Making Map Quilts

What: Print Maps
Who Developed For: North American Cartographic Information Society (Volunteer)
When: Annually in the Fall, 2013 – 2015.
Why: To join with fellow Cartographers in sharing fun mapping techniques!
How: QGIS and Adobe Creative Suite.


What’s quilting have to do with making maps? When you are part of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), it’s pretty simple: Each year as part of the NACIS Annual Conference, a band of mappers each map part (or a “patch”) of the conference host city to “stitch” together with several other patches. In kind of a spin-off from the Map Off that I did with NACIS back in 2012, I have been part of the group that has been stitching away at these maps since 2013. I enjoy making these maps as they give me an opportunity to work with cartographic styles that I rarely would consider using in most of my work. Read more below to get a better grasp in what I mean!


2015 Map, Detail of St. Paul, Minnesota (Conference was held in nearby Minneapolis)

St. Paul is the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, a classic text capturing much of the feeling that still emanates from the 1920s. Art Deco also began to make its mark in the Roaring 20s, which we can see in much of the architecture and print artwork that came out in the 1920s and 30s. This artistic style was also refreshed in movie-goers’ memories with the 2013 film adaptation of the book, as shown in the theatrical release poster below (Source: Wikipedia).

Key to making the map feel like an Art Deco piece was using some part of the local geography to mimic the abstract designs that highlight the movie poster and many other Art Deco pieces. The street outline data made available through Ramsey County, Minnesota made for an ideal map layer to  provide those highlights. Other map features such as hydrology and parks were given dark colors to complement the rest of the map background. As a finishing touch, I applied a couple of affects in Photoshop to give the map a subtle metallic look.


2014 Map, Age of Building Stock, Suburban Pittsburgh (Detail)

With a need to produce the map in a couple days prior to the print date, I was able to utilize Allegheny County’s building stock data to map the built environment based on age. While Pittsburgh is one of the older large cities in the American interior, the portion that I mapped mostly consists of homes built in the post-World War Two boom. The street layout, which lacks consistent patterning, but is also largely devoid of modern-day cul-de-sacs, is likely a by-product of suburban development coupled with the local topography. In a way foreshadowing the St. Paul map, I chose to utilize a dark base map to support the colorful building footprints layer.


2013 Map, Pickens, South Carolina (Detail from Greenville, SC area map)

I’ve been intrigued by those classic “gas station” road maps for a long time, often drawn with their classic red and blue highways. For this map, I tried to capture that style with modern GIS data, which makes for a relatively simple base map. To add to the historic aspect of this map design, I employed the use of a series of road labels that I designed based on a variety of historic road maps. Beyond the primary roads, I also styled the side roads with dashed lines and light line strokes to better match the common road map styles from earlier in the 20th Century.


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