Stitch in time

Local guild to display Paramount tapestry saved from Floods of 2008

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By Diana Nollen/The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — Embroidery expert Anne Hanson makes it sound so simple.

“People say it’s too hard, but it’s just putting a needle in and out. It’s how you swirl the thread” that creates character and style, says Hanson, 58, of Cedar Rapids.

Character, style and plenty of drama are woven through the ornate 40-inch-by-52-inch Paramount Tapestry. Many hands put needles in and out of ecru linen canvas for 3,000 hours from 1979 to 1983. Some even drew threads of gold through the fabric.

Total cost was about $800 then and priceless now to members of Cedar Valley Chapter of The Embroiderers’ Guild of America Inc.

This labor of love and artistry — hanging just inches above the 2008 floodwaters’ crest in the Paramount Theatre — will be the centerpiece of the chapter’s upcoming Showcase of Needlearts. The tapestry will be among more than 700 pieces by local members on display Thursday through Sunday at Prairiewoods in Hiawatha.

The tapestry will be back in the historic theater when it reopens in November.

It’s the chapter’s signature piece and the largest undertaking in its 36-year history, involving about 78 members.

Marge Dickmeyer of Cedar Rapids, who is in her 80s, was instrumental in forming the local chapter in 1976 and helped create the Paramount Tapestry, presented to the city May 4, 1983.

While poring through newsletters, she became intrigued by the community projects other area chapters were doing.

“I thought that would be a nice thing for our chapter to do, to start something — never dreaming it would turn out to be this,” she says. “So we started working on planning what we wanted to do, where we wanted it to go.”

The historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids was their chosen site.

According to club notes, co-chairwomen June Zimmerman, Sara Katz and Cathy Roach spent a year studying slides of the Paramount’s interior. The final design, approved by the Paramount Committee, features a ceiling medallion stitched in colors from the theater’s original carpet.

Members learned the tapestry’s intricate stitches during three summer seminars, practicing and mastering before putting needle and thread to the actual fabric.

“It was passed from home to home on a big, huge roller frame made specially for it, I think,” Dickmeyer says. “It went around and then people came and stitched on it. We set certain hours that they would do that. Swati Dandekar was instrumental in furnishing some of the gold threads that she brought from India.”

Until the floodwaters rose 8 feet through the building’s first floor, the tapestry was prominently displayed in the grand stairway leading to the loge.

Showcase chairwoman Lori Barton, 55, of Cedar Rapids, was working for the Paramount at the time and made sure crews rescued the tapestry before it was ruined.

Dickmeyer cried last week when she saw the tapestry for the first time since the flood, and is sure she will again when she sees it back on the Paramount walls.

“Everybody’s going to cry that opening night,” Dickmeyer says. “It’s going to be such a special thing.”

Arts Extra

  • What: Showcase of Needlearts
  • Presenter: Cedar Valley Chapter of The Embroiderers’ Guild of America Inc.
  • When: Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Prairiewoods, 120 Boyson Rd., Hiawatha
  • Admission: $5 adults, $3 youths under age 12, $8 adults for multiple days
  • Features: More than 700 pieces of contemporary and traditional needlework by local guild members, demonstrations, raffle
  • Information:

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