Chainmail, goth, and rosaries: An interview with Kyra Matsui of Iron Lace Design

“I watch my kids cover themselves in duct tape and use whole rolls of wire to wire their siblings together,” says Kyra Matsui, proprietor of Iron Lace Design, “and I can see who I was from the beginning.”

Kyra, 39, lives in Toronto and turns out a dazzling array of intricate, sturdy jewelry and rosaries, at once heavy and delicate, many incorporating Japanese-style chainmail and vintage watch movements.

Her drive to create started early, she says:

“I was an isolated child, hiding in my room, making stuff. I remember when I was six, there was this plastic dollhouse stool. I figured out if I wove Kleenex around it and wet it, then when it dried, I could slip it off, and I would end up with a little basket. I started painting Kleenex with food coloring and hanging it all over the ceiling. My parents were so patient!”

Kyra, 39, who is separated, has boys ages seven and nine, and five-year-old twin girls. She recently got a diagnosis of autism for her oldest son, who also has diabetes. Kyra uses a combination of homeschooling and public school.

“My own public school experience was pretty bad,” says Kyra. “I didn’t really learn any kind of work ethic, or how to concentrate, but I did learn how to be quiet so I could get away with anything.

“What I wanted to do [with my own kids] was give them a space to socialize with people not just in their own grade level, but who were interested in the same thing. To give them the space to figure out what they were interested in.

“For me, that was making stuff. I remember reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Warrior Scarlet when I was nine or so, and teaching myself to weave on a little loom I made out of a cardboard box. I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Instead, I pulled stuffing out of a pillow and figured out how to make a spindle.”

Here’s the rest of the conversation I had with Kyra about her current work:

How did you get started making jewelry? What is it about chainmail that appeals to you?

It’s because of my Japanese cultural heritage, plus historical interest, plus fantasy. When I was fourteen and hiding in the school library, they had a couple of really good costume history books, and I devoured those.
I was briefly in the Society for Creative Anachronism doing costuming, and some friends were doing chainmail. The kind I do, Japanese, is the simplest. Usually what you see in movies is European. It runs in one direction, almost like snake scales.
What I like about Japanese chain mail is you can hang it any way, like fabric.

You can attach dangly stuff to it and incorporate it into the construction.

Lapis lazuli and stainless steel choker

You also have some jewelry made of watch parts on your page. Tell me how you got your hands on that.

Two brass watch movement pendants

It all belongs to my father, whose parents emigrated from Japan in the 20’s.  He was eight or nine when the Japanese Canadians were interned. His family ended up in Toronto after they were relocated. He trained as a watchmaker and repairman and jeweler, and he had a workshop in the house I’m sitting in now, the house I inherited.

When digital watches came, he became a tool and die maker, but did watch repair privately. He had a workshop that was floor-to-ceiling tiny drawers full of watch movements, gears, springs, some of them almost microscopic. You need tweezers to pick them up.

After he died, I was clearing out all his stuff, and thinking, ‘This is beautiful stuff. ” I’m not going to learn to do watch repair. I tried to sell it, but I didn’t get any takers.

What would he think of the jewelry you make with his watch parts?

He would be appalled!

Chainmail and vintage gear charm necklace

Well, he would be happy it was being used, but perturbed. He wanted me to go into fine arts and into jewelry-specific programs, metalworking, gemology. But I’ve always come at things more from a costuming and textile end.

Chainmail is a lot more like working with fabric then metalwork. I’d like to learn to solder, but that requires a lot of precision. Chainmail is more like knitting.

How long does it take you to make one of those necklaces or rosaries?
A rosary takes about four or five hours of intensive labor. Because I make them out of stainless steel, it’s really hard on my hands, so I split it up over two or three days.
I’ve ended up with carpal tunnel from doing too much! I made a Mexican wedding double rosary over a weekend, and that was a bad idea.
It’s very intricate work. 
And I’m extremely myopic. I was told by an ophthalmology student that my close-up vision is excellent. I can see much finer detail than most people, as long as I hold it an inch and a half from my eye. I also have a jeweler’s visor loupe.
You have four kids, you’re completely renovating your house, you exclusively homeschooled up until recently, and you’re a single mom. So in your abundant free time, what do you do?
When I was in my early 20’s, I did about ten years of belly dance classes. Then I had four kids in four years. But I love to dance. I found that goth clubs are the only place you can go and belly dance for the entire night without being hassled. My friend Cynthia and I found this lovely place that has industrial goth night once a month.
It’s the same people from twenty years ago. We’re all older and tireder. We have a few drinks, thrash around on the dance floor, and then go back to our lives as attorneys or whatever. There are some really terrified-looking twenty-year-olds who turn up, too. Half of them embrace it, and half of them sidle quietly out the door away from the scary, old people.
[Below: Kyra in her Halloween costume as Jadis, Queen of Charn:]
If you had unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would you make?
I was looking around Etsy and found this chandelier thing you hang between your nipples. This . . . is not what I’m going to be doing.

If time and money weren’t a factor, I’d love to be working in precious metals and gems. I’m learning how to solder and make my own findings. I’d love to do some sort of elaborate fantasy set, with headpiece, necklace, hand flowers, and neck piece, and make a dress that goes under it. I’m not watching Game of Thrones, but the costuming is fantastic. I’ve been looking up jewelry for the Southern Kingdom. Very East Indian-Ottoman Empire-Persian stuff.

If people want to order from Iron Lace Design for Christmas, when should they order?

 

If they want a special order shipped before Christmas and they’re in the states, get the order in by early December. Regular mail tends to be a week. Priority mail is faster, but pretty expensive. But if I have to source material, I may have to order it online.

[Two special order stainless steel rosaries, one in lapis, one in garnet:]

Kyra also makes single-decade pocket rosaries like this one in jade:

Stainless steel and jade one-decade rosary
Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting a giveaway for a single decade rosary handmade by Kyra. Entry will be free. Stay tuned!

Catholics on Etsy, Part 2! Christmas and Advent Gifts for 2016

Yesterday, I shared part one of this year’s  list of Catholic-made, handmade goods — jewelry, art, and prints of various kinds. Today, part two: unusual rosaries, knit and fabric goods, and my favorite category of all, miscellaneous.

A few of the sellers have set up a special discount code or deal just for this post, so take note!

UNUSUAL ROSARIES and ROSARY ACCESSORIES

There are ever so many gorgeous rosaries on Etsy. I featured several of them on my Easter gift guide last yaer, including Iron Lace chain mail rosaries; a huge variety of styles from Rosaries by Allison; heirloom-quality rosaries from Athey Rosaries; sweet, affordable chaplets from ChapletsNSuch; a nice variety for various occasions from Snowshoe Rosaries; gemstone rosaries on flexwire from Prayer and Sparkle; and heavy, elegant rosaries from Et Corde.

Today, I thought I’d feature a few rosaries and accessories that are a little off the beaten path:

Two Hearted Ranch: Catholic and custom gifts and jewelry, rosary cases, keychains, including customized floating lockets
Featured item: Monstrance glass-topped steel-plated tin rosary case
, $9.95.

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You can also add a stamped tin disc to the bottom of the inside to commemorate a sacrament. Many other designs, bold and eye-catching. Keep those rosaries untangled!


Roses for Mary by Becky Arganbright
Featured item: Clay Rose garden three Hail Marys, $7

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If you only have time for three Hail Marys, these rose counters are sweet and nostalgic-looking.


The Wallet Rosary, $12.50
Made of string, light, brushed stainless steel, and slim as a credit card, it fits right in your wallet.

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Neat idea! Grab it when you need it.
Use coupon code “SimchaChristmas” for free U.S. Shipping on orders of 2+ rosaries through 12/15.


Chews Life – an assortment of rosaries, chaplets, and bracelets and necklaces designed to divert and delight nursing, teething, twiddling babies
Featured item: Chews life decade rosary, $18

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Gracefully bow to the inevitable and carry a rosary designed to be gnawed on. Love it.


Apple and Azalea by Theresa Barger – Memory wire rosary bracelets and other elegant jewelry and accessories
I always admired my friend Theresa’s style and elegance when we were in college together, and her original wrap-around rosaries ($24-$28) are exquisite and varied.  I had a hard time picking just one to feature, so I picked three.

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My own wrap-around bracelet, a southwestern-style one, has held its shape through years of abuse at the hands and mouths of various babies.



KNIT and FABRIC GOODS

The Knot Haus – many fresh and whimsical knitted gifts, including some CUTE cute cute baby hats.
Featured item: Green Celtic knot bracelet, $25

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Neat, eh? This knit knot bracelet is made with silver-plated ribbon clamps and a lobster clasp. Say that sentence three times fast!


Blue Ridge Purl Hand-knit hats, scarves, cowls, and gloves by a pair of homeschooling Catholic moms
Featured item: Hand-knit fox hood, $40

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Imagine glancing out the kitchen window to see a flock of little foxes prancing by, and knowing that for once, their ears are necks are warm. (Foxes do so come in flocks.) Completely adorable, and so cozy.


Three Jolly Owls by Katie McGinley: Handcrafted Goods and Gifts for the Liturgical Year: peg doll saints, Jesse tree ornaments, and more.
Featured item: Handmade felt Jesse Tree ornaments, $54

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Perfect! Simple, bright, and meaningful, and an easy tradition to follow every year. The ornaments have ribbons loops for hanging.
SPECIAL OFFER: Use coupon code PANTS10 to get 10% off! – valid until 12/31


S. Lochet Designs by Stephanie Lochet: Period and Vintage Inspired Creations
Featured item: Set of three tissue holders (tissues included!), $8

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I don’t even carry tissues with me, but I want these. So cheery! Many more styles and patterns on the site, as well as retro aprons and more.


Faith and Fabric Design – 
Reversible Advent and Christmas Table Runner
, $38

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I love table runners. Such an easy way to change the look of a room. This one is reversible: When Advent is through, flip it over and see a pretty Christmas design.

I also like this peg doll flower, $12. Keep your peg dolls snug and sorted.



MISCELLANEOUS!

Pottery From Your Roots by Faith Connor
Featured item: Chicory Mortar and Pestle, $40

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Ooh, I like the looks of these. Spare and elegant with a soupçon of strangeness. Many more pieces on the site.


Door Number 9 by Elisa Low
Featured item: Hamilton Gimmel Rings, $25. You remember Elisa from when we chatted about holy cards as fan art, and the intersection of faith and geekdom. Well, those interlocking Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton wedding rings she was working on are on their way! The first run sold out immediately, but you can pre-order, $25.

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Elisa also offers a wide variety of unusual handmade goods, from saint wine charms to portable oratories to Cyberman tea wallets.


Sweet Soft Skin Handmade Soaps by Margaret Grimm
Featured item: Limited edition “Gifts of the Magi” soaps scented with frankincense and myrrh, $4.50

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So luxe! I love how the natural shape of the soap is incorporated into the design, like a little landscape. Get several as little gifts or stocking stuffers, or keep them for yourself and enjoy that once-a- year scent.


Wild Things Adventures by Sarah Antonio
Featured item: Adventure bags, $85 Handmade leather satchels stocked with a hand stitched, leather bound journal with 24 watercolor pages, a Prang watercolor set with small water jar (not pictured), branch pencil, compass, binoculars, and a folding magnifying glass!

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Eh? Eh? You can almost smell the outdoors calling.


Ashcraft Creative hand-tooled leather by Mark and Christina Ashcraft
Featured item: Stained glass leather wallet, $65

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Not gonna lie: this is probably my favorite item this year. Just stunning. Many more splendid, original, hand-tooled leather items on the site.


Art 4 the Soul – devotional art and retabolos
Featured item: Sacred Heart Leather keychain/bag tag, personalized, $25+

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Sacred Heart, you come with me! I love this. Many more original designs and combos on the site, great for bag tags, key chains, or zipper pulls.


Saong Jai – an assortment of Catholic and vintage goods
Featured item: Set of 3 vintage Catholic ornaments, $25

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Yes! Catholic up your Christmas tree. Aren’t these spectacular?



Don’t forget to check out part one of the Advent and Christmas Catholic Etsy list. That’s it for handmade gifts this year. I’ll be doing my annual “gift ideas for kids” post in the next week.

Are you a Catholic who sells handmade or hand-designed goods? Feel free to leave a link to your shop in the comments.