Quilts for the Feel of Your City

How better to get to know your hometown than to wrap yourself in a quilt that captures its every twist and turn?

By Kristin Belz April 1, 2013

A quilt of New York City, hand-stitched in India for Haptic Lab, a city quilt company from Brooklyn. Portland comes in a DIY kit, not a ready-made quilt.

Here's a comforting concept: a quilt depicting the map of your favorite city. Haptic Lab sells hand-stitched quilts of major cities and quilt patterns for city quilts you can make yourself. I spotted the Portland pattern at Modern Domestic. As an admitted map nerd, I was attracted even to the packaging: a crisp vellum envelope through which you could just make out the black ink lines of the streets of Stumptown on the map within. What a cool idea.

Haptic Lab is a small company out of Brooklyn, founded in 2009 by a young architect, Emily Fischer. The seed of the company was Soft-Maps, which she began in 2002 “as an academic experiment in tactile wayfinding,” with quilts “inspired by [her] mother Peggy, who had begun losing her eyesight from complications of glaucoma.” 

"Haptic" means detecting a pattern by touch, and "refers to the sense of touch that includes the entire body, inside and out; it is also the mechanism we employ to situate our bodies in space, feeling the world around us."

Haptic Lab sells several City Quilts, hand-stitched and cuddle-ready: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City, Brooklyn (sold out – what does that tell you?), London, Paris, Rome... Portland, however, is only available in DIY pattern form (what does that tell you?). 

Detail of a custom quilt from Haptic Lab: Penobscot Bay, Maine.

Modern Domestic co-owner Michelle Healy says she's making one of the Portland quilts, and admits it’s rather a challenge. She's been doing it on a regular tabletop sewing machine, but thinks the large scale, industrial strength quilting machine they have at the shop would make the project more manageable. (On a regular machine, you have to move the unwieldy quilt through the tiny needle area of the machine; on a quilting machine, you "draw" the pattern by moving the quilting arm over the fabric, which stays in one place on the machine's ample frame.)

The quilts are hand-stitched in India (by "fair labor partners") and range in price from $250 (the Great Lakes) to the mid-$400s. (Custom orders are more.) DIY Patterns kits are about $40 or so. Baby quilts are also available (the city map is printed in color rather than quilted in stitching, however), and about $145 for a 42" x 36" size. Portland is available in the baby quilt version. What does that tell you?!

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