Chain piecing… not a method of making jewelry, but an efficient way to stitch fabric pieces together.
The other day I read a post by a new quilter. She commented about hesitating to try a quilt made of triangles, because of all those threads tangled underneath! Extra piecing — triangles rather than squares — would mean extra threads to trim.
I’m a thread picker, myself. If there are ends of threads protruding from seam lines, I diligently pick or snip them off. So I understand her concern about having even more threads to wrangle! But there’s an easy way to reduce that, and it’s chain piecing.
Simply put, chain piecing is sewing multiple pairs of patches without cutting threads between. The “chain” comes from the few stitches between patches.
Why would you want to do this? I can think of five reasons.
1) It reduces the tangling or knotting of thread at the beginning of stitching.
2) It decreases the amount of thread used.
3) It keeps your patches in order, making it easier to move to the next step.
4) It reduces time involved, compared to the stitch-cut-stitch-cut.
5) It reduces the thread ends on the underside of your quilt block or top.
While most helpful tips can have some downside, depending on your methods and preferences, I can’t think of any negative to chain piecing.
Here’s a description from the thread company Coats & Clark:
How does it work? Stack up the pieces for whatever you’re making in quantity. If it’s quilt blocks, place the adjacent pieces right sides together in a pile for easy retrieval. Pick up the first pair of pieces and put it under your presser foot. Stitch the seam, stopping at the edge of the pieces. NOW, don’t cut the threads or remove the stitched piece from the machine…simply feed in the next pair and continue seaming.
Leave just a bit of space (the thread chain) between the pieces, and keep going through your entire stack. But, there’s no need to stop there—pick up another stack of pieces that need seaming and keep going. You’ll see a chain of pieces exiting the sewing machine behind the presser foot.
See the whole post with some great photos to illustrate the process, too.
You can continue chaining throughout the piecing process.
Thread bunnies… like the “rabbit” in a long-distance race, it leads the pack.
Even with chain piecing, some piece of fabric has to go under the needle first. Some people call that piece a thread bunny. The long tails of leading thread collect here, though I trim mine off. Once the crossing threads are thick, I throw it out and start another. Usually I use small trimmings from bindings, which give just enough surface to ensure the threads are not bunching and knotting underneath.
Besides using them at the beginning of a chain, I also end a chain with one. When I snip the last quilt patch unit from behind the needle, a bunny remains, ready to start the next chain.
Leaders and enders… not the rest of the runners in the race.
Some people use leaders and enders, rather than thread bunnies. This might sound mysterious. All it means is having another set of patches from another quilt ready to stitch, to use at the beginning and end of a series of your primary project. It works best if you have fairly uncomplicated piecing. Also scrappy designs work well, so you aren’t switching concentration from your primary project to the leader-ender project.
Bonnie Hunter explains the process at her Quiltville site.
Then a lightbulb went off. I took a bin of scrap 2″ squares that had been accumulating from trimming scraps down, and started using those as leaders/enders instead of a wadded up thread covered scrap. I would sew a light square to a dark square, trim off behind it…..and eventually have a stack of these little “two squares” that I would also use as leader/enders to sew into 4 patches….
She has great pictures on this page, too, of beautiful quilts made just this way.
So if you aren’t already a chain piecer, you may find it an efficient way to speed up and organize your piecing. And while you’re at it, give leaders and enders a try.