The quilts were from Iowa, the guests from throughout Middle America, the emphasis on Italian.

All three elements went into the White House dinner President Carter gave for Italian Premier Francesco Cossiga last night. And coming as it did on the heels of Carter's victory in the Iowa caucuses, it offered a preview of coming White House attractions.

The names might change, but the categories won't as Jimmy Carter goes after the ethnic vote. And last night 130 guests included Italian Americans in everything from business (frozen pizzas and coffee makers) and labor to education, law, health, the clergy and, oh yes, politics.

You might have thought that on this round, anyway. Carter supporters from Iowa would have the edge on invitations.

"But you kind of had to be of Italian descent," said Alphonse "Babe" Bisignano of Des Moines, one of only three Iowans present. Also from Des Moines were the Oliver Gillespies. He is director of the museum lending the historic Iowa quilts, which were covered with glass and used as table cloths.

Bisignano owns Babe's, a popular downtown Des Moines restaurant where the Carter crowd has hung out since the Jimmy-Who days. The other night Bisignano and Jody Powell whooped it up for photographers after Carter whipped Ted Kennedy; their pictures showed up in newspapers around the country. Yesterday, Bisignano, a former boxer and wrestler, out on a tuxedo for the first time in his 67 years to whoop it up again -- this time at the White House.

"I'm honored," he said.

If the guest list seemed short on glamor (no Sophia Lorens, no Joe Dimaggios, no Frank Sinatras), it was generous on Italian American millionaires.

Three stood out in the black-tie crowd fast-food magnate Jeno Paulucci of Duluth, Minn., Vincent "Mr. Coffee" Marotta of Cleveland and newspaper publisher Fortune Pope of New York City.

Pope publishes the most powerfull Italian American newspaper in the country (his brother publishes the National Enquirer); Marotta is responsible for turning Joe DiMaggio into the TV commerical star that he is today, and Paulucci started Chun King foods on a $2,500 loan and later sold it for $63 million.

Paulucci is also a fishing crony of Walter Mondale's, described by some ethnic observers on Capitol Hill as "the officiall Italian for the United States."

Certainly Paulucci helped pay off Mondale's 1976 campaign debts. Four years earlier, Paulucci was a Democrat for Nixon, serving as vice chairman under that then-Democrat John Connally.

From labor's ranks last night came Robert A. Georgine, president of the 4.1 million-member Building and Construction Trades Dept., AFL-CIO, whose council hasn't endorsed anybody yet for president but could come February when it meets in Florida. comprises 15 member unions, rarely, if ever, has formly endorsed a candidate for the presidency, one union insider said yesterday: "I wouldn't rule out that possibility. The building and construction trades were very active in Iowa where they did a helluva job for Carter."

Other Italian American faces in last night's crowd: the Enzo Chiaros of Washington's Romeo and Juliet restaurant; Catholic University President Dr. Edmund Pellegrino; U.S. Customs Court Judge Edward Re of New York City; Bridgeport, Conn. Mayor John Mandanici; Connecticut Gov. Ella Grasso; Paul H. Guzzi, chief executive secretary to the governor of Massachusetts; former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Allesandro III, and Ohio Secretary of State Anthony Celebrezze.

Though he won't open shop officially until Feb. 1, there for an on-site inspection of ethnic politics at work was Stephen Aiello of New York City, newly named special White House assistant for ethnic affairs.

Aiello's appointment created a stir last fall when New York magazine reported that the FBI was "uncomfortable" over his "close association with the late mobster Joe Colombo in 1970 and 1971. Aiello was education chairman for Colombo's Italian American Civil Rights League."

From the Hill came seven of the 20 Italian Americans in Congress, led by the dean of that delegation, Rep. Peter Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.).

Not everbody, mind you, was of Italian descent. In the category of "family" came First Brother Billy Carter, making a now rare public White House appearance.

President and Mrs. Carter's guests at last night's White House dinner for Italian Premier Francesco Cossiga: Paola Pansa Cedronio, ambassador of the Italian Republic to the United States Dr. Maurizio Bucci, minister plenipotentiary, director general of economic affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Cesare Gnoli, minister plenipotentiary, deputy director general of political affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Bartolomeo Attolico, minister, Embassy of Italy, & Mr. Attolicoco, Dr. Giovanni Bottiglieri, prefect, chief of protocol of the presidency of the council of ministers Dr. Sergio Berlinguer, minister plenipotentiary, diplomatic adviser to the president of the council of ministers, Brig. Gen. Giorgio Santucci & Mrs. Santucci Dr. Luigi Zanda Loy, personal assistant and chief of the press office Dr. Alfredo Masafa, chief of secretariat and private secretary to the president of the council of ministers Prof. Vittorio Cappelletti, cultural and scientific adviser Dr. Carlo Santini, economic adviser Dr. Cesare Grella, personal physician to the prime minister Dr. Ludovico Ortona, counselor, office of the diplomatic adviser Vice President Walter Mondale Secretary of State & Mrs. Cyrus Vance Attorney General & Mrs. Benjamin Civiletti Secretary of Energy Charles Duncan Zbigniew Brzezinski, assistant to the president for national security affairs, & Mrs. Brzezinski Sen. & Mrs. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) Ella Grasso, governor of Connecticut Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), & guest Peggy Stanziale, daughter Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) Rep. & Mrs. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) Rep. & Mrs. Robert N. Giaimo (d-Conn.) Rep. Martin A. Russo (D-Ill.), & guest, Leone Flosi Rep. & Mrs. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) Rep. Frank J. Guarini (D-N.J.) Robert Carswell, deputy secretary of the treasury & Mrs. Carswell

Richard N. Gardner, American ambassador to Italy, & Mrs. Gardner Albelardo Valdez, chief of protocol & Mrs. Valdez James Rentschler, staff member National Security Council, & Mrs. Rentschler H. Allen Homes, acting assistant secretary of State for European affairs, & Mrs. Holmes A. Vernon Weaver, Admr., Small Business Administration, & Mrs. Weaver Susan B. King, Chmn., Consumer Product Safety Commission, & guest, Jack Blum Edwarad Re, chief judge, United States Customs Court, New York City, & Mrs. Re James Free, special assistant for congressional liason, the White House & guest, Ann Todd Dr. Stephen Aiello, Brooklyn, N.Y., & guest, Fern Lapidus Emanuel Aazenberg, New York City, & guest, Lani Sundsten Lee Balderelli, pres., Valiant Farms, incline Village Nev., & Mrs. Balderelli Mel Barkan, Weston, Mass., & Mrs. Barkan Frank Befera, WDIO-TV, Duluth, Minn. Babe Bisignano, Des Moines, Iowa, & guest, Patricia A Sarcone Gwendolyn Cafritz, Washington, D.C., & guest Robert D. McMillen Billy Carter, Draneville, Ga., & Mrs. Carter Anthony Celebrezze, secretary of state of Ohio, & Mrs. Celebrezze Dr. Andrew Chisholm, vice president, University of South Carolina, & Mrs. Chisholm Lia Cockrell, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, & Mr. Cockrell Thomas J. D'Alesandro, III, attorney, Baltimore, Md., & Mrs. D'Alesandro Enzo DeChiara, Washington, D.C., & Mrs. DeChiara Helen McDonald Exum, vice presiden, The Chattanooga ews-Free Press, % guest, Diane Siskin Nina Gardner, daughter of Ambassador & Mrs. Richard Gardner William W. Gaston, Duluth, Ga., P Mrs. Gaston Robert Georgine, pres., AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Council, & Mrs. Georgine Salavatore R. Gerbasi, Manhasset, N.Y., Mrs. Gerbasi Oliver Gillespie, dir., Living History Farms Museum of Agriculture, Des Moines, Iowa, & Mrs. Gillespie Paul H. Guzzi, chief executive secretaray to the governor of Masachusetts Mrs. Guzzi Tom T. Hall, entertainer, Nashville, Tenn., & Mrs. Hall Frank N. Ikard, Washington, D.C., & Mrs. Ikard Edward L. Maggiacomo, attorney, Propvidence, R.I., & Mrs. Maggiacomo John Mandanici, mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., & Mrs. Madanici Vincent Marotta, pres., North American Systems, Bedford Heights, Ohio, & Mrs. Marotta John W. Mazzola, pres., Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., & Mrs. Mazzola Jeno F. Paulucci, chmm., Paulucci Enterprises Duluth, Minn., a guest, Leda Sandford Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, pres., The Catholic University of America, & Mrs. Pellegrino The Rev. Salvatore Polizzi, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, Mo., & guest, Vincent J. Bommarito Fortune Pope, pub., II Progreso Italo-Americano, New York City Enest J. Preston, Nashville, Tenn., & Mrs. Preston Sal P. Pullia, Maywood Ill., & Mrs. Pullia Nicholas A. Rizzo, Andover, Mass., & Mrs. Rizzo Peter W. Rodino, Ill, attorney, West Long Branch, N.J. Nathaniel Samuels, chmn., Olivetti America, New York City, & Mrs. Samuels Don W. Sands, Duluth, Ga., & Mrs. Sands William O. Taylor, pub., The Boston Globe, & Mrs. Taylor Dr. Henry Viscardi, former chmn., White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals, % Mrs. Viscardi