When I first discovered patchwork and quilting about five years ago I was lucky enough to attend an excellent beginners class held in the kitchen of one of the Quilt Groups experienced members. As a complete sewing machine novice all was new to me! One tip we newbies were given was to make our first few stitches into a little piece of scrap fabric, keep the needle down and then feed our ready to sew rotary cut pieces under the machine foot and let the stitches flow from the scrap onto the patchwork piece. I discovered that this does, in most instances, ensure the first few stitches on each piece are well-formed and less likely to come undone than if the stitching begins in the patchwork piece itself. So I formed a habit of keeping scraps and folding them double to be my ‘starters’ or what I will now call ‘headers’ as since then I’ve also been taught the use of ‘footers’! Again a folded scrap of fabric – this time fed under the machine foot and stitched onto when coming off the end of a seam.
I learned this at a workshop run by Doris Dove, a very prolific, generous quilter who grew up in the austerity of the war and post war years. Her primary reason for using ‘headers’ and ‘footers’ was given as a means to save thread hence she calls them ‘thread savers’. And using them does save thread! Plus using these fabric scraps when piecing seams also has the benefit of eradicating trailing threads that can tangle into new seams.
However, headers and footers do not always ensure secure seams. It seems the weave of the fabric, stitch size, the amount of handling a seam undergoes during the construction of a patchwork block and the tension a seam is put under when being quilted can all contribute to a seam coming undone. (I’ve tried going smaller than number 2 stitch length on my machine but the teeny tiny stitches are a nightmare to unpick!). Some quilters advocate always using locking stitches or reversing at the start and finish of a seam. In her very comprehensive book, ‘The Creative Pattern Book’, Judy Martin says to make ‘backtacking’ a habit and describes how to do it:
I have found that stitching over the edge of the fabric in reverse can result in tangles. Consequently, I make it a point to start and end each seam with a forward stitch. Start by going forward, then backing up to about one stitch shy of the edge. Then go forward again. At the far end, start reversing when you are one stitch shy of the end. After backtacking a few stitches proceed forward over the edge and onto the next patch…
Why not give each method a go and compare results? If you are anything like me this will take quite a lot of concentration to begin with but in time a helpful habit can be formed!
Thinking about being thrifty reminded me of the inspiring epilogue in Proverbs chapter 31. There is a description of ‘a wife of noble character’ which gives me aspirations! This lady is hard working and thorough; providing food and warm clothing for her family; making wise business choices; giving practical support to the needy… But best of all, ‘She makes coverings for her bed’ (verse 22) 😀 There are no details as to whether these coverings are patchwork or if they might be quilted but I’m encouraged that being occupied making bed coverings is a good thing!