Friday, January 25, 2019

Potholder Quilts 101

Maine is celebrating 200 years of statehood in 2020. There are many bicentennial activities happening throughout the state. The one closest to my heart is sponsored by our state wide, PineTree Quilters Guild. We are inviting members to make a potholder block (or 2 or 10) to be made into quilts as a fundraiser for the Maine State Museum. Laurie LaBar is curating a fabulous quilt exhibition at the museum. I will post details as they become available.

In the meantime, our president, Callie Lavoie, asked if I would be willing to write up some instructions for members to facilitate the block construction. People are always asking me for helpful hints and instead of making you scroll through old posts to find the information you need, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to post my crazy method all in one place.

First – you have to read (or scroll though) my intro:

The Potholder Quilt Method by Wendy Caton Reed

I saw my first “potholder” quilt in 1985 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. It seemed a perfect method to use when undertaking a project made by a number of different quilters. I have since found out via our statewide documentation (Maine Quilt Heritage) and through the careful research of Quilt Historian, Pamela Weeks that this was indeed a very popular method of quiltmaking in the 19th century, especially in Maine and a few other New England states.

I have seen photographs of potholder quilts in numerous publications over the years, but at present, the only book I know of dedicated to the history of this method is “Civil War Quilts” by Pamela Weeks and Don Beld. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in quilts made for Civil War soldiers and for learning more on this wonderful construction method of quiltmaking. You can get an updated version on Amazon (click here).

The American Quilt StudyGroup (Lincoln, NE) published an article on Potholder Quilts by Pamela Weeks in their annual publication, “Uncoverings” in 2010. This can be found on their website;

I have made a number of potholder quilts with blocks as small as 3” and as large as 16”. It is method that works well with piecing or applique or a combination of both. I have outlined some tips that will help you enjoy your “potholder” quiltmaking journey!

1)    As with any quilt, the size of your block will be determined by your desired overall quilt dimension. However, you must remember that your ¼” binding will be a factor in that measurement. For this Maine Bicentennial project, we are making 8” blocks, which means after quilting and binding your finished block will actually measure 8 ½” due to the binding all around.

2)    You may choose any batting that suits you and even mix machine and hand quilting, as long as it is roughly the same weight and thickness throughout. For this project we recommend a lightweight cotton or low loft wool batting.

3)    After your block is quilted, it is time for trimming. This is the most crucial part of this method.  No matter what size you determine your finished block to be – they must all be the exact same size or they will not fit properly when stitching them together. In this case our blocks will be trimmed to 8 ½”.

4)    A nice even binding is equally important. I recommend a single, straight (not folded or bias) binding cut to 1 ¼” by the perimeter of your block, plus 4” (example; if your block is 8 1/2” finished – you will need to cut your binding strip 38” long [34” + 4”]). Cut your binding selvage to selvage to allow a bit more “give” in your fabric strip. Simply start stitching your strip down (using ¼” seam allowance) leaving a 2” tail piece .
Your mitered corners must come to a nice sharp point so that when the blocks are stitched together there will be no gaps at the corner intersections. Stitch along your edge stopping ¼” before the end.
Turn your block and binding 90 degrees, placing your fold along the top making sure that the fold is on or a bit above your top edge,
stitch directly down the next side and repeat at each corner. When you come to your starting edge, stop at least 2” before your starting place
and remove the block from your machine. Bring binding edges together
and make a crease or mark with a pencil on that line. Pin those tail pieces together
and stitch one or two needle widths to the left
to create a little camber
then trim to ¼”, press open and stitch down. The camber allows you to stitch down your binding
without creating any puckers. Then simply turn your binding and finger press or pin as you desire and stitch the backside down.

5)    And now you are ready to stitch the blocks together. I use what I call a “modified ladder stitch”. Using a single thread, bury your knot under your binding and bring the needle up to the top of your mitered corner. Take a couple of stabilizing stitches, then with your thread on the edge facing you, cross directly over, turn your needle perpendicular, taking a bit of fabric, then turn your needle back toward you in one sweeping stitch.
Once you get the hang of it, it moves pretty quickly. The smaller the stitches, the stronger the seam will be! These are very simplified instructions, but I do hope they will answer some of your burning questions. 

If you are still awake – go cut some fabric and have fun!!


  1. I'm still awake :0) What a great post! Your step by step instructions and photos are wonderful.

  2. callie is president now? wonderful! great tutorial...

  3. Your tutorial looks like a perfect chapter for a book. The one you could definitely write on the subject.

  4. Your potholder quilts fascinate me, so I am happy to see this.
    Someone should do a book of your potholder quilts, with a section of tutorials on your methods. I'd buy it!

  5. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial !! I will treasure it ! You're the best on this theme !!

  6. Thanks Wendy for your instructions on making a potholder quilt. It is much appreciated. Hugs

  7. Nice explanation! Thanks for taking the time.
    Will the quilts be on display in June at the museum?? Might definitely be worth a stop for us on our way to the show!
    ps: camber?? Had to look it up!! ;-)

  8. Thank you so much for your tutorial. I've admired your potholder quilts from a far for a long time. Excited about Maine's 200th birthday coming up too.

  9. The post I've been living for!!! yay
    Thank you for taking the time to really teach us your proces.
    I'll be savoring this and bookmarking it!
    Thank you Wendy!

  10. Wonderful tutorial and great photos. Thank you for taking the time to walk us through your potholder method!!

  11. Terrific tutorial! I didn't actually realize it was mostly a "Maine" thing!! That makes it even more special.

  12. The PATCHWORK PRESS says you have a video demonstration on your blogspot but I can't find it. Could you help me? Brenda

  13. What a fun sampler quilt these would make! Okay first, thanks for sharing this on the Hospital Sketches FB page. Second ... if I'm understanding this correctly and want to put this together in EQ, if my blocks are 8" (finished) I'd actually want to include a 1/4" border all around each block to represent the binding. Then when I put the blocks into a quilt, I'd use no sashing and no borders. Am I making sense? I love the idea of this! I do a lot of QAYG because it's just so much easier in our RV space (we're fulltimers), but this would be even easier! :)