BEIRUT: Skip the Xanax and pick up a ball of yarn next time the pangs of anxiety take hold. A study published by the Harvard Medical School Mind/Body Institute several years ago showed that by focusing on a repeated movement and letting go of all other thoughts, “measurable, predictable and reproducible physiological changes occur that can be useful in countering the unhealthy fight-or-flight or stress response.”
In other words, not only does making something with your hands result in a new objet d’art for you, but it can also serve to reduce stress in your life. And in Beirut, where a spate of bombings has frayed residents’ nerves, it’s a great time to explore the city’s creative options to help you unwind.
The Harvard study focused particularly on the age-old crafts of knitting and crocheting, which a local business has recently transformed from pastimes relegated for little old ladies to a trendy art form in its own right.
Y.knot has been cultivating Beirut’s rediscovery of this traditional handicraft since 2006. Its Saifi Village location offers a warm, welcoming environment for knitters and crocheters in the central district. The shop offers lessons for beginners of all ages, as well as friendly advice for special projects, from blankets to baby clothes.
The boutique has a large selection of yarns and needles to choose from, as well as a communal backroom, where crafters can settle in for discussion of techniques over tea or coffee. There is also a selection of goods made by the staff for sale at the front, if you’re not quite up to scarf speed yet but still want something handmade to keep you warm.
“Y.knot welcomes women – and men and children too – to knit and chat any time. It is an open house,” said Yildiz Diab, who opened the boutique with Samera Zahed and has run it ever since. “Of course we prefer the knitters use yarns they have bought from us, but we understand and allow the use of yarn purchased elsewhere, too.”
“It’s the best therapy available. It’s easy to learn and anyone can do it, you just have to have a little patience,” Diab added.
For those more artistically inclined, a small studio tucked away just across the street from the St. Joseph Hospital in Dora offers jewelry-making lessons for those with all levels of skill. Rana al-Ibrik of the eponymously named Jewelry with Rana is self-taught and began giving her own classes two years ago after “trying her hand at everything.”
Ranging from simple beading and stringing to advanced metalworking, most of Ibrik’s students come with a specific design they want help executing. “They have an idea, but they don’t want to take a lot of classes,” she said. For this reason, she offers a popular four-class package for $150, at which beginners can design and make one piece of unique jewelry.
But many of Ibrik’s students stick around after their beginner classes and have also created a virtual community through the studio’s Facebook group, where former and current students often post status updates on their projects and seek help from others.
Jewelry making takes some skill and hand-eye coordination to progress, Ibrik said. But many of her students – most of whom work full-time jobs – look forward to the class “to unleash their creative energy.”
While jewelry making may be too complex for some, painting ceramics offers a way for Beirutis of all ages to exercise their imagination while making something useful. With two locations, one at Sodeco and a newer branch now open in Dbayyeh, Ceramics ‘N More features a varied inventory of pieces to paint in addition to a full restaurant. The new shop even has a separate area for adults who want to paint in a more peaceful environment.
Founder and manager Fouad Madhoun said that while many children enjoy the activity, the shop’s recurring customers are often older people, who choose to paint useful items, such as mugs or plates, in creative ways.
“It’s very calm, people stay for two or three hours on average,” he said.
First-time customers who enjoy it will come back again and again, honing their painting skills so that their pieces once fired in the kiln will look exactly as they imagined.
“We want people to stay as long as they like, that is why we have incorporated many aspects to make adults more comfortable. And we want to help them develop their technique,” Madhoun said.
Still, it’s not only about the end product, some just come to paint and end up never picking up their work once it has been fired. Those left behind are then sold and the money donated to charity, one of several measures Ceramics ‘N More takes to ensure that they promote responsible practices.
“We want to teach kids, and adults, to be ethical citizens by recycling and giving back.”
But whatever reason you seek out an outlet for your creativity in Beirut, as Y.knot’s Diab said, there is “nothing better to relax and disconnect with a craft.”
For more information on Y.knot, please call 01-992-211 or email email@example.com. Reach Ibrik from Jewelry Making with Rana at 03-061-596; and for Ceramics ‘N More, call 70-202-723.