Leaders & Enders

Leaders & enders--I had heard of them several times in quilting books, but remained unconvinced that they were a good idea. It seemed like the quilt police were telling me what to do and I didn't really see the point. I recently became a convert, though, and I thought I would share why.

Leaders and enders are scraps of fabric that you put through your machine at the beginning and end of a batch of chain piecing. The theory is that prevents the little rat's nest of threads under your first pair of pieces in the chain that adds bulk and wastes thread. I have an automatic cutter on my machine that leaves pretty short thread tails, so I had just dismissed those nests as an unavoidable nuisance--there was no way I was going to take the extra time to sew across a scrap of fabric at the beginning and end of my chains.

However, I came across the idea that instead of using a scrap of fabric for a leader or ender that just becomes increasingly clogged with thread and winds up in the trash, you could actually feed a matched pair of pieces from your scrap bin or a different quilt through at the beginning and end of chain piecing. This way, if you have a bunch of pieces cut up and ready to go beside your machine, a quilt will slowly build itself in the background. When you are ready for that quilt to become your main project, a good chunk of it will already be finished!

I got the idea from Bonnie Hunter of Quiltville.com. I requested her book, "Adventures with Leaders & Enders: Make More Quilts in Less Time!" out of the library right away and read it (I had to request it by interlibrary loan). I liked it so much that I bought it--and I rarely buy quilt books so that is saying a lot.

The patterns in the book are more on the traditional side, but lately I have been feeling more traditional anyway (will I get kicked out of the MQG for saying that?). I can see myself making most of the quilts in this book over time. You can read more on Bonnie's Leaders & Enders page, where she talks about her inspiration and shows a few of the twelve quilts that are in the book.

She has a large number of scrap patterns and tutorials on her website as well if you look in the right sidebar. I read the Crumbs, Crumbs, Crumbs page many years ago and it was particularly dangerous for making me keep every single tiny scrap in the hopes of using it later.

Anyway, I began putting the leader & ender system to use right away. Right now I am working on a very big quilt that uses the square on a rectangle method of making flying geese. This technique is great, but you wind up with a lot of leftover triangles (in my case, 800).

So, instead of stuffing these triangles into a scrap bin where they would get wrinkled and take up space and guilt me, I kept them paired as they were originally when I trimmed them from the geese and stacked them beside my machine. Throughout the course of finishing my quilt top, I have nearly finished piecing all of these bonus triangles into 400 two inch half-square triangles. That is almost another quilt in itself!

I have also "kitted up" my next quilt, which means I have cut it all out and it isn't an active project, but it is ready to go. This makes it very easy to grab more pieces for leaders & enders. That project is from her book "Scraps & Shirttails: Reuse, Re-pupose, Recycle! The Art of 'Quilting Green'", which is another post entirely...


  1. I also follow Bonnie Hunter and love this book. For the same triangles from flying geese I find it even easier to run the square through twice and then cut the triangles off between the lines so they are already sewn together while being stabilized in the square.

  2. Looks like a good book to check out - thanks! I've also started saving those pesky flying geese leftovers in hopes of making a quilt from them someday.


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