Map Quilts Planning and Execution

I’ve made three map quilts – one seems to lead to another. The first is I Left My Heart in Africa, and I will put a photo up as soon as I can get one taken. The quilt is so huge that photographing it will require hanging it off a balcony – and it will take at least two people. It’s a big quilt.

When I asked my niece if she would ever like a quilt, she immediately said she knew just what she wanted, a Morocco quilt. She will photograph it next time she is home – it’s another photo that got lost in the last move, which is why I am putting all this online.

A local friend asked if I would do a map of Turkey for her, and I was happy to do it; she is a dear woman and . . . I like Turkey, too.

Thinking about a map quilt takes longer than actually doing it.

The very first thing is that you get an Atlas and some graph paper and do a basic outline of the country you are going to do – or continent, as in the case of Africa. Before you make the map, you need to know about how big you want the squares to be – for example, I needed 3 1/2 inch blocks for the Africa quilt to use some of the giraffe fabric I wanted to use, and that was the minimum I could make work.

Once you have drawn the country, you know how many squares you are going to need. I use only squares and half squares for the outline, and on Morocco, I made mountains using a stitch and flip technique.


You will need a project wall to put the rows up on as you sew them. Every two rows sew together, and sew every two the the group above.

You need a lot of fabrics. Where there is sea, you need to have a variety of very lights, to go around the coastline, and a lot more mediums, and a good variety of darks. Tell your friends you will accept any and all scraps that can be used as water, from the very lightest colors to the very darkest.

(With the Africa quilt, friends came up with all kinds of great scraps, including some Egyptian scraps and African symbol scraps. Very cool.)

Where there is land, I use yellow/sand/beige, and, like the water, I have the lightest colors closest to the land mass. Countries surrounding the country you are highlighting get nothing but blah colors, so that the featured color stands out.

Around the edges of the country or continent, I use the darkest colors; the contrast between the dark and light makes the country pop out.

You’ll need to count the number of half square triangles that are land and sea, and the number of half square triangles that are land/land and prepare the half square triangles before you actually start assembling the quilt top.

I also count the land, half triangles and sea/other land squares and put the number in each row. Saves time.

If there are particular motifs you want to include, you have to make them first, unless you intend to applique them later. For the Turkey quilt, my friend wanted a single engine plane and a sailboat, which I made into a dhow. I added the protection against the evil eye and the hand of Fatima. Block them in on the graph.

I usually divide the graph into quarters, and I plan a dominant color for each sector. You will also want transition fabrics to get you from one color to the next.

If you have a large block of land or sea and you want to put something in it, you need to plan that ahead of time, too. In my neices Morocco quilt, there was a large desert area that I couldn’t do anything about (in a rectangular quilt) so I used slightly lighter squares and made a great big camel. I also quilted around it. I told her there was a camel in the quilt, but it was months before she found it – you had to be standing far enough away, and it would pop into view! So – have some fun with this.

Start cutting your squares. You aren’t going to cut the exact number you need, because you need to have lots and lots to choose from, so you cut and cut and cut so that you have masses of squares.

When you sit down to put together the quilt, figure out what dominant color group you will be starting with, and have those closest to you.



As you finish each row, cross it off. As you start the next row, make sure there are no two identical squares next to each other, or above or below.

NE Corner

NW Corner

SW Corner

SW Corner

Sea shading from light to dark

Land shading into Syria

The quilting is easy – you stitch in the ditch on the landmass, and you can stitch waves or stipple or free motion in the sea and land.


Finished project:


14 thoughts on “Map Quilts Planning and Execution

  1. Sarah Sajjabbi says:

    I would like to know do you have a pattern for the Map of Afirca? If so do you have a free pattern to share. Thanks for your time. Sarah

  2. Sarah Sajjabbi says:

    I would like to know if you have the Map of Africa. If so, could please kindly help me with your pattern. I would like to make a quilt with it. Thanks Sarah

  3. worldquilter says:

    Welcome, Sarah – I don’t have the pattern any longer – passed it along to a friend. It was just a sheet of graph paper, like the one you see above for Turkey. A sheet of graph paper and an atlas – it takes minutes. You can do it!

    • Kate Los says:

      I need a very large Atlas for one of the USA, any tips? I want my final size to be about 2 feet high by 3 feet long.

      • WorldQulter says:

        Kate, that is very small compared to the quilts I do. Even in one inch squares, I don’t know that you could do much detail. The only way to know for sure is to grab some squared paper (I buy it in bulk tablets at places like Office Depot) and just start working. Use a map and estimate using only straight lines and half square triangle lines.

  4. I just saw your blog today and am fascinated with the idea of the map quilts. How did you get this idea?

  5. worldquilter says:

    Hi Violette, and welcome!

    My husband loves Africa – we go there often. And my original quilting instructor gave us lots of good advice, including “make sure one of your earliest quilts is for your husband, because it is an expensive hobby and you will need his support.”

    She was right!

    Once my husband got “I Left My Heart in Africa,” he has supported me full steam ahead!

    I really need to get it photographed and added to this blog.

    Anyway, all you really need is graph paper and an atlas. And then lots and lots of scraps!

  6. Omahja says:

    hi, I think I have a picture of the Africa quilt we took when we were basting it and after you gave it to your hubby. I’m visiting in Germany now so when I get home I’ll send it to youl..

  7. Omahja says:

    hi, I think I have a picture of the Africa quilt we took when we were basting it and after you gave it to your hubby. I’m visiting in Germany now so when I get home I’ll send it to youl..

  8. worldquilter says:

    Woooo Hoooooooooo! I know who you have to be, given all the clues! Very cool, and you are right, dear one, you were so gracious about helping baste that monstrousity!

    I won a “Highly Commended” award on it in a recent quilt show!

  9. Sharon Williams says:

    Very, very interesting. Thank you for the comments

  10. Carol Smith says:

    Hello, and thank you for the inspiration! My husband and I took a retirement trip last year, and now I am making a map quilt to commemorate it. We drove from Athens, Ontario to Chicago, then down route 66 to L.A, up the west coast to Vancouver, BC, then across Canada to home again. It was 13000 km in 5 weeks, and I collected fabrics all the way. It is by far the most challenging project I have undertaken, but seeing your Africa quilt has given me the impetus and courage to attempt it. I put a grid over a map of North America and am in the process of creating the map with 3 inch (2.5 inch finished) blocks. If you are interested, I will keep you posted.
    Thanks again,
    Carol Smith, Ontario, Canada

  11. worldquilter says:

    Carol – Keep me posted! I am fascinated! I want to see how you embellish to show your trip. And Route 66! I’ve always wanted to do that. Your quilt is going to be amazing!

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