Mrs. Iowa quilt costume

Mrs. Iowa Glynis Worthington of Cedar Falls — and the 1980 Pancake Day Queen — dons her state costume at the Mrs. American Pageant in Las Vegas March 27. Each contestant was to wear a costume representing their state, and Worthington decided on showcasing Iowa's quilting ties. The costumes quilt squares were crafted by Worthington's mother, Jan Houser of Centerville.

LAS VEGAS — A piece of Centerville took center stage in Las Vegas last weekend.

Glynis Worthington, the 1980 Pancake Day Queen and current Mrs. Iowa, competed in the national Mrs. America Pageant last week, spending 10 days in Las Vegas for the competition.

“It was amazing,” Worthington said after it was all over.

But it was the costume portion of Saturday’s pageant that brought the community in. Each contestant, Worthington said, was to wear a costume representing their state as an entertainment portion of the evening.

“I don’t want to go dressed as corn,” Worthington recalled thinking after she was crowned Mrs. Iowa in a multi-state competition held in Kansas. It was a stop at her mom’s house on her way back to her current home in Cedar Rapids that inspired here.

Worthington takes Mrs. Iowa title

“I remembered all my mom’s piles of quilting and started looking into it,” Worthington said.

Her search resulted in finding out that Iowa has the highest number of quilt stores per capita out of all the states. She had that verified by a library researcher at the University of Northern Iowa, where Worthington is working on her doctorate degree. “Iowa appears to be the quilting epicenter. That’s where the idea began,” she said.

She turned to her mother, a dedicated quilter in Centerville and a member of the town’s quilting guild. She’s made more than 500 lap quilts that she’s given away over the years.

“She said she’d be happy to. She is a quilting machine,” Worthington said. “She’s always looking for homes for her quilts.”

“I just keep busy all the time,” House said, and this project did help with that.

“I had several different quilt squares put together, and she asked if she could have them to have the lady in Cedar Falls put together into her outfit,” Houser said.

Members of the Centerville Quilting Guild donated some scraps, but Houser said that was more to keep her busy than for this particular project.

“I just asked for some scraps,” Houser said. “I usually buy my own. Mine are just fabric; they’re not really planned.”

Houser said she gave Worthington a pile of 170 squares, two quilt tops and a quilt runner “just for her to have some different things, different patterns.”

From there, Worthington took her idea to Amy RohrBerg, a costume designer in UNI’s Department of Theater, and pieces were put together to make the quilted costume to represent Iowa.

“Amy said, ‘This will be such fun and something fun I can think about during Christmas break,” Worthington recalled.

RohrBerg pieced together the quilted material from Houser, a red skirt that was repurposed from a bridesmaid dress purchased at Goodwill for $15 (complete with layers of crenlin), and a blouse made of muslin, a basic fabric used in costume design that RohrBerg had on hand. There was also a train on the back of the dress that was quilted as well.

“We went with it,” Worthington said of the blouse material. “From a historic perspective, it was the right texture and look we were going for with that dress.”

Worthington is a dedicated thrifter. Her goal going into the Mrs. American pageant was to not spend a lot and get her items from thrift shops.

1980 Pancake Queen vies for new title

In fact, she said, her biggest expense was for hair and makeup, with a $2,500 quote for the 10 days of services for hair and makeup. She said she had a wonderful experience with a stylist out of Chicago that had an extra slot, saying the end result was “absolutely stunning.”

“I would see my reflection in a mirror or window and remember that it was me,” Worthington said.

However, that price tag, and the amount the other women spent on their pageant items, were shocking to Worthington.

“I didn’t even know until I got to Vegas. Most of the women spend between $1,000 and $2,000 on their costume,” she said. “That surprised me. It was unbelievable.”

But her thrifting and repurposing of materials didn’t stop her costume from being overlooked by the other competitors.

“The other ladies were stunned by it in a beautiful way,” Worthington said. “One, that we made it ourselves and that it was done for nearly nothing — that nearly everything was repurposed, recycled and that the fabric for the quilt was from the community. That was extremely unique,” she said, with most of the women hiring professional designers for their costumes.

“I was really, truly Iowa proud. Everybody thinks sparkle and stuff, but we don’t need ll that,” she said. “Midwesterners are a very practical people.”

Houser is proud of her daughter “beyond belief. She is an all-around girl. I knew she would represent Iowa very well. It was a fun thing to do. I’m glad she represented quilting in Iowa.”

And while Houser hasn’t seen the dress in anything more than pictures, she said the end result was very pretty.

“Whenever she stops by, I imagine I’ll see the outfit,” she said.

That might be Pancake Day 2021. “I’m going to try being back in September if Pancake Day is back this year and bring it down and wear my sash,” Worthington said.

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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