BREAUX BRIDGE — Quilts hang on the wall, cover the beds and upholster the banisters in Nadine Cain’s home, a true reflection of her passion for her favorite pastime.
“My husband just gave up on the ship,” she jokes about her choice of decoration.
Cain, 74, first tried quilting about 17 years ago to make a gift for her first grandchild. She’d always wanted to pick it up, seeing her mother as a quilting and sewing prodigy, but her childcare job and attending the St. Martin Parish School System took up most of her energy.
“It was fun, but also stressful,” she says.
However, a grandchild was just the nudge she needed. Every day she came home from work, went upstairs to her fabric and tools, and got to work on her new project. She dropped out of the school system in 2007, and if the quilts on any surface are any indication, she appeared to be going full-time quilting.
The upstairs room is now her study, with several sewing machines, thread spools and pieces of fabric waiting their turn. Speakers play Cajun and classic country music. Her walls feature photos she’s taken of water lilies and sketches of flowers she wants to replicate in art quilts.
“It’s my sanctuary,” Cain said.
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Art quilts are what they sound like – scenes depicted through fabric and thread. Cain’s favorite pastimes are landscapes. She uses wire in creative ways to decorate swamp scenes with Spanish moss and blue herons or to make the water ripple.
She makes them from pictures she took a long time ago and always said she would do something with them. Now she has. One of her first photos was her mother’s backyard. It’s one-dimensional and what she calls “more primitive” in style, but she won’t change it. She wants to be able to see how her art changes as she works.
“That’s part of the growing process,” she said. “Every quilt I do, every class I take, I learn something new.”
Her more recent art quilts contain more detail and advanced techniques. She uses small, “cut up” pieces of fabric to mix colors and give the impression of leaves on a tree. Once she’s placed those fragments where she wants them, Cain holds them in place with a thin layer of tulle and lots of pins, which are removed once she sews the tulle and the backing in place.
“It’s like an impressionist painting, like (Edgar) Degas and that crew,” Cain said. “They did with paint what I do with fabric.”
Over the years, Cain has done some traditional hand quilting, as well as machine quilting, art quilting, and free-motion quilting (using a machine without teeth so you can move more freely). She also embroidered by hand.
“I’m a jack of all trades and master of a few,” she said.
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She enjoys trying out new patterns and techniques and keeping this hobby fresh and new after nearly two decades.
“When you do something you’ve never done before, you go ‘yes!'” she said.
She admits she never thought she would know so much about quilting when she started in 2004, but she’s not really surprised either.
“I never do anything with half measures, so I’m careful where I start,” Cain said.
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Cain grew up on a rice farm in Eunice, where her brothers still farm. She attended college in Lafayette and worked for 27 years in two Acadiana school systems, starting as an English and Home Economics teacher at Church Point.
She still considers teaching her greatest joy and is happy to share her passion for and knowledge of quilting that she has earned over the years. She admits to dragging her sister “kicking and screaming” into the arts, and she encourages others to try it too.
“It’s something you can do alone or with other people,” she said, adding that she met some of her closest friends at the Quilters’ Guild Acadienne. “When you’re done, you’ll see what you’ve done. You’ll never be bored.”
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It’s also not difficult to get started. She said you can quilt with just fabric, scissors, a cutting mat, and good pins, and emphasized the importance of the latter.
Projects differ. Some are more complicated and require the creator to work on them little by little, she explained.
“There are some quilts you’re not in a rush to do,” she said.
She usually has three or four projects running at once, including some she decides to do “just for fun,” she said.
“I decide, ‘Oh, I love that pattern,'” she said.
Despite the plethora of quilts that can be found all over her home, Cain said she’s given away about half of her products, often as baby or graduation gifts or raffle prizes.