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...