World’s Largest Quilt
The North Dakota Quilt Project was conceived 31 years ago this month in 1986. It was a means for the Quilters' Guild of North Dakota to help celebrate the state's centennial in 1989. Leona Tennyson, of Antler, North Dakota was instrumental in the project. Once finished, it would be the world’s largest quilt, covering more than a third of an acre. “We want the citizens to take part in doing this,” Leona told the Minot Daily News. “It’s a state of North Dakota quilt project.”
Each of North Dakota’s 1,360 townships were invited to construct a block for the quilt. It was expected to measure more than 70 by 100 feet, enough to beat the Guinness World Record held by a Belgian quilt that was just shy of those dimensions.
Leona said each township had appointed a chairperson; with Leona the overall director. The piece would ultimately be a map of the state; each county given a designated color. Each township section was marked off in 4″ squares, and Leona urged quilters to add points of interest, such has churches, schools, railroad tracks, rivers and agricultural crops.
The blocks were stitched together in 1988. When finished in July, the piece weighed 800 pounds, and had reached 85 feet by 134 feet – setting the new World Record.
When interviewed in 1986, Tennyson and her co-quilters expected the quilt to be displayed in Bismarck, but the quilt never found a permanent exhibition site, mainly due to its size. At one point, South Dakota’s Corn Palace asked to display the piece, but North Dakotans balked at the idea of sharing it with another state.
In 1995, folks from a group called Roadside America made a special trip to see the attraction, at Leona’s home in Antler. One of the editors wrote the following …. “We take a walk out to the garage to see it. The randomly-folded, tightly-packed mass fills Leona’s extended Econoline van to the roof … and Leona is loath to open the van’s rear doors, knowing from experience that she may not be able to close them again. But we offer to help repack the quilt, and thus are allowed to touch North Dakota’s best-kept tourism secret.”
Leona continued to urge the state to display the textile wonder – but without success. She died in 1995. The quilt remains in the care of the Tennyson family, stored in Leona’s garage, but the family has renewed hope that it can still find a home in Bismarck … now that the Heritage Center has expanded.
Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm.
Ogden, Eloise. “World’s Largest Quilt Taking Shape: Leona Tennyson is helping North Dakota shoot for a world record.” Minot Daily News. 12 Oct. 1986.
Kirby, Doug; Smith, Ken; Wilkins, Mike. “World’s Largest Historical Quilt: Antler, North Dakota.” Roadside America (field review). http://www.roadsideamerica.com/attract/NDANTquilt.html
Phone conversation with Sharon Tennyson June of 2017
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm