In true millennial fashion, it all started on YouTube.
“I was collecting yarn because I love the texture of wool when I asked my aunt to teach me to crochet,” explained Elie Mouhanna, who hails from the coastal city of Jounieh in Lebanon. “But she couldn’t because you need to be patient and really understand how the process works to teach someone. So, I went on YouTube and started crocheting and knitting. That’s how I learned.”
Since then, what started as a personal hobby for Elie has grown into Marṣabēn, an initiative producing modern, handmade textile objects — most recently jewelry. Under the banner of Marṣabēn, he fuses traditional techniques and meticulous needlework with unconventional material like sequins. He emphasizes the mathematical aspect of producing structurally sound textile pieces.
“I’m not interested in reproducing or replicating pieces — producing pieces on and on,” said Elie, seated at a tall and expansive wooden table facing Pushkin Street at TUMO Studios. “Each project should be a discovery; it’s the process that matters. Once I’ve learned what I need to learn, and I’ve discovered that thing, I’ll go and do something else.”
Elie, who considers himself an artist who makes design, has a background in graphic design and physical installations. Infused in all of his work are his passions for culture, spirituality, languages, and anthropology.
At TUMO Studios, he led an atelier on modern approaches to crochet and knitting for the creation of wearable objects — brooches, ear and neck pieces — inspired by local myths and legends. Students looked to ancient Armenian mythology, like Tsovinar goddess of water and Vahagn god of fire, to inspire their choices of color, texture, shape, and material.
Through the atelier, Elie sought to leave students with two main takeaways — the importance of learning the logic of needlework and creating things that aren’t just commodities to be bought or consumed, but items that elicit feeling and provide people with experiences.
“When I teach crochet and knitting, I don’t teach technique, I teach logic. The important thing is not to tell them how to create an angle in crochet, but to tell them what makes these instructions create a 90-degree angle and these instructions create a 60-degree angle,” explained Elie. “Once you understand the logic, you can create any type of angle.”