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Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
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Vagabond spirit guides seamstress on the biker festival circuit

NEW PORT RICHEY - Eileen Ceder didn't have time to unload the 40 pounds of ice meant to get her through the day, and customers already were milling about, checking the selection of fabric patches for sale in her vendor booth.

Got a fancy? Ceder likely had it on the wall. Harley and Indian. Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and Kiss. Old Glory, too. Figure on $5 to $10 for the patch and another $5 for the sew.

Last weekend marked Ceder's seventh year at the Cotee River Bike Fest. She typically fares well, but she hadn't counted on an early rush, what with her booth's location.

At past festivals, Ceder was among the row of vendors circling the amphitheater at Sims Park. To find "The Slipper Lady," this year, folks had to walk by vendors pitching supplemental health insurance and skullery jewelry and past food booths wafting with the smell of barbecue and Philly cheese steaks.

Not that she was complaining.

"I'm by the riverside, under a big, oak tree. What could be better?" Ceder said, as her mixed-breed dog, Patches, settled on a comfy spot in the grass. "It can't be all work and no play."

Before the first band finished warming up, Ceder, 59, had taken four orders and fielded an inquiry from an aged biker wanting to stretch some life out of the leather vest he wore in his 20s.

"I tried it on, and it fit," he said with a grin,but some well worn areas were in need of repair.

No problem, Ceder said, handing him her card. "I can do that."

Among festival artisans, Ceder is a dying breed.

Lots of vendors sell patches, but few can sew them on the spot - on an antique sewing machine, no less.

"I came specifically to find someone who could sew on patches," said Cecelia Murdock, of Dunedin as Ceder helped place "Biker Babe" and Grateful Dead teddy bear patches on a stark, leather vest.

"It's hard to find people that can sew it and center it just right," said Tiffany Weems, of Tampa, who was scouting a patch for her leather satchel.

The old Singer sewing machines also are part of the draw, Ceder said. "Some people come in just for a look."

Each is outfitted with a custom-made table painted like a guitar in honor of her late husband, who was a musician. Because they were designed for repairing shoes, each machine also is equipped with narrow arms that make it easier to sew in tight places.

Ceder got her start 30 years ago, a wife and mother of two, fashioning sheepskin slippers and moccasins on the side between waitress and bartending jobs in Connecticut. She ventured into leather repair about 20 years ago when she took a job at The Leather King in East Hartford, Connecticut. She learned from the shop owner, Herman Friedman, a Holocaust survivor from Austria, who has since passed on.

Many of his family members died in the Holocaust, Ceder said. "He was spared because he was useful. He could sew."

Sewing keeps Ceder going these days.

Aside from Patches, she is on her own. She is a snowbird, splitting her time between summers in Connecticut, where her two sons live, and winters in Fruitland Park, where she works out of a small workshop attached to her house.

"I sell a lot online," she said.

But the motorcycle festivals and monthly swap meets in Webster help pay the bills, feeding her vagabond spirit as she tows her camper from one festival to the next.

"I've made so many friends. We're like one big family," she said of the vendors who likely will be at the next gig - Biketober Fest in Daytona.

Thunderfest in Panama City is on the agenda after that, Ceder said, "but no one's sure after Hurricane Michael."

Most everyone will head to the Lonestar Rally in Galveston, Texas, but that's a little too far for Ceder.

"I've broken down so many times I can't even count em'," she said. Her sons worry about her, but they're accustomed to their mother's free spirit.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, she figures.

"You go home, and the kids are so excited about seeing you that they're waiting for you in the driveway."

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

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