Amy from Badskirt designed this Super-Size Castle Block for Quilting Month, and we can’t wait to pick our fabrics and try it out! Amy has joined us many times before, as a board member, in interviews, with our Oliver + S Sew-Along and most recently in our Mini Quilt Challenge. (Oh! We can’t forget the Fabric Mobile and the Spring Chicken too!) Amy is a multi-talented sewist and individual, thoughtful in all she does… We’re big fans here. Just look at some of Amy’s quilts from last year!
Enjoy the Super-Size Castle Block with free PDF pattern templates for you to download. Amy takes you step-by-step through point-to-point sewing so you can feel confident and precise! Love the idea of big blocks? Check out our Super-Size Shoo-Fly Quilt, Fish Baby Log Cabin Quilt and our extra-large Modern BOM 2 series.
Since I first began quilting in 2008, I’ve kept my eye on vintage quilts on Etsy and eBay for inspiration. In that time, I’ve repeatedly been drawn to traditional Castle Wall quilts. One in particular with its scrappy feedsacks and questionable seams has always stood out to me. While they’ve long inspired me, they’ve also intimidated me with their mess of Y seams. With the new year just kicking off, it seems like a great time to push our skills and make a super-size version. At 20.5”, one block would make a terrific cushion cover. If you’re really keen, you’ll have a full quilt in no time.
Because Y seams are still daunting for many people, I’ve broken this tutorial into two sections. The first talks about point-to-point sewing which is the method I like to use to machine piece Y seam projects. The second section will guide you through your own super-size castle block.
About Point-to-Point Sewing
Let me begin by saying that point-to-point sewing isn’t new. It is a technique favored by many hand patchworkers, but for some reason many machine piecers are reluctant to give it a go. They are put off by the frequent starts and stops, as well as the need to trim threads. I’ve found a bit of satisfaction though in slowing down and enjoying the process as much as the final product.
So what exactly is point-to-point sewing? And how does it differ to the machine piecing that you are probably used to? With typical machine piecing, we line up our patchwork pieces and zoom them through the machine, sewing across the seam allowances as we go. It’s a fast way of sewing, and it means we don’t have to think about locking our stitches at each step. We stack up our fabrics and chain piece them without pause. Fast is good, but the unfortunate side effect is that our seams aren’t very maneuverable and can’t be manipulated when we need to form sharp angles or Y seams.
With point-to-point sewing, we instead start and stop at corner points formed by the cross hairs of the seam allowance. This is the visible corner of your patchwork. In other words, we sew only along the visible edge of the fabric and not into the seam allowance as you would when chain piecing.
This has huge advantages when you are piecing Y seams because you can pivot the fabrics around as you work. It also gives you tremendous freedom in choosing the orientation of pressed seams since they aren’t locked in place by oversew. This technique will not only help you with this block, but should help when you are piecing any shape where seams meet at angles other than 90 degrees.
How to Sew Point-to-Point
The first step in sewing point-to-point is marking your points. Some templates already provide marked holes for this purpose. Other times, you’ll need to work it out for yourself. I want to show you how to work it out because I think understanding the fundamentals will make you a better sewist in the long run and will help you design your own templates in the future.
A few marking tips before we get started:
1. You can make your marks with the marking tool of your choice. I use either a #2 pencil or disappearing Chako fabric marker. On very dark fabrics, I use a Hera marker.
2. Make sure you mark the wrong side of your fabric. You will be sewing with the right sides facing each other. Marking the wrong side will help you to see what you are doing.
3. Use an accurate ruler to measure the 1/4” seam allowances for your patchwork pieces.
Begin by laying your fabric wrong side up on a table. Using a ruler, carefully align the outer edge with the rulers 1/4” marking. Using a marking tool make a hatch line near the outer edges of your fabric piece.
Rotate the fabric piece and make the same hatch marks on the remaining sides. The result will be little cross hairs that mark the visible corners of your patchwork without the seam allowance. From now on when I talk about the corner point or point-to-point sewing, I am referring to the points defined by the intersection of these cross hairs.
Now that our corner points are marked, we want to join our fabric pieces together. And a few sewing tips for point-to-point sewing:
1. When joining fabrics together along an edge, the distance between the corner points will be the same. Always join the two pieces so the corner points of both fabrics are directly aligned.
2. Never stitch in the seam allowances. If you sew into the the seam allowance, all of the benefits of point-to-point sewing are lost.
3. Lock your stitches. Because we aren’t sewing into the seam allowance, your stitches won’t be secured by cross directional stitching. Every start and stop needs to be secured. I use the locking stitch feature on my Bernina (#5). If you don’t have that feature you can do five zero length stitches at the start and stop of each sewing run. Alternatively you can sew forward, then backstitch, then progress forward again. Be careful not to backstitch or sew into the seam allowances. Try these methods on scrap fabric to find out which feels more comfortable and secure for you.
4. Pins are your friend. While I generally do not pin straight edges that I am quilting, point-to-point sewing is an exception. Because of the awkward angles involved, lining up the corner points isn’t always intuitive. In addition to pinning the corners points, I usually add one more pin to the center to keep the other pins from slipping out.
5. Because we are excluding the seam allowances in our sewing, you should only have two layers of fabric under your needle at a time. Use tweezers and pins to help pivot seam allowances or nearby fabrics out of the way.
6. Trim your threads as you go to avoid baubles of chaos at corners.
7. Pivot as you go. As you work your way through the Y seams, you can rotate fabric around the sewn corner points. Work from the sewn point towards the open edge. This will make the edges easier to align and sew.
8. It is not necessary to press seams as you work, but you might find it more manageable than pressing them all at the end.
Begin sewing at a corner point, locking your stitches. Proceed forward maintaining your 1/4” seam allowance along the edge until you reach the opposite corner point and then lock your seam in place. It’s that simple.
At complicated joins, you may need to rotate or pin the seam allowance out of the way to ensure you are only sewing through two layers of fabric and not constricting any seams or nearby fabric.
And that’s all there is to it! By working from point-to-point, you’ll find Y seams a cinch to tackle. Now that we know the basics, let’s make a super-sized block!
Making a Super-Size Castle Block
First, download and print the Super-Size Castle Block template.
Cutting Directions and Fabric Requirements:
- 1 Octagon for Center : 9.0” square
- 8 Inner Ring Squares : fat eighth or 4” WOF (width of fabric) strip
- 8 Feature Diamonds : fat eighth or 3” WOF strip
- 8 Outer Ring Trapezoids : fat quarter or 6” WOF strip
- 4 Corner Triangle : fat quarter or 6.5” WOF strip
*Fabric requirements are generous and you will have some fabric leftover for other blocks. Allow additional fabric for fussy cutting or aligning geometric prints, if desired.
Cutting the Octagon (1)
Cut out the two octagon template pieces and join at the marked line to create a full template. Use this template to cut one octagon for your block.
Cutting the Squares (8)
From the fat eighth or 4” strip, cut eight 4” squares manually or use the template provided.
Cutting the Diamonds (8)
If you aren’t already working with width of fabric cuts, begin by creating long 3” strips from your fabric. Using the template provided, cut eight diamonds from the 3” strip(s). To save fabric, you can line them up angled edge to angled edge.
Cutting the Trapezoids (8)
Begin by creating long 3” strips from your fabric. Using the template provided, cut eight trapezoids from the 3” strips. These can be cut edge to edge to save fabric by rotating the template 180 degrees.
Cutting the Triangles (4)
Use the template provided to cut four triangles. Again, you can save fabric by starting with a 6.5” strip and rotating the triangle 180 degrees as you cut.
You should have a total of 29 pieces for your super-size castle block and are now ready to sew.
Sewing Directions for the Super-Size Castle
Creating the Wings
Begin by creating four wing units. Each wing consists of two diamonds, one square and one trapezoid.
Using your marked points as guides, pin a diamond to one side of the square. Your diamond might slightly overhang the edge of the square; do not worry about that. Your block will work out perfectly as long as your marked corner points are aligned.
Sew the diamond in place from point-to-point as described above. Repeat with the other diamond on the opposite side of the square. Press seams towards the diamonds.
Trim away the diamond point that hangs below the bottom of the square. This will reduce bulk later when we attach the wing unit to the octagon.
To sew the trapezoid in place, we are going to begin by attaching it to the center of the wings along its short center edge.
Pin and sew the trapezoid at the corner points to the top edge of the square being careful not to catch the seam allowance. Only pin and sew the short center edge at this stage.
After you have sewn the center edge from point-to-point, flip the trapezoid outward and pin the angled edges.
Because you haven’t sewn in the seam allowances, you should be able to pivot at the corner point to align the marked points. Sew this edge. Repeat for the other angled edge of the trapezoid.
Press your seam allowances away from the trapezoid.
Again trim away any dog ears caused by the diamonds. This is your first wing unit. You will need to create four of these for the block.
Joining the Remaining Squares and Wings to the Octagon
Now we want to add the remaining squares the center octagon. Begin by attaching two squares to the octagon positioned as shown. As before, use point-to-point sewing which will help with the Y seams.
Flip the seam open. If you want to press seams at this stage, press them towards the squares. Next attach the first wing between the two squares using a technique similar to the last step.
First align the short center section with the free edge of the octagon and sew from corner point to corner point. Remember to carefully pin the seam allowances out of the way so you are only sewing through two layers of fabric.
As with the trapezoid in the previous section, open up this seam and pivot at the corner points.
When you pivot, you want to align the side of the square with the edge of the diamond. It might feel awkward at first, but you should be able to rotate things so they lie smoothly as shown.
Continue to work your way around the octagon adding the squares and wings. When you have finished, you’ll have four trapezoids remaining. These are added using exactly the same method used for the wings.
Once these are attached, you’ll have a super-size octagon.
The last step is to add the corner triangles. As this is the last join for this block, if you are tired of point-to-point sewing at this stage feel free to sew the corners using the typical machine piecing method.
And with that, you’re ready to turn your super-sized castle into a cushion cover or forge ahead working on a quilt. I’ll warn you that they are addictive. If you try out these super-size blocks, don’t forget to leave links to your work in the comments or share them in the Sew Mama Sew Flickr group. I’d love to see what you’ve made. I’m waiting on more fabric to arrive to finish up my quilt!
This post is sponsored by Warp & Weft, a Canadian-based company featuring exquisite 100% woven cotton fabrics; they are passionate about textile and design. Warp & Weft goes to great lengths to find prints that are not only of exceptional beauty and quality but that have a compelling story to tell.