Cathy Wiggins, the artist and owner of Gypsy Wood Leathers has quite a unique experience in the leather industry. She is from Greenville, NC and currently live on Lake Gaston, NC. Here she sells leather, supplies and kits for quilted leather projects along with creating art and commissioned pieces.
Before leatherworking, Cathy considered herself to be a “normal quilter”.
“If there is such a thing as a normal quilter. I was that normal quilter everyone has in their family, whether a mom, an aunt, or a grandmother, making quilts from normal cotton fabrics. That all changed during a vacation to New Orleans with my girlfriends
My transition began in early 2013 when I was working on my latest competition quilt, Oscar, A Dragon’s Tale. Oscar was to be the last in a series of 14 quilts entered in quilting competitions throughout the world. The quilt was meant to look like a book cover for Oscar the Dragon’s life story, and I wanted to find a way to simulate the traditional leather binding of old books. While vacationing with my best friends in New Orleans, we were discussing how to create the illusion of leather with cotton fabric. I shared my many ideas on using paints, dyes, and other surface treatments on the cotton to replicate the look. Their response was simply, ’Why not use real leather?’ The possibility of using actual leather in a quilt had never occurred to me! The idea of leather in quilting sounded like an interesting and creative adventure, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
Cathy quickly realized that delving into something brand new meant that she would have to figure it out on her own.
“No one can answer questions when I’m stuck. There are no books or classes on the subject. No YouTube videos. So I spent the next six months researching, testing, and quilting leather. I tested thread and leather combinations and broke needles and shredded thread in the process. I experimented with different battings and backings. I applied every facet of quilting that I could think of to leather to learn how to quilt leather successfully. As I began competing with leather quilts, others were interested to give it a try. That’s when I wrote my first book, ‘Quilted Leather’ published by Schiffer Publishing and that’s when Gypsy Wood Leathers was born.
“I create leather art. Everything I do is one of a kind and there no limits to what I will try. I quilt, mold, tool, dye, paint, you name it and will try it. I’m not afraid to make mistakes. There’s where I learn.”
Cathy made her mark in the leather/quilting world with a piece called “Rodeo” (Pictured to the left)
“I think all artists have important pieces in their careers. ‘Rodeo’, the piece that now lives in the International Quilt museum, is probably to most important piece I’ve made as far as the world views it. For me my favorite pieces are those that flow through me. In other words, I’ll start with an idea in mind but once I get going, I let go and follow my inner voice. That’s where the magic happens. All of my important and meaningful pieces have been created this way, including ‘Rodeo’.”
To new leathercrafters - “Don’t be afraid to try something different and don’t let someone tell you that you are ‘doing it wrong’ because you are doing it differently.” -Cathy
Limitless in her creations and refusing to use labels for herself and her work, Cathy has a unique and inspiring way of looking at leathercraft.
“I view leatherworking in a much broader term than most, I think. To me leatherworking means ‘all leather’, not just veg-tanned. I use leather from all of God’s creatures to make many different pieces and I feel I am honoring the spirit of that animal by turning its skin into something beautiful. The type of leather depends on the project I’m working on. It has taken me years to figure out how all the different leathers react. I have all types in my stash, veg-tanned, chrome, garment and upholstery grades, hair-on hides, deer, lamb, bison, all kinds of embossed and exotics like alligator and elephant, just to name a few.”
Being a self-taught leather worker has its challenges, but for Kathy, this is part of the excitement.
“It’s always a challenge when you are marching down unchartered territories. It took me two years to find the right leather to use in my quilting. Two years of trying every type of leather I could find. I broke a lot of sewing machine needles. I am self-taught with the use of Facebook groups and YouTube videos. Once I got into working with leathers I soon realized the possibilities are endless with what you can create, from sewing, tooling, molding, painting, dying, I wanted to try it all!”
Kathy likes to say that 10 years ago her husband got a two-car garage and a new pick-up truck, and she got her dream studio above his two-car garage. Her studio has three different workstations usually with a different projects in progress on each one, her own bathroom and a kitchen area with a sink, refrigerator and microwave.
In her studio, she can usually be found listening to an audiobook, southern rock or a documentary. Along with leatherworking, Cathy also loves sculpting. She sculpts all of the forms to use for leather molding. She also recently taught herself bookbinding.
Perfect dayoff: “I love the mountains, the North Carolina Mountains. My perfect vacation is to spend all day hike, then kick back enjoying a beautiful mountain view with a bourbon. “
Favorite quote: ‘The difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers don’t want to do’ - Dr. Phil
Favorite Life Lesson “My dad taught me that if I can see it in my head than I can make if real for others to see if I’m willing to put in the work. -Random fact about yourself: I have degrees in Mathematics and Software Engineering and spent 25 years intelecommunications. Oh, and I have a twin sister.
“My life’s dream has always been to have my work in a gallery. Because of the preconceived notion that leatherwork is considered a craft and not a recognized artform, fine art galleries were not interested. That was until Ellen Newbauer opened Artists of Elements. Her mission is to introduce the world to the unique, art you will not find anywhere else. She has made my dream come true.
I would not be where I am today without the help from my daughter, Olivia. She does all of the day-to-day business stuff freeing me up to create. She is my sounding board for ideas and inspires me when I’m stuck. And she has started her own business designing websites.”
Cathy also has contracts for two new books. The one she is currently writing is on Home Décor with leather. The book will include topics on leather vessels, wall art, flowers, books, table toppers, placemats, etc. The next book is using leather in costuming and cosplay.
To see more about Cathy and Gypsy Wood Leathers, visit:
Retail shop: Gypsy Wood Leathers
Art: Personal art page