**update June 04, 2010 at end of this posting**
I am a terrible housekeeper. Well, to be more accurate, I can clean house beautifully but I choose not to. There are just so many other more interesting things to do in a day. In spite of my lack of effort in the housekeeping department, I really hate a mess. And one of the things I have always loathed about sewing and quilting is all the danged little thread tails you are left with once you clip the beginnings and ends of your seams. They get all over the place, and all over me. My husband was forever tut-tutting and picking pieces of thread off my clothes (he can't help himself, my mother in law was a Home Ec major...), a process neither of us enjoyed. So I was overjoyed to find I could actually prevent thread tail formation.
It is called "a scrap piece of fabric". In a nutshell, you sew off the end of whatever it is you are sewing and onto a scrap piece of fabric, leave the needle down in the scrap and cutting your project off behind it. Simple.
But I am a Virgo. Sons of Home Ec majors are well advised to marry Virgos. We are the only sign that can be relied upon to be as picky as their dear Mamma. This Virgo also loathes random fabric scraps all over the place. So I turned to my trusty unbleached cotton yardage, which I buy locally, trés cheap from a discount fabric warehouse. It is thick, slubby, with a drapey hand, and feels like lightweight raw silk. I love the stuff:
I then take a piece of the cloth and cut it into 4 squares, roughly 2" x 2", like so:
Once that is done, I fold the little squares in half, and iron them flat:
To use the scraps, place one under your needle and presserfoot. This all works best if you work with your needle in the needle down setting:
Sew to the edge of the scrap, and with the needle down, lift your presserfoot, position your actual sewing where you want it (in my case I am usually quilting that all important 1/4" seam with my trusty 1/4" with guide presserfoot) and leave a teensy gap between your cloth and your scrap piece. Note the scrap piece is now to the rear of your needle:
Once you have reached the end of your seam, feed another scrap piece under the presserfoot and into the needle, leaving that teensy gap between the scrap and your sewn item, like so:
Now the reason for the gap becomes clear! It is where you clip your sewn item off the scrap piece:
You leave that ending scrap, the one you have sewn off onto, in your machine with the needle down, waiting for your next sewing adventure to begin:
Of course, the scrap you began sewing with is still attached to your sewn item. Clip that off as well:
In this way, you will never, never, never have thread tails to cut off and put in your waste bag or basket, and you will not find you have arrived at a board meeting with thread tails all over your clothes. The floor of your workroom will be beautifully clean...well, it won't have any thread tails...and your little scraps serve two other very important purposes.
First, even that one inch of sewing across the scrap is a short test of your stitch quality. Better to find out on your starting scrap that the machine is sewing wonky than on your sewn item. Second, I find the older scraps, with their many lines of stitching, quite lovely. When I look at them, they remind me of all the happy work I have done, and if I have used coloured thread, that reminds me of whatever project it was used for. Those scraps hold my quilting history!
Update June 04, 2010
An even better idea has been brought to my attention: leaders and enders! Instead of using a little scrap, take all your scrap fabrics and separate them into light and dark. Cut them all into squares, 2 1/2" is standard but choose what works for you and your scrap pile. Note that a cutting tool is really useful for this, I have used my Accuquilt Go! for this purpose and that really reduces the drudgery.
Load the light squares into one basket or bag, the dark into another. Keep the two baskets close by your machine, and whenever you begin or end a seam, take one light square and one dark one, pair them right sides together and sew together using a 1/4" seam. When you cut them off your sewn work, toss them into a third basket.
Over time, you are going to end up with a lovely big pile of sewn pairs. Press them open and then start sewing them together into blocks and quilts. Brilliant!
I saw this idea at Quiltville.com, which also applies a similar technique to deal with small strips and leftovers, the crumbs technique. Check it out, it's well worth a look!
And send me a photo of your results!