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Bradbury Science Museum

Quilters capture the essence of Los Alamos

Historic quilt joins the Museum’s collection.
October 1, 2017
Part of the quilt

This image shows just part of the quilt we recently acquired.

Fold rather than roll the quilt, store it in a pH-neutral container, and refold it every two years, without refolding avoiding any previous creases.

A large quilt that had hung in the Lab’s Research Library is now part of the Museum’s collection. The eight-by-seven–foot item was created in 1981 by a committee of 35 women to commemorate the transition from the Lab’s post-war title of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) to being Los Alamos National Laboratory. We were the second facility in the United States to become a national laboratory; Argonne National Laboratory, in Illinois, was established in 1946.

The quilt is very Los Alamos centric, with images of things like the Los Alamos Ranch School and local landscapes, along with a representational image of an atom, the Department of Energy and LASL logos, and even an embroidered “E=MC2” in one of the quilt blocks

The quilt contains more than 50 separate images created with multiple types of embroidery (satin and cross stitch, for instance), appliqué, and even 3D effects for a one-of-a-kind collection that reflects local life at the time.

How do you conserve a quilt?

While our collections specialist, Wendy Strohmeyer, has worked with fabric in the form of signal flags, uniforms, and other items, she wanted to do some research on the best way to care for the precious artifact.

“The best way to store the signal flags is to roll them up, but my early research indicated that doing that to the quilt might put a strain on the embroidery threads, so I knew I needed to dig deeper to figure out how to protect it from damage,” she said.

She ended up speaking with several resources, including a curator from the International Quilt Study Center in Nebraska. The direction she was given was to fold rather than roll the quilt, store it in a pH-neutral container, and refold it every two years, without refolding along any previous creases.

How will she remember to refold it every two years? you might ask. Her collections software includes the ability to set a reminder.

You might be able to use a similar setting on your smartphone if you have a precious quilt to store.