Find Happiness in Sewing a Potholder, a Small and Satisfying Project
Instant gratification. That’s what small DIY projects are all about. We all have big dreams of what we want to make and do (award winning quilts, novels, houses, save the planet initiatives, etc), but we only have time for a fraction of those plans. Sometimes we need something quick and easy that we can make and use right now and be happy. Sewing a potholder is just the thing for this. It’s like sewing a quilt, without the heavy bulk and many hours that a quilt requires. It may not have occurred to you that sewing a potholder can bring you happiness, so you should try it and see.
You can make a whole bunch of potholders to have on hand when you need to give a small gift. You can use scraps, enjoy shopping for colors and prints in your own fabric stash, recycle old or otherwise unusable materials. You can cut out a stack of pieces and sew them at your leisure. You can use them to practice free motion quilting. When you finish, you will have something that you made with your own two hands, that prevents the burning of your own two hands. Get started by downloading the pattern templates here.
For convenience, the templates have abbreviated instructions on them. Follow the detailed instructions in this article the first time you sew a potholder, and then you can more easily follow the instructions on the templates the next time. And, since this is so much fun, there will be a next time.
The finished potholders are 7" by 8 1/2".
For each potholder, you will need:
Two fabric rectangles 7 3/4” x 9 1/4”
Two fabric rectangles 6 3/4” x 7 3/4”
One batting rectangle 7 3/4” x 9 1/4”
One batting rectangle 6 3/4” x 7 3/4”
48” of 2 1/2” wide bias tape, folded in half lengthwise so it is a double thickness of 1 1/4" wide tape.
Materials and supplies for making potholders
This is a great project to use scraps of fabric and batting. You can sew small pieces of fabric together to make patchwork potholders. If you have to buy yardage, the minimum amount you should get is 1/4 yard. This will give you more than enough for one potholder. If you want to use different fabrics in one potholder, you can get 1/4 yard of two complementary fabrics and make two or three potholders.
For the bias tape binding, a fat quarter (which is approximately 18" by 21") will make about 118" of 2 1/2" wide continuous cut binding, tutorial here. This will be a bit more than you will need for two potholders.
For batting, I consider what I have on hand. I have left over scrap batting, worn out bath towels, scraps of fleece fabric, an old jacket made of thick fleece that had a broken zipper and would have otherwise been thrown out. Often, I use more than one layer material for batting. I like the finished thickness of one layer of old bath towel and one layer of fleece fabric used together in the back piece of the potholder, and then in the same potholder, only one layer of towel in the front of the potholder.
What matters is the thickness. Bear in mind, if you get too carried away with making a really thick potholder, you may have trouble sewing through all the layers. Make it thick enough so you won’t burn your hands when you use it, but not so thick that your sewing machine will rebel while sewing it.
Sewing a Potholder, Step by Step
Using Template 1, cut 2 pieces of fabric and whatever you will use for batting. Do the same with Template 2.
Quilt the pieces together, using whatever quilting technique or pattern you like. I think the easiest way to quilt these pieces is to start with a 45 degree diagonal line, and make a 1” diagonal grid over the whole piece. That is, make a 45 degree diagonal line anywhere on the piece. I use masking tape as a guide. Sew the first diagonal line, move the masking tape over 1", and then sew parallel lines 1” apart until the piece is covered. Then make another diagonal 90 degrees from the first diagonal line, and repeat.
Use masking tape as a stitching guide.
When the pieces are quilted, use templates 3 and 4 to cut the final shapes out. Cutting the final shapes out after quilting makes the edges neater so it’s easier to sew on the binding.
Ready to cut pieces from quilted rectangles
Make the hanging loop
This step is optional if you never plan to hang your potholder.
Cut a 5” length of bias tape. Unfold the piece and refold it, right side out, with the long edges meeting at the center line. Press the folds into place.
Fold the piece again, in half lengthwise, so that you have a piece 5” x 5/8”. Sew along the edge to maintain the shape you just made.
Place the loop on the back of the back potholder piece, as illustrated on Template 3. Sew it in place about 1/8” from the edge.
Hanging loop sewn to top, not finished yet
Bind the top edge of the front piece
Cut a 7” piece of bias tape and line up the raw edges with the top edge of the front side of the the front piece. Sew the bias tape in place using a 1/4” seam allowance.
Iron the seam, pressing the bias tape up toward the top of the piece. Wrap the bias tape around the edge, slightly overlapping the bias tape on the back side of the seam. Pin or clip the bias tape in place. Sew the bias tape in place by “stitching in the ditch” along the front of the piece. This means sew along the seam that joins the bias tape to the main piece, on the front of the piece. The stitches should go through the bias tape edge on the back.
Stitching in the ditch
The stitches will be concealed in the seam line. This step is good practice for sewing the binding around the potholder edge.
Finished front piece
Joining the front and back
Stack the front piece, front side up, on top of the back piece, with the hanging loop on the back of the stack. Pin or clip the pieces together. Pin or clip bias tape all around the edge, working from the front side. Overlap the beginning and end of the bias tape by about an inch. Use lots of pins or clips. Sew the bias tape in place using a 1/4” seam allowance. Stitch slowly. There are a lot of layers for your sewing machine to get through.
Ready for stitching
Overlap the bias tape ends by about 1"
Press the bias tape toward the outside, wrapping it around to the back, slightly overlapping the seam on the back side. Place lots of pins or clips to hold the tape in place. Working from the front, “stitch in the ditch” to sew the binding into place. This is the most difficult part of the project, because you can’t see the back side to be sure the stitching is actually going through the bias tape, and because the piece is quite thick. Take your time. You may have to stitch over some areas if the stitches don't catch the binding on the back.
Finish the hanging loop
The hanging loop has been waiting quietly in the back, obviously pointing the wrong way. Press it up into position and sew it into place from the front side, using the familiar “stitch in the ditch” technique. Sew over this seam a couple of times.
A few tips for the potholder maker
- Clips help a lot in this project. Much easier than pins.
- You can use the ugliest fabric you possess for the underside of the front piece, because no one will ever see it.
- Remember that potholders are practical items, hard used in many kitchens. Don’t use your most treasured fabrics to make them. You will like these potholders, but don’t be emotionally attached to them because your husband may take one out to his grill and burn it up. When that happens, you can enjoy making another potholder. Good thing you know how.