New Year, New Inspiration – the Zaha Hadid project

Al Janoub Stadium, Zaha Hadid Architects

The fluid lines in Zaha Hadid’s architectural designs seem to lend themselves so well to a quilting project! In this week’s project, therefore, the star of the show will be curving lines. There are two different designs you can try your hand at: one inspired by the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar, and one by the interior of Beijing’s Daxing Airport.

The description below is for a hand-quilting project. However, if you love your machine and hand-quilting is not for you, then obviously nothing is going to stop you from selecting a thread colour you love and machine-quilting these designs. I do like hand-quilting; it takes longer, for sure, but I find it more relaxing, less noisy and I can do it while watching television!


Today’s projects are based on two of Zaha Hadid’s designs from the end of her career: the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar and Beijing’s Daxing Airport. Both buildings are iconic and really show off why Hadid acquired the nickname ‘Queen of the Curve’. The brief for the Al Janoub stadium included a demand that the design should reflect the local culture: so the final design was inspired by the sails and hulls of the traditional dhow boats that were used on the Persian Gulf by pearl divers. The terminal building for Daxing Airport holds many intricate designs; however I have kept it fairly simple by choosing a tree-like design as my inspiration.

For this project you will need:

  • white or light fabric, light enough to see the design through it for tracing purposes, about A4 paper size
  • thin wadding to the same size
  • backing fabric to the same size, anything you like
  • dark-coloured thread: this could be special quilting thread or two strands of embroidery thread
  • fabric marking pen or pencil
  • printer if you want to print the design
Al Janoub Stadium, Qatar, Zaha Hadid Architects

You can access the PDF for the Al Janoub design here:

and here is the PDF for the Daxing design:

Alternatively, you can of course sketch your own design. If you do use one of the PDFs, make sure your printer settings are set to print at 100%.

A note on hand-quilting

Some people can find hand-quilting off-putting as there can be a feeling that there is ‘a certain way’ to do it and there is no point in doing it unless you can achieve perfection. In older quilting books you can still find prescriptions about the exact length of stitches! Now, if you love perfection and you want all of your stitches to be exactly the same length, go for it!

Personally, I try to achieve an even look and I have got better at doing this over time. However, I’m not going to lose sleep over a stitch that is a little longer or shorter or whether the back looks perfect. I hand-quilt most of my work and I use a technique that works for me. Equally, there are special quilting needles that you can buy. I have tried them and I can’t get on with them if they are too short. Maybe you will! I like to use a ‘Black Gold’ handsewing needle as they have a special coating that reduces friction and therefore the effort it takes to go through the quilt sandwich. Careful, they are really sharp!

For me, if the stitching is a little wonky or not quite the same length, that gives the quilt its charm. We are not machines and slight imperfections can actually heighten the attractiveness of the quilt, in my opinion! Having said that, if you want perfection, keep on practising; or use a machine (machine-quilting still takes lots of practice!).

Hand-quilting can sometimes end up hurting your fingers and so I sometimes use a thimble to push the needle through. Different types of thimbles are available; I haven’t found the perfect one for me yet, so I use a basic metal one that I slip on and off my index finger. A little slow, but it saves my skin.

Making your quilt

Choose which design you are going to stitch. I did this by cat selection.

Print or sketch your design (use dark lines).

Take your white/pale fabric, lay it over the design and trace the line with a fabric marker pen or pencil (I used a ceramic-based pen, but found it difficult to erase the lines afterwards!).

Once you have copied the design, make the quilt sandwich by layering the top fabric, wadding (mine was very thin) and backing fabric. You could use adhesive to hold the sandwich together, but since it was such a small project I just used pins around the outline of the design to hold the layers in place.

Now you can start stitching! Choose a high contrast colour for your thread and start by making the outline first. Make a knot at the end of your thread and snip off the little ‘tail’ as this end is going to be ‘hidden’ inside the sandwich, but could be visible through the light fabric.

Pick the location where you want the thread to emerge (above). Pull the thread through until you get as far as the knot (see below).

Give a gentle tug and pull the knot into the sandwich. This takes a bit of practice – you may accidentally break the thread or pull the knot all the way through and out again if you pull too hard. With the right amount of ‘tug’ your knot should get wedged inside the quilt sandwich. If you find this totally impossible to achieve, you can always keep the knots at the back of the work.

Try to pick up three stitches in one go with your needle to achieve an even look, as shown below:

Do check that you are catching all three layers in your stitch, ie that the needle goes through the backing fabric as well. If you want to finish a line, tie a small knot close to the surface of the fabric, and repeat the knot tug trick you did to start the line.

Now fill in the design gradually. If you do this in phases, it allows you to decide whether you prefer a ‘less is more’ look, and whether you want to keep the design simpler and more uncluttered:

Keep going until you have quilted all the lines you want. In my Al Janoub design, I chose contrasting colours to bring out the design more clearly.

Once you have quilted all lines, erase any visible marked lines – you may have to wet the fabric.

Using your quilt

Et voila! Your very own Zaha Hadid inspired quilt. You can use your quilt in a multitude of different ways: buy a photoframe and frame it; use it as the front of a tote; edge it and add a small hanging sleeve and stick it on the wall; use it as the front of a cushion. I hope you have enjoyed this foray into hand-quilting and architectural design!

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