Every year as Chanukah approaches, Center City resident Eleanor Levie pulls out a black crocheted vest that she spruced up by sewing on a larger-than-life chanukiah and dreidels.
Levie, 60, spins around to show off the design spanning her back, all eight candles and the shamash topped with yellow flames.
In truth, the artist says, the vest was just a thrift store find some 20 years ago, and she can't even remember what moved her to add the Chanukah theme.
Perhaps this winter there will be more outfits sporting the same design, since the vest is featured in the newly published Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts.
Author Diana Drew contacted Levie at the suggestion of a mutual friend involved with the National Council of Jewish Women as she was gathering content for the book, which includes 30 projects from U.S. and Israeli artists.
Along with directions to replicate the projects, spanning the gamut from Purim puppets to challah covers, the book describes the personal stories behind them to "form a patchwork of modern-day Jewish life," Drew said in a statement.
For Levie, making crafts is a huge part of her life -- both Jewishly and professionally.
Growing up in Baltimore, she painted alongside her grandmother and sewed with her mother, both of whom often made their own curtains and clothing out of economic necessity, she recalls. She became "a firm believer in quick and dirty creativity," never throwing out a beautiful bottle or tin that could be redecorated.
Ultimately, she built a career around her artistic endeavors, editing dozens of craft books and presenting at quilting workshops around the country.
Her creativity seeped into her synagogue involvement, too, first in teaching Jewish studies at Temple Judea of Bucks County, and now as an art specialist for pre-kindergarten through fifth-graders at Rodeph Shalom, a Reform congregation on Broad Street.
"It's not just making art, it's really using Jewish history and Torah and celebrations to excite kids about Judaism," Levie explains.
She calls herself a Jewish version of Ms. Frizzle, the eccentric teacher who stars in the Magic School Bus children's book series.
"It's just my wacky interest in getting attention," she says, hastily adding: "for all the right reasons. If I'm teaching a class and I want kids to pay attention, I don't mind making a fool out of myself."
She'll wear globe earrings while teaching about al shlosha devarim, the three things the world stands on, according to Jewish tradition, and "really ridiculous costumes" for Purim.
"For Chanukah, I can look a little classy," she quips, referring to her vest.
The beauty of the vest, she says, is that it didn't take long to slap a personalized design on to a ready-made item and she gets much more use out of it than, say, her Purim costumes.
"You know, you wear it out in the world and nobody's going to say, 'Merry Christmas.' It's nice to not have to explain yourself," she says. "And it's black so it goes with everything you wear, and it's just a vest so it doesn't matter how much weight I gain. It's going to fit; it doesn't have to close."
Do-It-Yourself Gift Ideas for Chanukah
In honor of her "quick and dirty" philosophy, Eleanor Levie shared directions for turning plain glass containers into homemade Chanukah gifts.
What you'll need:
· Pebeo Vitrea 160 transparent outliner in pewter, available at craft stores or visit pebeo.com to locate a nearby retailer. One tube for every two to three jars.
· Lidded glass jars or canisters. Recycle old containers or purchase them from dollar or craft stores.
1. Wash the canister with soapy water and dry it completely.
2. Apply even pressure on the paint tube as you decorate the outside of the jar with snowflakes, curlicues, stripes or any other desired design. If you prefer not to draw freehand, you can make your design on paper first, tape it to the inside of the canister and trace over the pattern with the paint. Squeeze out an extra dot at the end of each line to conceal any uneven stops and starts.
3. Let the paint dry for at least 24 hours. If applicable, remove the paper pattern.
4. Place the empty container in a cold oven and set the temperature to 325°F.
5. Once the oven reaches 325°F, continue baking for 40 minutes.
6. Turn off the oven, open the door and let the project cool for at least 15 minutes before taking it out. The paint cannot be scrubbed off once it cures in the oven, so the containers will be safe to put in the dishwasher.
Pour herb-infused dipping oil, marinades or salad dressings into the jars and fill the canisters with gourmet croutons, granola or other treats made with oil. The same process can be used to decorate a glass serving platter for latkes or a tin for sufganiyot.
For more about Levie's books, visit www. eleanorlevie.com.