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!

One long dad joke: My interview with EOTT’s S.C. Naoum

I hope the whole entire world saw Eye of the Tiber‘s Pulitzer-winning* article yesterday, Catholic Costume Stores Across Country Reveal Most Popular Halloween Costume Is Slutty Mark Shea. EOTT is such a treasure, and the guy who made it all up is just as much fun as you’d expect. Here’s our interview from earlier this year, in which  I come THIS CLOSE to getting him to swear in Aramaic.

*if there’s any justice in the world

 

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Podcast 22: My father’s Six Day War

In today’s podcast, I interview my father, Phil Prever, about living through the Six Day War fifty years ago.

He and my mother and my two oldest sisters in Jerusalem in 1967. He was half a block from the border with Jordan when the radio suddenly started repeating, “The window is open. The window is open.” Half the people in the office abruptly got up and left. He realized it was code, and the war had begun.

Hear the interview to find out what my parents were doing in Israel in the first place,
what was the one Hebrew word he learned right away,
what made him realize the war had broken out, and what it was like as it happened,
what “The window is open” means,
whether he thinks there were actually angels fighting with the Israeli pilots
and what was the city like after the fighting was over.

Here is a recording of the song he mentions, “Jerusalem of Gold, written in 1967 and played everywhere on the radio after the war was over:

My interview with James Janknegt of Bright Corners Art Farm

In case you missed it, here’s my interview at Aleteia with Catholic artist Jim Janknegt. Fascinating guy, incredibly powerful work. I wish I could have made the interview five times as long.

My interview with S. C. Naoum of EYE OF THE TIBER

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. . . will be my next podcast, which comes out next week! Eeee, I’m so excited! No website more consistently cracks me up than Eye of the Tiber (“Breaking Catholic news so you don’t have to”), and it’s been getting funnier over the years.

Example from the latest edition:

What The Hell Kinda Name Is ‘Marcial Maciel,’ Anyway, New Study Asks

“We ask a few questions in the survey,”  the congregation’s de facto superior Cardinal Velasio de Paolis told the press. “We first ask, what the hell kinda name is ‘Marcial?’ Second, we ask what the hell kinda last name is ‘Maciel?’ Third, we ask how the apostolate can redefine their charism. And finally, we ask how in the living hell you have the last name of ‘Maciel,’ and choose to name your son ‘Marcial?’” Experts say that these are all imperative questions to reflect upon for the new leadership.

Oh, my gosh. Don’t you feel better about eleven different things now?  And I’m not gonna lie, I was already a fan of EOTT before they came out with “Newspaper Fires Staff Writers Amid Allegations They Had Opinions, ” but now I’m a superfan.

So HOW, you ask, can you hear this fabulous podcast with the fabulous S.C. Naoum, who’s recently released his first book? C’est so easy. You simply become a patron of this blog through Patreon. You can pledge any amount a month, even a dollar, and I’ll send you a private link to my weekly podcast. There are also other, ridiculous perks you can earn in return for pledges at various amounts. I’ve been doing the podcast with my very patient husband, but I’ll be adding in more guests as I find my feet in this new medium.

This blog is entirely independent, which means that nobody tells me what to say or what not to say . . . and nobody writes me a check, either. I’d love to keep this site uncluttered and ad-free with the help of readers. Please do consider pledging. A dollar a month is wonderful. Two or three dollars is wonderful. Five is excellent. Ten is stupendous. And so on!

Yesterday’s podcast, creatively titled “Podcast #3,” included absolutely zero mentions of YELLOW JOURNALISM (except for the part where we pledged not to talk about it), but we did discuss parthenogenesis and whether or not the alternative would make Jesus His own grandpaw; whether or not a new model of the causes of addiction (“it’s the cage, not the rat”) seems true, based on Damien’s decade of experience as a crime reporter; which is better, the Roman Catholic Banjo Mass or eating as much lamb as possible at the Greek Orthodox festival; and the opposite of Ernest Borgnine. I also attempt to class up the joint by reading “Marginalia” by Richard Wilbur, with some help from Corrie, even though I TOLD them to keep her out.

Any questions for S.C. Naoum? Post ’em here, and I’ll see if I can work them into the interview. Remember, you can pledge as little as a dollar a month to get access to the weekly podcast.

Damien and I be chatting with Mark Shea on Radio Maria this evening!

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Mark has the details:

Fellow Patheosi and National Catholic Register blogger and all around Catholic pants expert Simcha Fisher and her rambunctious crew will be on the radio with me today at 6 PM Eastern talking about all things Christmassy (and maybe Hannukkahy too).

To listen to Catholic and Enjoying Live! on line go here at 6:00 PM EDT. The show is live, so feel free to call in at 1–866–333–6279 and you can chat.  And if you want to hear archived shows interviewing such folk as Sherry Weddell, Brandon Vogt, Steven Greydanus, Tom McDonald, Dale Ahlquist, Tricia Bolle, Kevin O’Brien, and Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig, go here.

I literally can not think of a literally better way you could spend an hour of your Christmas eve, and I mean that literally. Would love to chat if you want to call in!

Sam Rocha’s new spin on spirituality

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From my new article in Our Sunday Visitor about Sam Rocha and his new album, Late to Love:

[Rocha] experienced his first high liturgy at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Columbus, Ohio, and a whole new aesthetic world opened up. “I felt like I walked out of the folk tradition and walked into a marble hall,” he said. “It helped me process the idea that there is a bigger Church out there.”

But stark aesthetic contrasts can sometimes be deceptive. “Whenever I heard a High Mass,” Rocha said, “I would say, ‘No more guitars at Mass for me!’” But then his family moved to a tiny town in Indiana, where the Mass had no music at all. “It was so sad and little,” Rocha said. So he brought in his guitar, and returned once again to his Mexican roots.

Since then, he’s been trying to reconcile all his various aesthetic experiences of the Church — the folk music of his Mexican parents, the slicker sound of Life Teen and the charismatic movement, and his hard-won love of jazz, which he deliberately cultivated out of a desire to understand as much about music as he could.

Read the rest at OSV and check out the Augustianian funk of Late to Love here.

I’ll be on Radio Maria’s “From the Rooftops” Wednesday morning

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Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers was tons of fun to talk to last time, when we discussed NFP and my book. Tomorrow at 11 Eastern, we’ll be discussing various issues that crop up in marriage and family life. Okay, fine, I don’t actually know what we’ll be talking about! Not vaccines, though!

You can listen online here.  Hope you can tune in!

I’ll be live on Radio Maria Wednesday, 11 eastern

on the “From the Rooftops” show. Follow the link so you can listen live. Hope you can tune in!