It took eight months and more than 300 hours of volunteer labor, but the Columbia Heights Centennial Quilt was nearing completion. Alison Marzolf and Becky Loader met in a lower level room of Murzyn Hall on March 25 to put the finishing touches on the 78-inch x 90-inch work. All it needed were a few beads here, some chickens there.
Designing the quilt started last August. “It was like herding cats to get us all together,” said Loader. “Alison provided the vision, saying it should commemorate Columbia Heights’ past and present.” The group used Irene Parson’s 1986 book, “Bootstrap Town,” as its guide and inspiration. Loader, who formerly directed the Heights Library, did additional research at the Anoka County Historical Society.
The quilt features an inner ring that represents Columbia Heights’ history. The John Sullivan house, the oldest, still-inhabited frame house in the city, is commemorated, as is Forest Park and the Hilltop Golf Course, which was near present-day Columbia Heights High School. Renaye Day, who was born and raised in the Heights, stopped in to take a look at the quilt. When shown the Sullivan house, she said, “That was way out in the country when I was a kid!”
Chicken raising was a popular activity “back in the day,” according to Loader. One panel features chickens.
The outer ring of quilt blocks represents Columbia Heights today. Huset Park represents all of the Heights’ 23 parks. Another panel depicts the Public Works department. And, of course, there’s one for the Heights Theatre, whose sign is outlined with bright red cord. “That sign looks like it’s lit!” Day exclaimed.
The panel that depicts the Wargo Park fountain was created by Lotus Hubbard, who was a ward of Judge Joseph Wargo, who served on the Anoka County bench for 11 years.
A panel on the upper left boasts Columbia Heights’ status as an All-American City; one on the upper right celebrates its Sister City, Łomianki, Poland.
The center of the quilt is dominated by the Columbia Heights centennial logo, rendered in black and white.
The quilt incorporates different styles of needlework. Amanda Wendell used a Japanese embroidery technique, sashiko, to create the panel of a willow tree, which symbolizes some of the trees early residents found in the area. Marzolf turned to Italian trapunto quilting to create a somewhat three-dimensional panel featuring a red-winged blackbird, to represent the many swamps in the area. Some of the 10-inch x 10-inch panels are embellished with hand embroidery, others were machine embroidered. Appliquéd felt pieces were also used.
Gail Carlson and Diane Hasse of After-All Longarm Quilting did the overall quilting that holds the piece together. They not only quilted around the pieces that make up the quilt, they also added stars to the border, clouds in the skies and fun shapes throughout. The Taste of Columbia Heights panel, for example, has a chef’s hat outline floating in the midst of tacos and donuts.
Constructed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was not without its challenges. “The hardest thing about wearing a mask is, you can’t wet the thread to get it through the needle,” said Marzolf.
The pandemic had also caused many home sewers to dust off their sewing machines and make face masks. “JoAnn Fabrics seemed to be out of quilting fabric,” said Marzolf. Said Loader, “Someone would ask if we had a particular color. We kept going through our stashes and trading fabrics.” They found material for the royal blue and yellow border (Hylander colors) at SR Harris.
The group became known as the Quilt League when one woman’s husband complained about her taking time off from her job to work on the quilt. “You take time off for the golf league,” she retorted. “This is no different.”
The group had fun putting their personal stamps on the quilt. Some of their pets (including a guinea pig) are included in the quilt blocks.
The Centennial Quilt will hang in the public library until the new city hall is finished in 2022.
Below: Becky Loader and Alison Marzolf displayed the Columbia Heights Centennial quilt. Individual squares were made by Judy Allgood, City Council Member Connie Buesgens, Karen DeMarco, Annette Fink, Lotus Hubbard, Rebecca Loader, Columbia Heights Mayor Amáda Marquez Simula, Alison Marzolf, Rachel A. Meyers, Renee Rewitzer, Michele Schluender, Amanda Wendel and Vicki Wendel. Brian Crawford lent technical assistance. Amanda Wendel used Japanese sashiko embroidery to create this willow tree panel. Alison Marzolf used Italian trapunto quilting for this red-winged blackbird panel. “First you stuff it, then you quilt it,” she said. (Photos by Cynthia Sowden)