Union Jack Quilt Plus the Tube Map (A Very Loose Tutorial)

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Photo by Adam Reeve, used with permission. All other photos in this tutorial by Jackie Reeve.

I made this quilt as a Christmas present for my British husband a couple of years ago. He was coveting all the quilts we have lying around the house or that I’ve given away as gifts, so I wanted to make something specifically for him.

Sometime in 2010 I had the idea to make him an English-themed quilt, but my original plan was to piece together a full version of the Tube map out of two and a half inch squares inspired by Oh, Fransson’s Tokyo Subway Map. Then for the back I was going to find a big Union Jack. This is as far as I got with that plan before ending up on the verge of a nervous breakdown:

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It did not work out well.

After months of figuring out the graphing for the map and experimenting with the construction, I abandoned the idea for a full year before the realization hit me that piecing together the flag would be much easier than piecing together the map. I decided to see if I could have one big single piece of fabric printed with the map for the back, a total reversal of my original quilt idea.

And I found First2Print, a NYC/LA company that custom prints fabric at a large scale (Spoonflower could not print the size I needed). It was expensive, but it was also awesome and worth every penny. You can obviously make the back of this quilt out of any fabric you like.

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My foot is here for scale!

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The map fabric was 56″ high (that’s as wide as they could print on the cotton fabric I chose) by about 2.1 yards long. So the size of the map on the back dictated the overall size of the quilt. I scaled everything on the front to fit that one single piece of fabric, so all of my measurements and calculations are based on a quilt that came to roughly 56″ x 72″.

I bought big quantities of solid fabric for the flag because some of the cut pieces needed long, continuous stretches of fabric. It’s not the most efficient way to make a quilt, but it was the nature of the beast. I pieced the Union Jack with Kona cotton solids in White (three yards), Cardinal (three yards), and Royal (I actually bought four yards and maybe used two, I have no idea what I was thinking there).

The seam allowances are all 1/4″.

I used EQ7 (specialty quilting software) to scale a photograph of the Union Jack to the quilt size I wanted. In the end this became a rough guide as I worked since I was honestly no expert with the software. Every time I tried to make this into a quilt pattern with cutting guidelines it turned into a strange, altogether unrecognizable creation. Any picture of the flag with grid lines would be useful, though. At least for a place to start.

Union Jack screen capture

I also used this amazingly helpful Wikipedia page, which I unfortunately didn’t find until after I’d started cutting and sewing. It includes ratios and arrangements and angles. If you are a math person, scaling the measurements from the info on that page would be very straightforward. Especially if you’re not bound to the size of your backing fabric.

I used the software’s grid lines to first figure out width and height for the blue triangles.

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Then I figured out the sizing for the white and red strips in each corner of the flag.

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My measurements still had to be fudged as I evened out the four corner segments. Somehow the same pieces in different corners ended up taller or wider than the first corner section, even if I cut strips exactly the same size. So I had to cut and trim everything down to get 4 even sections. Here are the finished measurements from the top right section of the flag (you would need to add 1/2″ to each measurement here to cover the seam allowances):

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The overall dimensions listed in this last photo do not include the white strips surrounding it. Just the corner section.

These were the four corner sections before I added the St. George’s Cross section.

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My eye goes straight to the bottom sections, where the inner top corners don’t match. Part of the character of a quilt comes from its mistakes—at least that’s what I tell myself.

Once I had the corner pieces evenly made and knew those dimensions, the red and white cross sections were really easy to measure and figure out. The white strips are all 3″ wide when finished, the red are all 8″ wide.

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I finished the flag and then added a white border all the way around to even it out with the size of the map on the back. I stitched it together like a tie quilt because Adam prefers that to all over quilting. Plus I was worried about quilting shrinkage since the front and back were the same size; usually the back of a quilt is a little bigger to account for that when quilting it. I bound it in Royal Kona.

All photos in this tutorial by Jackie Reeve.

This quilt was sewed together really quickly, the calculations were the most time consuming part. It’s a much-loved, much-used addition to our house.

A version of this tutorial appeared on Jackie Reeve’s personal blog, The Orange Room.

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Jackie Reeve is a Core Contributor and former Senior Editor at GeekMom. She's a librarian, a writer, and a quilt designer. She's wife to an Englishman and mom to a little geek girl, and she blogs about life and crafts at The Orange Room. Jackie's obsessed with cardigans and thinks Die Hard is the best Christmas movie there is.