Remember when you were a kid, and you threw blankets over chairs to make tents? Emily Fischer did that too, but she didn’t think of them as a place to hide. She was creating peaks and valleys — topography — because what she saw was a real-life map. She’s been playing with them ever since, first as an architect, and now as the creator of beautiful quilts of Brooklyn neighborhoods called Soft-Maps.
“Maps have always fascinated me,” says Fischer, who lives in Fort Greene. “And architectural drawings are just maps — you’re just making information for other people to build from. So in a way architects are cartographers.”
Fischer takes this mindset literally. While working as an architect she created wallpaper for Frank Gehry’s IAC headquarters on the West Side Highway, using nautical charts to map Barry Diller’s companies (before he sold them off). Then she was laid off this past spring, and in need of new work, she returned to a craft she grew up with in the Midwest — quilting. The venture so far has been a critical success; she just won Apartment Therapy’s Design Showcase Award.
The idea of creating a map on a quilt came to her about seven years ago, when her mother’s eyesight began failing. “All of my projects after that were about the other senses,” she says, and touch was one of the most important to her. (Haptic Lab, the name of her company, refers to touch.) Fischer’s “experiments in tactile wayfinding” began with a map of Detroit, where she went to school, but here in New York she’s focused on the neighborhoods around her: Park Slope, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, and Williamsburg.
These are the “readymade” maps you can choose for a machine-made quilt — machine being a slight euphemism, since the women she’s hired to take over the automated part of her business have to babysit the machines as the quilts are being made, so intricate is the stitching involved. After the machine work, Fischer also hand embroiders each Soft-Map by stitching in the bridges, and marking up to five important places in your hood. (As a wedding present, one group of friends had her mark all of their apartments, and their favorite bar.)
She also makes the quilts by hand (you pick the place, colors, borders, even thread). But unlike the more durable, washable quilts, these are often hung on walls as art. The length of time it takes to create one — two to three months by hand, compared to a week by machine — can feel like an eternity for anxious recipients, so she sends pictures of the work in progress.
But pictures don’t do justice to the Soft-Maps, really. The best way to see the striking yet subtle blankets is in person, which is possible now that she’s selling them at the Brooklyn Flea in Dumbo (where we’ll be next weekend!). It makes sense, then, that Dumbo is the most popular Soft-Map so far. “I think there’s a lot of people nesting in Dumbo,” says Fischer. “But Park Slope is the most beautiful, because of the grid area. It’s really cool looking.”
Soft-Maps, prices range from $300-$900 for machine-made quilts, and $600-$3200 for handmade.