.
If the rivet loop is still on, you can simply fold it down, or you can wiggle it back and forth to remove it. This is hell on the thumbs, so I recommend a pair of tweezers or nail clippers to do the work~
If the tab is broken or otherwise not usable, you can donate them to the charities that collect tabs. They sell them by the pound to recyclers, so they don't care the shape they are in.
Included are pictures of some weird things I've gotten in boxes of tabs I've bought on eBay. They won't be useful here, but they are interesting.
Step 3: Starting a Row
To start a row, you are going to take the wire and loop it around the top of a tab. Make sure it is secure.
This first row is the hardest part. Once it is over, do a happy dance, mm'kay?
Step 4: Tab Two
Place second tab over top the first, with the second's bottom hole over the first's top loop.
Step 5: Move the Wire~
Thread the wire over the top tab, through the overlapped bottom and top holes, and under the bottom tab.
Step 6: Tab Three
Add a third tab, under the second one and beside the first.
Step 7: Move the Wire Again
Bring the wire up through the third tab and the overlapped second tab.
Step 8: Tab Four
Add a fourth tab the same way you added the second tab. Keep repeating this until you have enough across the bottom to be the length you desire.
(I'm doing a shorty to show~)
Step 9: Row End! Yai~
When you hit the end of the first row, it should look like this. This is actually the first two rows. Congrats! Do a happy dance now~
But we're not done with the project yet. Oh lords no.
Step 10: Starting Row Three
Bring the wire up through the top loop of the final tab in the top row
Step 11: Continuing Row Three
Add a tab, and go over the bottom loop. Go under the two loops of the ones below it, and back up. Then place a new tab beside it, and repeat.
Step 12: Ending Row Three
Continue Step Eleven until you hit the end of the third row. This should stick out as much as the first row, half more than the second row.
The entire piece will continue this 'zig-zag', but will end up straight.
Step 13: Ending the Piece
To end the piece off, loop the wire around and around the end tab of the previous row.
This will make a loose end tab. If you have no intention of tying this end down to something else later, I suggest looping the wire around the top of the previous row as well as the center of the end-tab.
Step 14: Properties of the Finished Piece
At first your maille will be quite stiff. Don't worry. Just start pulling it in every direction, squishing it, rolling it, just generally messing with it. It will loosen up a bit.
The loosest piece I have is also the first piece I made. It is about a foot across the top, a foot and quarter down the side. I can wave it around as loosely as a piece of card stock. Gravity effects it a fair bit. It will hold its shape if bent to much. It can bend almost 180 degrees width wise, almost 90 length wise.
If you need any help, or this wasn't clear enough, please shoot me. Er, a message, that is. =P