Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Leaders and Enders

As of yesterday (Monday) I've taught two lessons of another five-lesson First Time Quiltmaking classes through the Lifelong Learning College here in The Villages. I'm happy to say that I have 21 enthusiastic quilters! After teaching this series of lessons 34 times now (Oh my gosh!) if there's one thing I've learned, it's that each class is different. No matter if my "game" is on or not, it's the students who determine the class environment by their attitudes, enthusiasm, and even the questions they ask. I'm happy to say that this group is excited and enthused about learning, so they're making my life easy. It doesn't hurt either that when I say something funny, they giggle in the right places!

In classes, I always share as much as possible from my 30-plus years of quiltmaking knowledge. In this class I've mentioned "leaders and enders" a couple times. If you aren't familiar with the term, leaders and enders are simply a way - while you're working on a project - to, in-between sewing together project pieces, you feed pre-cut scraps into your sewing machine to reduce or completely eliminate the need to clip threads. All credit for this term and method is given to quilter Bonnie Hunter

For several years now, I've been using leaders and enters as I sew other items. That means that no matter what project I'm working on, when I've completed a seam, I feed a pair of 1-1/2" X 1-1/2" fabric scraps (right sides together) into the machine... to "hold" the thread until I'm ready to sew again.

For me, 1-1/2" X 1-1/2" squares are the optimum size - small and manageable. But I admire and respect those quilters who choose to make their leaders and enders 2-1/2" X 2-1/2" or some other small size. Perhaps I can blame my preference for these small squares on my German heritage and upbringing. I'm being frugal, you know. 

In this photo you can see my sewing progression. I begin with a 1-1/2" X 1-1/2" square. I then sew two of them together to make a pair, or "twosie." Next I sew twosies together to make a "foursie," then two foursies are sewn together to make an "eightsie." Lastly, I sew together two pairs of eightsies to make a 16-patch block. Each completed block measures 4-1/2" X 4-1/2".

I began sewing these leaders and enders on October 24, 2011. I know this because I wrote the date on a small piece of paper and dropped it into my scrap basket. 

I swear that since I began sewing these, the basket has never reduced in fullness! No doubt because I am always cutting my smallest leftover scraps as I go along... continually adding to this basket.

These are the 16-patch blocks I've made, and I have 151 of them sewn right now. The big question is what to do with them! 

I've thought about numerous layouts - sashed, or on point with sashing. But those designs are too traditional and expected. I'm looking for a modern layout... something that's unexpected. Though I haven't hit on it yet, I'm in no hurry. 

I hope that if nothing else, this post serves to point out that even the smallest bits of fabric have value. Make a habit of dicing all your leftover bits from project-cutting, and sew them together as leaders and enders. As my friend Carla says, "It's like making a free quilt!" Linda


  1. Wonderfully expressed! I have made many 'free quilts' using leaders/enders. Some random. Some planned. Your quilt classes sound like lots of fun! XO

  2. Thanks for sharing about leaders and enders. I was doing that long before I knew there was a name for it.Traditional setting would be OK for a charity quilt, but I'm waiting to see what you do. I keep learning all the time from blogs.

  3. Great advice, and what a pretty, cheerful pile of blocks you've got for your effort, and no thread scraps on the floor!

  4. I love the leaders and enders as well. I am terrible about using scraps so I feel less guilt about wastefulness when I use these, plus they work so well. I do have a great donation place for the scraps I don't use which makes me feel a whole lot better. Thanks for sharing your great tips as always.

  5. What a genius idea! I always use my leasers/enders a few times then discard them. Much better to do it your way and get a "free quilt" out of it.

  6. As a new quilter or one year of quilting, I thank you for this post! I do not throw any scrap away but was ready to until now.

  7. Linda, I do the very same thing for leaders and enders. I don't have quite as many 16 patches completed as you, but I also have a drawer of 2.5" x 2.5" and recently turned those into 4 baby quilts (as 9 patch blocks). I don't have any German blood that I know of, but I grew up with a depression mom and we never wasted ANYTHING that could be recycled and used. Glad to hear you are enjoying your teaching classes too.

  8. I'm a big fan of leaders and enders too. I am working with 2" squares to make scrappy nine patches. And I just started cutting 2.5" strips, then into tumblers for a scrappy tumbler quilt. No finished quilt yet, but on my way!

  9. Wonderful explanation and tutorial, Linda. You will find this post to be one of your most popular!!

  10. I need to get something else prepped, I love the concept of leaders and enders. Do you have a plan for yours?

  11. I keep meaning to do this but never get around to having any scraps ready. Wish I had a die cutting machine to churn out a bunch of precut pieces.



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