Efficient quilting with leaders and enders
As I start off the new year with fresh energy and a clean”ish” slate, I’m determined to use 2 1/2″ square scraps for leaders and enders. For those of you who aren’t familiar with leaders and enders, they are bits of fabric that are used to start and end your sewing on. It works similar to chain piecing. When you get to the end of your chain piecing, you stitch onto the fabric scrap so that you always have a scrap under you presser foot ready for the next chain piecing session.
Leaders and enders accomplish several things:
- They prevent a thread nest from forming on the underside of your stitching.
- They save thread by eliminating long tails of thread that need to be cut off.
- They maintain a more consistent stitching environment, especially at the beginning of a piece. In other words, there is less chance of wobbling and of fabric being drawn down into the needle hole of the throat plate.
- They force you to clip your thread tails.
- They prevent your needle from unthreading.
- If you piece scraps of fabric for the leaders and enders, you will be piecing together a scrap quilt at the same time.
- They are simply an efficient use of your sewing time!
The queen of leaders and enders is Bonnie Hunter at Quiltville. She has written books and patterns using this technique. You can read an in-depth explanation that she wrote about leaders and enders here.
In the past, I used a folded scrap of fabric (binding scraps are perfect) for the leader/ender. I would reuse that same scrap until it was full and then toss it.
For the past year or so, I have been cutting fabric scraps into 2 1/2″ squares. I sorted them into light and dark piles. Now, I keep them in a little container next to my sewing machine and when I’m ready, I pick one from each pile and match them right sides together. Then I stitch 1/4″ seam as I lead into my regular piecing or end my piecing onto an ender.
Eventually, I end up with a pile of 2-squares that I will then sew together into a 4-patch (again using them as leaders and enders). After doing this for a week, I already have a nice little pile of 2-squares and seven 4-patches.
I wonder how long it will take me to make enough 4-patches for a quilt? And what quilt will I make? I just ordered More Adventures with Leaders and Enders by Bonnie Hunter to give me some ideas for what to do with all of my piles of patches (I’m optimistic).
I really like this idea from Bonnie Hunter (of course). Mine will definitely be scrappier, but I love the diagonal design that comes from the alternate squares.
Have you tried leaders and enders? Some people call them thread savers, others call them starters and stoppers. I think they’re such an efficient use of scraps and sewing time. I’ll keep you posted of my progress throughout the year. Happy EFFICIENT quilting!
I am new to quilting. I have what I hope isn’t a silly question! I had been starting my leader stitches halfway down the scrap fabric to prevent the thread from bunching up at the beginning. So my question is, if you want to make a useable leader for a second quilt by starting the stitching at the beginning edge of the fabric to create a full length 1/4 inch seam, how do you do that without using another leader for your leader? My thread seems to bunch up often at the beginning if I’m chain piecing the small 2 1/2 inch squares of fabric. Thanks!
Sincerely, A Novice Quilter
Julie, I am fairly new to quilting (under a year) and I had NEVER heard of this technique! I am so excited to start doing this the next time I sit down to sew. Thank you for continuing to share some of your older blog posts so that newbies like myself can keep learning.
Great idea, my scrappy bits all end up in a growing pile of muddle in a basket! Time for a tidy up I think and will try to remember your great tip!
Right now I am reusing the same piece of fabric over and over again like you did. I need to get a leader and ender project going!
While I have heard of them I never quite understood how to use them. One question, will the ender of one row become the leader for the next row? I hate the thread nests I sometimes get, and the wobble too. Thanks so much for posting this. Now I’m going to visit Mrs Hunter.
You have a great day.
Yes, Tonia. That’s exactly how it works. The ender becomes the leader and then once its snipped away, it goes into your pile of two-patches. When you get to the end of your chain piecing, grab the next set of squares and they become your enders.
I saw someone commenting on Lori Kennedy’s blog about your post and ended up here :-). Always great to find another blog to inspire LOL. I love the leaders/enders which I discovered on Bonnie Hunter’s site probably 10 years ago. I now have a huge drawer plus a small drawer full of hts’s, four patches, etc to be put into a scrappy project one of these days…just so fun and useful too. And, it saves thread, snarls and my sanity LOL. I also have a drawer for 2″ squares and one for 2 1/2″ squares which I cut from scraps when I get inspired so when I need leaders/enders, I have lots of choices. Now hopefully, I will get to actually doing something with these soon LOL
I have large assortment of oriental fabric, and am looking for ideas on making a quilt with them. Some of the pieces are scenes with 6 x 11 inch pieces which I would like to use along with smaller pieces. Any ideas?
I have used my scrap pieces as leaders for a long time, sure saves on thread as well as retreading the needle.
Julie, what a GREAT idea!! I’ve been using leaders for years. Like yours, they get filled up and tossed. But, this is a terrific use for them. And, in no time at all, a patchwork something can be made. Love it!
Thank you for the terrific ideas! I love your blog! I feel like I know you! My friend has done leader and ended quilts for several years now- her daughter is a police officer and she carries these quilts in her squad car to use as comfort quilts for domestic violence situations. I must get on board! Thanks for the encouragement!
Great idea. I checked out Bonnie Hunter’s website and found some of her leader and ender projects.
Julie…great post. I, too, have learned so much from your blog. Having the thread bunch up at the beginning of a seam has always been such a pain! I’m going to try using a leader/ender now Thanks!!
I have been doing Bonnie’s Leaders and Enders for a while now. I don’t always remember to get a new stack ready when I sit down to sew but when I do I have nice 1″ and 2″ squares sewn together. I made the 4 of July Quilt for my sister when she retired from the AF and found it to be a fun easy project to do. It was a quick sew as well 🙂
Not only do I do this with 2 1/2″ squares, but I also use 2″ squares. I make piles of them until there is no more room for the kitty to sleep in the “box”. She gives me the evil eye and I know there are enough for a top. In 2017 I had enough for a total of 4 quilt tops. All approximately twin size
Thank you, I’m so grateful for this info! I’m working on a patchwork twin quilt and I have thread problems as you said, but I never new about this. I’ll be able to sew two quilts once, this is for me :)!
Hello Julie; I am sorry for commenting at 9 PM. I finished pinning a twin sized quilt this morning and then began quilting it on my 401A Singer. Once again the sewing machine is doing a fantastic job, I on the other hand hurt with arthritis in every possible spot. LOL. Yet, it is so fun to do!! I tried leaders and enders many years ago and just could not get the hang of them. So glad that you mentioned them though, because that is one of the items I wanted to try again this year. I have a lot of pre-cut scrap squares in boxes that need to be used and removed from my fabric storage and this would be a great way to do it. I look forward to seeing your progress throughout the year! Thank you for sharing and have a …well…great day tomorrow!
Another big reason for me to use starter-stopper scraps is so I don’t have to wind the bobbin as often!
Love saving bobbin thread so I don’t run out as often as with long thread tails or glom up the machine when starting out.
Thanks for the great explanation to show others who have been resistive to change.
I’ve been doing Bonnie’s leaders and enders for several years now. It works great, but eventually you need to concentrate on finshing something with them. Right now I’m working on finishing up the split nine patch project from several years ago.
Great idea! So clever….I always have scraps. What a great way to use them up. Thank you.
Julie, Julie, just when I thought that there was “nothing new under the sun,” here you come along with the idea of using 2.5″ squares as leaders and enders as a beginning of another quilt altogether!!!! (I’m not a big fan of scrappy quilts, but there is no reason that I couldn’t “plan” my 2.5″ squares to plan a quilt to my liking!) Thank you for the idea!
Leaders and Enders are a great idea and I keep thinking about doing them but…story of my life…I still haven’t taken the plunge. This may be the push I needed. Thanks.
Thanks for the great explanation of leaders and enders!
I started using leaders and enders fairly recently. I wonder if I would be better offing using the same size pieces all the time. Right now I do it by project and I find that I get to a point where I need to work on that project because the pieces have grown past leader and ender size, and that takes away from other piecing. But I do like having a leader/ender project going. Some of the pluses on your list are things I hadn’t thought about!
Thank you for the feature on leaders and enders. I have used the idea if I was having a problem but never would have thought of doing something useful with them.
Julie, thank you for sharing this information. I am going to start doing this too! I’ve used leaders, but not enders. And using them for another quilt is a great idea! I really enjoy your emails & blog. You have taught me a lot! Sincerely, Sandy
I have been cutting off triangles making flying geese on several projects lately, I have been using these as leaders and enders making half square triangles. There is a quilt in the book No Scrap Left Behind by Amanda Jean Nyberg that I thought would be fun to make when I have accumulated enough. I ordered the book you mentioned from the library, thanks for the info.
I have been cutting leftover scraps into the largest square that it will accommodate up to 6-1/2″ for a long time. I have made many quilts with all sizes, the most popular being 1-1/2″, 2″, 2-1/2″, 3″, 3-1/2″. One I am hoping to finish soon is 100 1-1/2″ rows, 100 rows – a giant quilt, onto which I am embroidering deer, evergreen trees and other woodsy graphics. My quilt is 100″ x 100″ – I got the idea at a visit to Pennsylvania many years ago, seeing the work of the Amish.
I am just starting to get in the habit of the leaders and Enders. They are making a big difference and what an amazing suggestion for the four patch blocks. That’s why I read your blog!
How very clever. I had heard of leaders and Enders but didn’t realise there was such a long list of benefits. Here I was thinking it was just to save thread. I’ll have to get some sorted ready to go.
Glad to see I’m not the only one with a cute mug rug but the coffee cup still in the table. Lol
Over the years, I’ve made many a quilt using this technique. For those that are not familiar, they’ll be very grateful for this post! Well done.
Fabulous idea! Thank you so much. I am frequently bother by all those strings!
Your little blocks are cute already. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do in the end with them.
I call them leaders and enders but had a quilting friend who called them sewing bunnies. That sounds much nicer.
I’ve recently reminded myself (about a month ago) to start sewing leaders and enders. I save tiny, medium and larger scraps of differenti sizes and just sew them together (improv.)
A friend has been doing the leaders & enders for quite awhile. Last year she made 4 queen size quilts with the 4 patch blocks she had made.
What a marvelous idea Julie! I use the traditional leader/ender, but have been cutting 2.5 inch squares with no purpose.
This is a great tip and it would be fun to see a follow up to this post. I am curious to know what you come up with. I would also think that people tend to use similar colors for their quilts, so it seems possible that something scrappy could be put together and turn out beautiful. I’ll stay tuned!
Julie since I found your web page I have learned some many things I can not believe it. I just can not stop sewing, in fact I made use of my slow cooker for 5 days. now I get this email about leaders and enders, I will stay up all night with info. Thanks a lot Beverly ps. I started a log book, so excited.
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