Cathy Wiggins




Cathy Wiggins




Cathy Wiggins


Jodie Davis

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Handi Quilter, Inc.


Providence, Rhode Island


Megan Anderson


Jodie Davis (JD): Cathy, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Cathy Wiggins (CW): Well, it's the quilt that really started me on my journey. I had made some quilts prior to this one, but I was always driven for some reason to do something with clowns and a little clown idea kept popping up and probably over the course of two years I collected eight little clowns and I worked on them--

JD: Go ahead I'm just getting something.

CW: --and I started working on them, and I'd work on them, and put them off, because people kept saying why are you doing a quilt on clowns and I don't know why, I was driven and that's how all my designs work. I'm driven to do designs. I know this is what I was supposed to be doing this one. And so, I started putting it together and I knew as I was going through it that people were really going to enjoy watching and seeing this quilt hang and so that was why I really did this quilt, it's the first one that I did, and it was simply to bring joy to people when they see it. That's why I developed it.

JD: Yeah, that's wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. What special meaning does this quilt have for you? You may have already said that.

CW: Well, I think it proved to me that I can do something when I'm driven to do it, because I know it's going to bring joy to others, and I don't have to have another reason why to do it. I don't have to listen to people say, well you're never going to have any place to hang it or you're never going to use it on a bed. That's not why I am doing it. It taught me that I could step back and do what I really felt I had to do and not worry about what anyone else said about it.

JD: Follow your own muse.

CW: Exactly.

JD: That's great. And why did you choose this one particularly for the interview as your touchstone quilt?

CW: Because it's the one that started my whole series of making quilts for people to enjoy. It was the first one in the series, it's not by far my best work technically as far as the quilting, making exact, but it is the one that started the whole ball to roll. I love hanging it in shows because more people get to see it and if something that I create wins a ribbon, that to me means more people are going to see it. And so that's why I chose this one, because it was the one that started the whole thing.

JD: Yeah, now other quilts in the series are also, they're funny.

CW: They're all puzzles that we all liked to do when we were kids. I like to do things that really engage the viewer and gives them something that reminds them of when they were a child, puzzles for them to solve, whether it's a hidden picture or if it's a maze or things like that. It just brings smiles to the faces. And the other thing is that it's one piece that I know the mom's out there that bring their kids to the show, at least they'll be able to have one that the kids can talk about and enjoy.

JD: Though everybody of every age loves them.

CW: Right.

JD: That's what's fun.

CW: Yes.

JD: And how do you use this quilt?

CW: Right now, it's my goal is to have them travel through children's type of facilities, umm, like hospitals. I'm hoping that one day, my whole intention behind making them, these fun quilts, is to have them in some kind of show some kind of cycle where they can be displayed for kids to enjoy. This one will go up first, for a month or so, and bring that one down, and put another one up, that's where I actually want to get to at some point with these.

JD: Wow, that's wonderful. So, you need to have a series in order to do that?

CW: I just felt that it would be better. Right now, I have nine of these fun quilts complete and one is almost complete--I keep thinking the magic number ten, I don't know. But it just seems like I would be able to sell the idea to someone that can help me sponsor it, if I could show them that I have a whole series that we can rotate. That's just a place to start, I haven't started doing that investigation yet, but that's where I would like to go with these.

JD: You will when you get close to that ten mark. And you're getting there [laughs]

CW: Yes, yes

JD: So, you already answered what your plans are for the quilt.

CW: right

JD: Yeah, and these next questions are about your involvement in quilt making.

CW: Mmm

JD: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

CW: Well, I had never even owned a sewing machine until 2002. When we actually bought a lake house, and I bought my little 99 dollar sewing machine to make curtains for my lake house. And when we actually made a permanent move up to Lake Gaston, one of my neighbors there was a member of the local guild. And I'd always had an interest in quilting, and I didn't have any quilters in my family. My mother-in-law quilted, but she had had a stroke about three years before, so I was never able to get any information from her. So anyways, in October 2002, my neighbor drug me to the local quilt show and I went to the guild meeting there. I have always painted and did acrylic work and watercolors and that sort of thing, so I'd always been crafty and creative. And so, when she took me to the guild meeting in October 2002, when I went back to the meeting in December, I had already made four quilts on this little 99 dollar sewing machine. But I didn't know anything about quilts, points having to match, or [laughs.], I had no rules. I didn't know anything about any rules. And this particular guild is a retirement community, so very traditional. So, in February 2003, Mancuso had a show up in Williamsburg at the time, and so I went up there for the first time and so when I walked in that show, it was like the whole world opened up to me. I knew this is where I was supposed to be. I knew this is where I was supposed to be. What I saw was you can do absolutely anything you want to do with quilts, there are no rules whatsoever. And so that's where it all started. And so that's how it all started. So, from that point on, I've been able to do just about anything I want to do.

JD: Well, it's obviously your world.

CW: Yes [laughs.]

JD: Talking about your quilts [laughs.] It is, it is. So, you learned through the guild?

CW: Yes, self-taught. I've always been one, that if I want to learn, I take control. If I want the hair to look real, I'll go and figure out whether it's through asking somebody, or on the internet, or something to figure out well, how's the best way to make this hair look real. I've always been one to go out and research techniques, when I'm at quilt shows, I don't necessarily take classes, that create something, I like learning new techniques and then I can take those and apply them to what it is I want to do.

JD: Great.

CW: Yeah, so any venue that there is to learning, I'm always out there trying to see what's out there new.

JD: Mmm, yep. How many hours a week do you quilt?

CW: Well, I'm fortunate enough that I can quilt full-time. I usually like to be in my studio by nine o'clock in the morning and I usually work until about three o'clock in the afternoon. With a break for lunch. And so, if I'm working on a project, I'm very disciplined. I'll have something I want to accomplish for that day, and if I get it done by one o'clock, that's fine, but that's how I usually work. And I'm a very neat worker too. I'm organized because I will make sure I'm set up to go the next morning because I get excited to get started on the next thing the next morning.

JD: Rather than cleaning up from yesterday.

CW: Right. Exactly

JD: Yeah, neat. What's your first quilt memory?

CW: Well, my first quilt memory would have to be, umm, we didn't have quilters in our family, but my mother-in-law made a Christmas quilt for my daughter when she was six.

JD: Awww

CW: And it was the shape of a Christmas tree, and at the time, I think it's made with half square triangles and squares. Wasn't anything complicated, she didn't do anything complex, and she hand-quilted everything. And so that was, I think that was the one that sparked it for me. At the time I was painting and doing things, and I said ohh, you know that looks rather interesting, but I was intimidated because I didn't know how to sew. So, I think that's my very first quilt memory. Was with my daughter, when she got that when she was six.

JD: Yeah, neat, neat, neat, neat. How does quilt making affect your family?

CW: Well, I think my family realizes that I'm happiest when I'm creating. And, umm, I think it just brings a different atmosphere in the house when my husband, well he's creative, but he doesn't know anything about it, but he does enjoy seeing what it is that I'm building, and how I'm building it. And, it actually has really helped the relationship with my daughter, umm, as she's grown up, she's got a great sense of color and she's made some quilts herself, but she's very honest with me and I know that she's a great sounding board when I have design questions and I'm stuck and I can't decide what color needs to be introduced, and that sort of thing. So, she's right there with me. I really think it has, has really brought the family together, when we moved out to the lake, I started out with just part of the basement, and every time my husband would travel, I'd take a little bit more of the basement...

JD: [laughs.]

CW: a little more of the basement, so finally now, he's like okay, that's enough, we're going to build you your own studio and move you out of the basement so I can have my space back. So...

JD: Oh, that's wonderful. So, you have an office? So, you go to the office? Is what you do--

CW: Exactly, that's exactly what I do.

JD: Yeah, yeah. And your daughter's older, so it doesn't, respect of the time or anything. You go, she's at school.

CW: Right, while she was at school, now she's away at school, but when she was here, I worked from the time that I got her off to school--

JD: Oh, okay, yep.

CW: --until before she came home, and then I would have dinner and everything, so, yeah.

JD: Yep, yep, neat. Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

CW: Well, that's interesting that you should ask that because my mom, for the last two, two and half years, has had ovarian cancer, and she died January 7th with ovarian cancer. And, it was, the quilt I'm currently working on--the theme doesn't really have anything to do with it, it was, it's about, it's another little playful one, it's the witches and the witch's brew, but it's interesting because I could work on little pieces of it while I was going through that, and so--it gave me a safe place that I could go, even if it was only for a half hour or a couple hours or two or three times a week, because I haven't been able to quilt as much, prior to right before she died, as I would like to, but it really gave me a safe place, and I knew I could just escape for a little bit. You know, be within myself. So, yeah, that has really had a big impact and giving me a place, I could go.

JD: A refuge.

CW: Yes--

JD: Oh wow, well I'm sorry about your loss. Well, on a totally opposite extreme, tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making or your teaching or...exhibiting of your quilts.

CW: Oh, good lord! Well, you know, again, one of the things that has been the most meaningful to me, I guess, aside from when my daughter got her quilt was, it was the clowns on parade, it was this particular quilt. It was hanging at the Mancuso show up in Hampton, when they moved to Hampton, and umm I was able to take, of course I went up on Thursday to do my own shopping and everything because we were like two hours away from there, then I went back there on that Saturday to take my mom and my husband up to see the quilt hanging because they had never seen what I do, and they had never even been to a quilt show, and of course it was shocking to see, but they had no idea that it was anything like it. But they had the quilt hanging, umm it didn't get a ribbon, well it got viewer's choice though, which is really cool. But it didn't get a ribbon, but they had it hanging with the ribbon winners. And so, when the guy, the white glove guy, was taking tours around all of the ribbon winners, he did a side tour to particular clowns on parade because it was his favorite quilt. And so, my mom got to see it there and then all of a sudden, I look over there and there's my mom standing there beside my quilt, you know, telling everybody that 'yeah, my daughter did this, my daughter did this'. So, it was really a cool thing.

JD: Neat. Neat. That was great that you took your family.

CW: Yeah, oh yeah.

JD: Because they don't know. They just don't know. They have no idea.

CW: They have no idea! I equate it to the fact that until you have read Harry Potter, right, you didn't realize that there was a whole underworld of you know--

JD: yes

CW: So, they didn't realize there was a whole underworld of quilters out there. You know, we're everywhere.

JD: And there are a lot of us.

CW: Well, as soon as you mention that you are a quilter, there's a story. Everybody has something to say about it, there's one in their family, or they've got their grandmother's quilt, there's something always there.

JD: we can all relate. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

CW: My--aside the fact that I make things for people to enjoy my other passion is when I see people growing from that. In other words, if I'm teaching or something, I really enjoy seeing people catch on and be able to take a piece of it and make their life better. You know, to be able to see that something that I have done has made someone else's life better. Even if it's just a little smile, or they're happy, that they were able to do something that they've never been able to do before. That is what is--that's the coolest part.

JD: Neat. And what about the actual process of quilt making? What's your favorite part?

CW: Oh, good lord, well it's not satin stitching.

[both laugh.]

CW: well, if you look at all my quilts, they are all satin stitched--that's what I do. I love it, I mean I love the look of satin stitch, but you know, sitting there for hours and hours and hours. I love the whole creative, having something that's in your mind, and being able to see it come to fruition. Umm, I love the design piece of it. You know, thinking about how the pieces are going to fit together, but I'm also free flowing enough to know, I may do a drawing on a piece of paper, but when I pieces, components actually get done, they may not lay out the same. So, it's the whole creative piece of it, to be able to have something that you, that you visualize, and then being able to stand back and watch people enjoy it. If I had to pick one particular, I mean, I like each one, umm, there's pieces of each one that I like, but if I had a favorite, the quilting part is nice. I don't know that I really have one favorite piece when you're talking about the construction, the actual construction part. It would have to be the design piece because my designing goes all the way through my whole process, but then, also I enjoy figuring out how to do something, umm new, like if I want to have a new texture on a quilt and I don't, I haven't done it before, you know, going and figuring out how I'm going to make that happen. That kind of thing.

JD: And you do a lot of machine quilting, you use a longarm machine--

CW: Yes, I do. I've had, I've got my longarm in 2004. October 2004.

JD: And has that changed the process at all? Or your enjoyment, or what you do?

CW: It allowed me to be a little bit, for me freer on my designs that I can do. I see it as an extension to, when I design, when I look at quilting, I see that the quilting aspect, is almost like third, you have to have your quilts, and your pattern, and your fabric selection, and then the piecing, and then my quilting is the last third. It's just as important as everything else is. And so, by getting a longarm, it freed me up to do a lot more of intricate design work on that, than I was able to do on my domestic machine. So that's what it's brought to me.

JD: Do you, do you, when you're designing a quilt, do you think about the quilting first, in that process?

CW: Sometimes, it depends on the quilt, sometimes. I know, like on the clowns, umm, the quilting was a big part of that, because it has all kinds of little, all the clowns, have things hidden around them, that's in the quilting. So I knew that I was going to put things around them, I allow room to put them because I didn't know what they were going to be yet, but I did have a few things that I liked, like the little mouse that's on the ball. And I had to figure out where I was going to put him, but I knew he would be on there some place. And so, it depends, in that aspect, yes. There's things that I know that I want to have, a design element, that's going to be quilted in that piece, so I know that going in, what it's going to be.

JD: And on one of your latest quilts, the map quilt, you quilted it first before you did embroidery

CW: I did. That one, I really wanted it to, and this again comes back to a new technique I wanted to try because it's a bit different than my other pieces because I really wanted it to look like an old-fashioned treasure map. And, I wanted the quilting to give texture to the overall piece, as opposed to being a big design. It's still a design element, but it's not a focal point, and so that's why I quilted that first and then I went back and I did all the hand embroidery on top of it because I wanted the hand embroidery to add texture to it as well. So the hand embroidery actually, it's acting as part of the quilting too. Because it's, it's quilted all the way through to the back.

JD: Mmm, yep. What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

CW: At the very beginning, I was involved in more quilt guilds, and then I realized, umm, I wanted to back away from that. I have a guild; we meet once a month, but then I have a set of friends that, we meet, usually once a week.

JD: Oh, really.

CW: Yeah, we try to, we try to at least have lunch if nothing else. And then once a month we have an all-day sew session. And then I have my show friends that like the friends I have here that we've been working together now for four years and part of us will be at MQS as well. So, I have groups of friends that I really enjoy being with, and I'm very fortunate to have them, and they're always a support structure right there behind me.

JD: That's great.

CW: Yeah

JD: That's great. And you are involved with the people running the show, here at MQX

CW: Yes, Yes, and I have been for the last four years.

JD: That's good.

CW: Yes, and it's a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun.

JD: Yep, yep, well

CW: and we're actually, we're going to pursue, we're going to have one in Portland next year too, so we're going to be doing that show too, so--

JD: That's exciting.

CW: yeah

JD: Let's see. Have advances in technology influenced your work?

CW: Well, I think, it's interesting, I do, I think, I'm already thinking of, I think that my next purchase I want to get an embroidery machine. I'm not one to go out and buy all the new stuff that's out there, although my iPad will be coming soon.

[both laugh.]

CW: That said, I know that I'll be getting an embroidery machine at some point because I can--I want to design my own things and have it embroidered. I'm not quite sure how that's going to fit into my quilts yet, but I know I will at some point. And, I also think at some point, I will probably get the computerized feature on my quilting machine, but again because I want to, I want to design my own elements and add them to my quilting. So, I think it's not that I'm looking at the perspective of making my technique of actual quilting better, it's how to introduce new design elements that I can do and get them the way I want them, quicker.

JD: So, it's really more tools--

CW: Exactly, it's more tools.

JD: --to achieve what you're after?

CW: Exactly, yes.

JD: Very interesting. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

CW: I do a lot of,--all of my--well 98% of what I do, is fusible. I've always used Heat and Bond Lite because I live so far out, Wal-Mart is the closest thing, we're forty five minutes from Wal-Mart. Right, so at the time, that's what they carried, so that's why I started using that. When I teach classes, I say you guys can use whatever you want to, this is what I use because it was cheap and I could get it. Right, so I use that and satin stitching. That's just what I do. And I have big drawing paper that I draw my patterns on and from there, it's fusible and the satin stitching.

JD: Mmm, describe your studio or place that you create.

CW: Well, I'm in the basement.

JD: [laugh.]

CW: Well, actually, I'm a very organized person. And I don't mean clean--there are going to be dust bunnies and stuff, but everything has its home and I like for everything to be put back in its home when I leave. I'm fortunate to have a space--probably about 15, about 16 feet by 25. My new space will be 30 by 30. So, I'm doubling my space. But, I'm very organized and I have a design wall that was my number one thing. I use those insulation boards, I have three of them sitting up side by side on my design wall, I can't imagine working without having a design wall. And my stash--I have a nice stash, it's not huge, because I don't go out and buy fabric, just to be buying fabrics. I go out and buy fabrics for particular projects. Now, that's not to say that if I know the project coming is going to need blue, I may go out and buy fifteen blues. But, I always buy at least three yards of it because I want to make sure I have enough of whatever it is I want to do. So, therefore, I will go to my stash first, before I start buying, but I'm a very organized person. And, if my husband wants to borrow tape, I'll say well what kind of tape, what do you want to use it for, and it better come back to me when you're done.

JD: [laugh.]

CW: And I have my own set of tools in my toolbox and he can't use those either. So--

JD: So, do you work on one quilt at a time?

CW: I usually, I'm very disciplined with the fact that I usually have, maybe four or five going on at a time. I don't have UFO's, because I will have one that's in the design phase. I'll have one that's

JD: So it's on paper

CW: Yeah, it's on paper. And at that point, once it's on paper, and I've got the pattern, then I'll make the patterns, at the time I'm making the patterns was when I'll start looking at the fabrics for it. And what fabrics I want, what I have already, what I need to go looking for, and then one I'm actually piecing and satin stitching. And then the one with the top completed, and it's ready to be quilting and then maybe one I'm doing hand work binding afterwards. And I go shopping, I'm lucky to have MaryJo's--that's in Gastonia. We're about four hours away, and I like going there about four times a year and so I like to have my shopping list together and that's when I'll go and get most of my fabrics. Yeah, so I don't have a lot of projects outstanding at any given time, but the only exception to that would be making a Christmas present for somebody or making a birthday present, that kind of thing. I'll have those fabrics ready to go when I can fit that into what I'm doing. So I'm disciplined as far as what I have working on, when.

JD: That's good.

CW: I don't like that creative clutter. I don't like that creative clutter around.

JD: Right, right

CW: yeah

JD: Tell me how you balance your time

CW: From the fact that I'm disciplined, I like to work from like 9:00 to 3:00ish is my creative time, and I may do some handwork at night, that sort of thing. Or some embroidery, that sort of thing. But, from nine to three, that's my creative time. And I really, it's almost like, it's like you said, it's almost like a job, that's the time that I give to my craft. And it's important to me that I get that time. And any time outside of that, or if I have something I want to do on the weekend, or if my husband, he travels a lot, and so when he's not traveling, and he's at home, and he knows, okay, and I'll ask him, 'do you have anything that's going to involve me today? Because tell me now, so I can put it in my schedule. So I'll know when you're going to do it, don't come down and say 'oh, honey, want to run to the store with me?' 'No, I can't'.

JD: I'm going to take that under advisement.

[both laugh.]

CW: And the other thing I had to teach my family too was when I'm quilting on my longarm, don't come down and say 'Hey, Mom'. Because I'll jerk, so now what they'll do, they'll come and they'll stand on that side and if I don't look up, then they'll come around and all of sudden, there's someone standing beside me and they're saying, well what can we do. So now they're starting to come in and flipping the light. So, I know they're coming.

JD: That's great [laughing.]. Okay, now we're going to, these are some questions about the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and design aspect of quilt making. What do you think makes a great quilt?

CW: The intent and the passion that goes into it.

JD: Mmm

CW: I think that comes through anything that's created, I think that comes through. It could be the uh, you know, just because I don't think it's the best piece in the world that if someone's passionate about what they created it's going to show. That's why I think it - Now you could talk about the technical aspects of it, but to me that's the important thing. Why is it being made to begin with? Right?

JD: Great answer, and you're so quick you didn't have to think --

CW: Oh yeah --

JD: That's great, yeah. What makes it uh then, this is different, what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CW: Well, for me I think uh um if we're looking at really how it is constructed I think that um it's how it makes you feel when you see it and that is so different for anybody, for each individual person that sees it I think that um what feeling does it make you feel when you look at it? I think that to me is what makes it powerful, because what can, what's powerful for me may not be what's powerful for you, and um I think to me it's how it does make you feel when you look at it - that's what's important.

JD: And what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection? It's a good question for you with thinking about your quilts going in --

CW: Yeah, because everybody seems to think that it has to be something that's um you know that's traditional, I think it's one that, gosh that is a really good question, I think the one that really means something that can invoke different feelings from different people. Um, I think it's one that does invoke a strong - I guess it's strong feeling for multiple people, whether it's the same feeling or not doesn't matter right? But I think it's one that can bring up strong emotions and make people think. And make people and think whether it means happy thoughts or sad thoughts or just invoke - it brings something out to the viewer- from the viewer. I think that's the pieces the pieces that should be there.

JD: Mhm. And what makes a great quiltmaker?

CW: I think it's passion. --

JD: yeah--

CW: And I think that's true for anything. You know the passion behind it. Is it really coming from the heart? Are you doing it for the right reasons? Or um are you doing it just to compete or are you doing it because your mom's doing it? What's the passion that that's behind it? Because I truly believe that if you feel the passion everyone who's in the room is going to feel that same passion --

JD: Yeah, yeah it's contagious. [laughter.]

CW: [laughter.] Yeah.

JD: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

CW: Well, gosh that's interesting. Um, I love [inaudible.].

JD: Yeah?

CW: Yeah--

JD: [laughter.]--obviously--

CW: but um I like anybody who really shows their passion and that you can tell - even though I may not really like their styles of work like Renae Haddadin does absolutely gorgeous work and it's the passion that comes through. Anybody who when you ask a question about something they've done and they're right there to show you, I mean it's almost like you - oh my gosh I didn't know I was going to get [JD laughs, CW word inaudible.] for it. But you know, it's because you can tell they love what they do --

JD: Yes --

CW: And they can be traditional, it can be contemporary, it doesn't matter to me as long it - when I can tell they love what they do and those are the kinds of things that really inspire me.

JD: Mhm. And which artists influenced you? And you come from watercolor world, so I would think the question doesn't mean just quiltmakers.

CW: Yeah, it's been, my favorite pieces that have I've always enjoyed as far as um artwork have been the pieces as far as individual people it's hard for me to give a name but um, I originally started with the pieces that you can't really tell. And I think this really relates to quilting too. When you look at it really close up you can't tell what it is, and when you back away and everything comes into focus [JD says 'Ah' over CW.]. And so, it's like the paintings that are really large, and you look close and you can't see- like Monet's you know the little painting you know [JD says 'yeah' over CW.] the little brush strokes so close but you can't really tell what it is until you are back away. And I get that same impression from quilting from the quilts because if you look at it up close you don't get the whole picture, it's not until you back away when you can really look at the color, the design, and the quilting and the texture that the quilting's adding. That's when you really see the whole picture. So, it's those types of things so to be able to put one name on it, it's I don't really have one name.

JD: Mhm

CW: [inaudible.]

JD: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and what about long arming?

CW: They're all fantastic. I think that they all have different; they bring different textures and different feels to the quilt. Um and I can appreciate everything. I tried hand quilting. I know it's not for me. [laughter.] I mean that's what's great about the quilting world I think because it's so vast that you can find the niche that that you like, um, it's a hand appliqué I tried a hand appliqué, I realized that was not for me. I machine appliqué, and I uh I machine quilt. And I know there's been a lot of questions about um competition, competitiveness, as far as is it fair, is it fair, is it fair? It's still got to be done right, [JD 'mhm' over CW.]. It doesn't matter how it's done, it's got to be done right. It doesn't matter what tools. I see them all as tools and it's how you use those tools is what makes the piece great.

JD: Yeah. These questions are about the function and meaning of quilts in American life.

CW: okay

JD: Why is quilt making important in your life?

CW: For me, it's my designing. I like, it's my creative outlet. Um, that that's where I can be completely lost and [inaudible.] end create something that's purely just coming from me, given to the world. Well through the universe, through me, and to give to the world [laughter.]. That's uh, hey, I'm not going to take credit, not going to take credit. God, the universe, what you want, through me to the world. And it's my way of expressing um it's just an extension of that conduit that's bringing things out there.

JD: Yeah, yeah. Like has to come out [laughter.]

CW: [laughter.] Yes, but it also had to come. I had no choice but to do this. Right, right, right.

JD: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

CW: Well--

JD: Or do they?

CW: I don't know that they really do. I think I think my quilts are more of an expression of what's coming through me now. You know, I don't know that there it really does Yeah because in fact it's probably on the opposite side because most of the people in my area are very traditional quilters.

JD: Oh.

CW: And so when I came into the play, right they said 'Oh my word, what is she doing? [laughter.] I mean she is just crazy.' And, and it was though having the guts to continue to do that too, so it's really, it's kind of opposite of what the area is.

JD: Yep, so what do they think now?

CW: Oh, they're just in awe. They're just like 'Oh my gosh, what is she going to do next?' and then they look forward to it and they're so upset when I bring something for show and tell and they're not there. [JD over CW -- 'Oh'.] Yeah, you know, it's like 'Oh my gosh, I didn't see it'. [laughter.] So, I'm one of those that they always every once in a while, they say, 'you've got to bring the quilt back for us to see'. So--

JD: And has it influenced their quilt making at all with things that you did?

CW: Oh, oh yeah. I think it um I really think it has helped them um realize that it's okay to do different to do something different. Yeah, and it's kind of, yeah so, I think it's maybe I've created, I like to think I've given them a little bit safer environment for them to be able to spread their wings a little bit.

JD: Oh, that's wonderful. [CW says 'yeah' over JD.]. What better thing can you do for someone?

CW: right.

Unknown Person (UP): yeah

JD: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

CW: I think quilts to me they're just as important as any other art form. I believe that it's important that the art form continue to grow, and I think that it um should be treated as such. I think that for the longest time people viewed uh quilts as just a utilitarian thing, but even when they were just utilitarian, they were still an art form. And um I'm glad to see that a lot of the recognition is starting to come about that that they are pieces of art no matter how old they are, how scrappy they are, or how they were constructed someone's heart and soul went into making that piece. And so, I think it's very important that that that that be recognized. And now especially since the industry's growing so much into more of the artistic side too.

JD: Yep, absolutely. How do you think quilts can be used?

CW: Oh gosh, so many different ways. I know one of the key things that we try I mean obviously on a bed or decorate a wall, but there's so much more than that. They can really make a person feel special if someone's going through a somewhat hard time, and you get a bunch of friends to put together something to give to them, there's nothing any better than that. Or um we just did a um, the group that I work with here at MQX, we did our first um group quilt last year and it was so because it really kept us connected before - we only see each other once a year, but by having the quilt to work on, it kept us connected throughout the year because we had deadlines we had to meet in order for the next person to get the quilt. And so, it can be used to comfort people or keep people connected. There's hun-- you know there's really endless why it.

JD: Mhm, mhm. And how do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

CW: Well I think, it's interesting because I um think it is important that um that there's a someplace, a museum or someplace that can get key pieces to keep because a lot of times, just like any other type of artwork, it can be lost in the generations if there's not an appreciation that's taught, and I see that um more so now, people, they're losing touch with things that are handmade. And, and I think it's so important for us to try to maintain how important it is to keep things that are handmade, and so if that's not going to happen, um make sure there's a place where at least key pieces can go to to be preserved. I know that I was fortunate enough that my dad, although he worked all his of life, but his passion was um, was furniture making, and so I learned very early on how precious it was to have things that he's made, and so now we have a lot of the pieces of wood that we have in our house um are from are from what he's made and in fact when my mom passed away, um we didn't really care about anything that was bought at all, it was the furniture that my dad had made --

JD: oh, of course

CW: Yeah, and so and there's no, there's no bickering or anything as to what pieces we all wanted because there were things that we specifically wanted. And my daughter also has the same appreciation for things that are handmade because she's made her own self quilts and stuff. And so, so if we the best way to preserve it is to be able to pass that love down from generation to generation. And that's the work of the parents to pass that that passion down, or not even the passion down, it's just the appreciation for it. Yeah--

JD: Beautifully said. Beautifully. So, what about your quilts then in that context?

CW: Well, um see my daughter loves what I create, but what do you do with them? I'm really hoping that at some point there's going to be a safe home, and--well no, I shouldn't say I really hope; I know that some time there's going to be a place that they're all going to go for people to enjoy. I really, I believe that, and that's why I'm creating them, and I'm not too concerned about it because my daughter knows the passion that I have for them and so it may not be while I'm here, but with her she'll know that they're safely in their little archival boxes all wrapped up. At some point they'll go have a place to live forever, so.

JD: Yeah. And I want to add this to the transcript so that it will go down in posterity that we put on the MQX website that people could um, give us ideas of people that we could do the interviews here while I'm in Providence, and your daughter is the one who suggested you.

CW: Yes, she did. [laughter.] She knows my passion that I feel, and she also sees too, that I'm kind of on the outside because of the types of quilts that I do are just really the intention is for to bring pure joy to people when they look at them and so they're so different and so it's 'Mom, everybody needs to know that's what you do' [laughter.] So--

JD: I think that's come across here. And I also wanted to make sure you've written a book?

CW: Yes, it's a book, published by American Quilter's Society: "Clown's on Parade" --actually is based on the book. It has the pattern for all the little clowns, and it's more than just a pattern book too. It actually has each one of the clowns that's on the quilt has its little biography as to why he's in the parade. [JD laughs.] Um and why all the little characters are in the quilt that are quilted in the background, why they're associated with that particular clown. And each clown has its name, so it's more than, much more than, my goal is okay it's a pattern book for people to buy, but it's also has little stories that they can share with the other kids and uh that they might be making the quilt for.

JD: Oh fun. fun. And what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

CW: I think it is for the general public to really recognize it as a work of art. And to give it the the respect that it needs. I mean we even see it, you know when we're shipping these quilts around the country, and um and you know and you cross your fingers and you hope it's going to make it where it goes, but even as far as getting reimbursement for the companies to recognize that it has a value. Even if we have a certification, from the appraisal, they're still very hesitant to realize that it is a work of art.

JD: Wow.

CW: Yeah

JD: Hmm. That's odd.

CW: Yeah. yeah.

JD: We have about two minutes left.

CW: Okay.

JD: Is there anything that you want to say?

CW: Mmm, I don't think so.

JD: Okay. I had one other question, that I find very interesting, and we as the industry are always struggling with, how to get new people in? And one of the reasons I ask is because you came into the industry as an adult, and so I I'm just wondering whether it's younger or older, how do we get more people in?

CW: I think--wow--

JD: Yeah--

CW: Yeah, I mean I think it goes along with um we have to kind of drag them in kicking and screaming. And I know that when before I ever started, I was intimidated because you had to use a sewing machine. You know, and you're thinking I can't run a sewing machine and I think it's different because with paintbrushes, anybody can pick up a paint brush and try it, but you have to buy a sewing machine to start sewing a quilt. I know that was that was the intimidating factor with me, um, and I and I think it's just getting to be more mainstream, and I think one of the things actually I would like to see more of if there's a way to actually have more quilts displayed that are not associated with a quilt show. Like they're treated more like an opening in the gallery, you know that kind of thing. You know they have a type of display or true gallery opening for quilts that show the range of what can be done out there now. And then yeah, I think, yeah, it's just difficult. It is.

JD: Yep. Well, thank you so much, Cathy. [CW says 'thank you' over JD.] I just appreciate this and thank you for allowing me to interview you as part of Quilters' Save Our Stories, project of the Alliance for American Quilts here in Providence, Rhode Island. And our interview is concluding at 11:25. Thanks so much.


“Cathy Wiggins,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,