I was first introduced to the concept of a “leaders and enders” project by Brenda (of Pink Castle Fabrics), at one the Camp Stitchalot retreats I attended with her. Prior to that, when I was piecing, I would use a small scrap of fabric to stitch into at the end of a seam or chain of pieces so that I could snip of my pieces off without having to pull out the thread. This is a useful trick for conserving thread and avoiding long strands of thread at the beginnings and ends of your sewing.
With the leaders and enders concept, instead of just stitching over a scrap, you insert piecing from another project. So each time you start or end a seam and you are ready to snip the thread and press, you sew some component of another project. Light Bulb!
I have since seen other people using this concept, mainly for small scraps, like squares or half-square triangles. You throw each one into a basket and when you have a full basket, you sew them all together for a scrappy quilt top. I did that for a while, but found I never actually did anything with all the little units I had sewn…I think because it wasn’t something I was really invested in. Now, instead of random scraps, I actually plan a simple piecing project (by simple, I mean no planning required or keeping fabrics in specific orders. I don’t want to confuse myself or switch gears from my main project) and have the components near my workspace to use as my leaders and enders.
You would be amazed how much you can accomplish just by sewing a seam here and there, overlapping one project with another. For the last couple of months, I have been making these orange peel blocks as my leader and ender project, and I almost have 48 of them, enough to make the quilt size I want.
I make maximum use of my time by cutting several of the pieces and keeping them in a plastic pouch with a container of pins. I can take this with me when I know I will be sitting or waiting (soccer practice, watching a movie with my kids) and pin the curves. The pinned units then sit on a corner of my sewing table and I sew one here and there mixed in with whatever project I am currently working on. This is a great way to keep some variety in your sewing and it is so gratifying when you look and realize you have a whole bunch of blocks sewn without making any real effort. Bonus!
This week, I am back to school, but hoping to finish up at least the top for my Avant Garde fabrics quilt. Pretty soon, I will also need to think about what to cut out for my next leaders and enders quilt!