What is a quilt? Louisiana woman makes comfort, art by hand, with machines

·4 min read

BREAUX BRIDGE — Quilts hang on the wall, cover the beds and line the stair railing inside Nadine Cain's home, a true reflection of her passion for her favorite past-time.

"My husband just gave up the ship," she jokes about her choice of decoration.

Cain, 74, first tried her hand at quilting about 17 years ago to make a gift for her first grandchild. She'd always wanted to take it up, having seen her mom be a quilting and sewing whiz, but her job in child welfare and attendance for the St. Martin Parish School System demanded most of her energy.

"It was fun, but stressful," she said.

A grandbaby was just the push she needed, though. Every day she'd come home from work, head upstairs to her fabric and tools, and get to work on her new project. She retired from the school system in 2007, and if the quilts on every surface are any indication, she seemed to move on to quilting full-time.

The upstairs space is now her work room, with multiple sewing machines, spools of thread and pieces of fabric waiting their turn. Speakers play Cajun and classic country music. Her walls feature photos she's taken of lily pads and sketches of flowers she intends to replicate into art quilts.

"It's my sanctuary," Cain said.

Committing to the craft: 'I never do anything by half-measure'

Art quilts are what they sound like — scenes depicted via cloth and thread. Cain's favorite ones to do are landscapes. She uses thread in creative ways to adorn swamp scenes with Spanish moss and blue herons or to make the water appear to be rippling.

Nadine Cain is a master quilter in the Quilters Guild Acadienne. Thursday, June 16, 2022.
Nadine Cain is a master quilter in the Quilters Guild Acadienne. Thursday, June 16, 2022.

She creates them from photos she took long ago and always said she'd do something with. Now she has. One of her first depicted her mother's childhood 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 goes.

"That's part of the process of growing," she said. "Every quilt I do, every class I take, I learn something new."

Her more recent art quilts include more details and advanced techniques. She uses tiny, "chopped-up" pieces of fabric to mix colors and create the impression of leaves in a tree. Once she places 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 backing in place.

"It's like an impressionist painting, like (Edgar) Degas and that crew," Cain said "They did with paint what I'm doing 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 with no teeth so you can move around more freely). She's also done hand embroidery.

"I'm a jack of all trades and master of a few," she said.

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She enjoys trying new patterns and techniques, keeping this hobby fresh and new after almost two decades.

"When you do something you've never done before, you go 'yes!'" she said.

She admits she never thought she'd know this much about quilting when she first started in 2004, but she's not exactly surprised either.

"I never do anything by half-measure, so I'm careful what I get into," Cain said.

Finding friends and fun in quilting

Cain grew up on a rice farm in Eunice, where her brothers still farm. She attended college in Lafayette and worked 27 years over two Acadiana school systems, starting as an English and home economics teacher in Church Point.

Nadine Cain is a master quilter in the Quilters Guild Acadienne. Thursday, June 16, 2022.
Nadine Cain is a master quilter in the Quilters Guild Acadienne. Thursday, June 16, 2022.

She still considers teaching to be her greatest joy and loves to share her passion for and knowledge of quilting that she's earned over the years. She admits to dragging her sister "kicking and screaming" into the art, and she encourages others to try it.

"It's something you can do by yourself or with other people," she said, adding that some of her best friends she met in the Quilters' Guild Acadienne. "When you're done you see what you did. You're never bored."

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It's not hard to start either. She said you can quilt with just fabric, scissors, a cutting mat and good pins, emphasizing the importance of the latter.

Projects differ. Some are more complicated and require the maker to work on them a little at a time, she explained.

"There are some don't-be-in-a-hurry quilts," she said.

She usually has three or four projects going at one time, including some she decides to do "just for fun" she said.

"I decide, 'Oh, I like that pattern,'" she said.

Despite the plethora of quilts found throughout her home, Cain said she has given away about half of her products, often as baby or graduation gifts or raffle prizes.

Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana woman finds passion in quilting, learning something new | Acadiana Makers