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String Quilt Pot Holders
by Anna Hewitt
Originally Published in Issue 25::HEARTH.
A pot holder has the thankless job of coming between you and a hot pan. Stained, singed, spattered—you hardly think about it until it falls behind the oven or becomes too worn to keep your hands from feeling the heat. Paying attention to these seemingly small, easily replaceable parts of our homes can be an opportunity to stoke the domestic fire and strengthen our connections to the spaces we inhabit. Just as we take time to create meals that nourish our bodies, making things that we will use in our homes is another way to care for ourselves and to nourish our souls. String quilt squares use up the smallest strips and scraps of fabric to make something both beautiful and useful, protecting our hands and brightening our homes.
Fabric for pot holder backing, cut into two squares of the same size (see note)
Scraps of fabric, each at least 1 inch wide (see note)
One or two squares of cotton batting the same size as the backing, enough to reach ¼-inch thickness
Long piece of fabric at least 2½ inches wide, for binding
Tools & Notions
The backing fabric will not be visible, so any cotton or linen fabric will do.
The size of the squares of backing determines the size of the potholder. A standard size is 7 inches; 10 inches makes a large pot holder.
Make sure your fabric and batting are made from natural fibers; petroleum-based fabric could melt when it comes into contact with heat.
- Assemble your scraps. To begin, choose a scrap of fabric longer than the diagonal distance across one of your backing squares—that is, a piece that will reach from one corner to the opposite corner and a bit beyond. Cut the fabric into a strip about 1 to 2 inches wide and slightly longer than the diagonal length of the square (running about ¼ to ½ inch past each corner). Iron the strip so it is flat, and lay it diagonally across the square of backing fabric again, with the printed side (or “right” side) facing the backing. Pin in place if desired (photo A). Sew a seam ¼ inch from the edge down the right-hand side of the strip, . Lifting the unstitched, left-hand side of the fabric, fold the strip over along the seam so that the “right” side is now facing up. Iron the fold to press flat (photo B).
- Cut another strip of fabric 1 to 2 inches wide and a bit longer than the diagonal length of the square just to the right of the first strip (overlapping the top and bottom edge by about ¼ to ½ inch). Iron it flat, and place it over the first strip, with the printed side (“right” side) facing the first strip of fabric and with the right-hand edge of the new strip aligned with the raw edge of the first strip (photo C). Sew a seam ¼ inch from the edge, all the way down the right-hand side of the strip. Lifting the unstitched, left-hand edge, fold the strip over the seam then press flat with an iron. Continue this process, cutting strips as you go, until you have covered the right half of the square. (Or, if you prefer, you can cut the rest of your strips for this half first and then sew them on.) The last strip, at the corner, will be sewn on only one side. Fold it over and press as if you will be adding another strip after it.
- Turn your square 180 degrees so that the finished strips are on the left side of the diamond. Cut and sew strips as before, starting to the right of the very first strip you attached in step 2 (photo D). (Note that, for your first strip on this side, you will be aligning the right-hand edge of your new strip with the sewn edge of the original strip instead of a raw edge as usual.) Work from left to right as before until the rest of the backing is covered (photo E).
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 to cover the second square of backing.
- Once you have finished covering both squares, flip them over, backing side up, and trim the edges of the strips so they are even with the backing.
- Cut your cotton batting to match the size of your quilt squares. It should be about ¼ inch thick (you may have to use more than one layer to reach this thickness). Decide whether you want the quilt strips to go in the same direction on both sides or run perpendicular to each other. (You won’t often see both sides of the pot holder at the same time, but it can be fun to have each side go a different way.) Place one quilt square with the finished, patchwork side facing down. Lay the batting (one or two layers) on top, then place the second quilt square over the batting, finished side up. Pin the layers together if desired. Machine-stitch the quilt “sandwich” all the way around, ¼ inch from the edge. If a bit of batting sticks out afterward, trim it so the edges are even.
- To determine the length of binding fabric you will need, measure the total distance around your square and add 5 inches. Cut a strip of fabric 2½ inches wide and the length you have calculated for your pot holder. If your binding fabric is not long enough, you can cut more than one strip and sew them end to end, “right” sides facing, to get the length you need. Fold in both long edges by ½ inch and press with the iron. Fold the whole thing in half lengthwise, encasing the raw edges, and press again.
- Beginning with one end of your binding lined up with one corner of your pot holder, tuck the edges of the pot holder into the center fold of the binding fabric, pinning as you go around (photo F). (It may be difficult to pin through all the layers, but at least pin the binding and to the top side of the pot holder.) As you round a corner, the binding fabric will create a triangle of fabric, which you can tuck toward the side you have just pinned and pin down. When you have pinned the binding all the way around, let the excess binding hang off the corner—this will become a loop to hang the pot holder.
- Stitching the binding in place can be a challenge because you need to make sure both sides are stitched on in the same way. Before sewing, check to make sure that the pot holder’s edges are nestled as close as possible into the center fold of the binding and adjust as needed. Beginning at the corner where the binding begins, sew slowly around, stitching ¼ inch from the outer edge and pulling the binding tight around the pot holder edge as you remove the pins. When you reach a corner, continue straight until you have just overlapped with the binding on the adjacent side. Then, stopping with the needle still in the fabric, lift the presser foot and pivot the pot holder 90 degrees. Continue sewing along the edge of the binding as before, or backstitch slightly first to tack down the extra corner fabric. Continue sewing around the remaining corners and sides in the same way. When you reach the corner where you started, pause and fold under the raw edge at the end of the loose binding by ¼ Resume stitching along the edge of the binding, past the edge of the potholder, to sew the binding shut and to secure the folded-under edge.
- Flip the pot holder over and make a loop with the extra binding, placing the finished end about ½ inch in from the corner point of the pot holder. To secure the loop, stitch along the end of the binding and stitch a couple of rows back and forth, or stitch around in a small square. Happy crafting and cooking!
I make these using selvage strips I’ve cut from fabric yardage.
Looking forward to more sewing projects!