Three and a half years ago I made one of these potholders and wrote about it in this post. At the time, I planned to make more and sell them on Etsy.
But I never did. I wanted to figure out an easier way to make them first, so that it wouldn’t take forever to make each one and I could charge a fair price for a pair.
And life got in there and distracted me frequently with easier things to do, things that didn’t put stress on my carpal tunnely hands. Or at least not as much stress.
But still, I kept coming back to the idea. Mostly because we still – constantly – use that original potholder I made.
It used to look a lot like the one in the image above. Here’s what it looks like now, after three and a half years of use:
That’s love, baby.
This is our favorite potholder.
Lots of reasons.
It’s strong. Eight layers of denim strong. Really. I’ll explain that in a bit.
It’s very protective, shielding our delicate hands (or “pandies” as my grandmother used to call them when my sister and I were little…where did that memory sprout from?) from hot cast iron pans in the fire or dutch ovens in the stove.
It’s flexible – so you can really grab onto handles and edges of pans easily.
It’s a lot like a well broken-in baseball glove, actually.
It’s certainly durable – other potholders we have are wearing out, but I don’t think this one will any time soon. I imagine our children will fight over it when we’re gone - better sort that out in the wills now….
It’s the potholder we reach for first.
And that’s not just me talking. My husband is a huge fan of this potholder (I know – that sounds pretty silly) and wants the world (or my small part of it) to know just how great this thing is. Yesterday he was nearly sternly telling me to make sure I explain how much we like this potholder.
But I don’t think I need to. People have linked to that original post on Pinterest and elsewhere, and a few people asked if there were directions on how to make them. So a tutorial has been due – overdue – for some time.
I was just hesitant. I’d only made the one, so I didn’t see myself as any sort of teacher. The thing to do would be to make another one, right?
But how to streamline the process, which was a great big experiment originally anyway.
I thought maybe if Bill made me a small loom, I could make them easier. But that hasn’t happened, and I sort of also didn’t think a loom would work entirely.
Finally I just said, in effect, to hell with how my hands feel – I’ll just make one, dammit, and write the tutorial and BE DONE WITH IT!
So I did.
And I took lots of pictures so I could show you how to do it as well.
First, get a bunch of denim. A while back (probably around the time I made that first potholder) I cut up all the old worn-out or outgrown jeans in the house, plus any I could get from friends or family. I mainly took the leg portions – as much of them as I could cut. I trimmed off seams (you can save them – I found a little project to make with those as well) and the waistband and the zipper (I save the zippers as well), and then I cut the leg pieces into strips. I’ve got a variety of widths – I think the thinnest is about an inch and a half or two wide.
Now with each strip, you want to fold the edges (lengthwise) in to meet almost along the center.
The thin strips I use started out 2” wide, just to give you an idea of the size I’m working with.
Okay, to make a potholder about the same size as the one I made, which is roughly 8” square, you’ll need 11 long folded strips.
You want them to be at least 20” long, because you’ll be cutting them in half (approximately) and weaving one half of them through the other half.
But for now, you can leave them full length.
In order to make things easier for myself, this time around I used a cork bulletin board. I covered it with fabric just to make it look nicer. You don’t have to cover your bulletin board with fabric if you don’t want to.
Okay, now line up the strips and leave a little bit of space between strips. Pin the ends to the cork.
Now, what I did next was just lay my original potholder on top of the strips to get a basic measurement, but you can also just use a ruler. You want the strips longer – at least an inch and a half – than the finished potholder will be. Pin the strips along this end, too.
Cut the strips.
And here’s what you’ll have:
Leave the original pins in, and remove the second set near your cut.
Oh! If you’re working on a framed bulletin board, do as I say and not as I do – don’t line your edges flush against the frame because it’s a little hard to work with later on. Trust me.
Now the fun and easiest part – the weaving.
But before I launch into that – a word about the denim patterning. I like having a variety of shades of denim to work with. Some strips are extremely faded and grayish (probably my husband’s jeans) and others are darker. You can go light to dark with the strips, or light/dark/light/dark, or just random. Have fun with it. And when you weave the other strips into the first set, you can keep the same order of shades or mix it up. So many possibilities.
Also – remember I mentioned 8 layers of denim way at the beginning of this post? That’s what you’re getting. Each folded strip is 4 layers, and they’re all overlapping each other, so you’ll have 4 layers going vertically and 4 horizontally on every bit of the potholder, giving you a total of – everyone – 8 layers of denim.
Okay, back to the weaving. If you’ve ever made a lattice pie crust, you can do this easily. Just lift up every other strip and fold it back over the pinned end.
Then lay one of your loose strips down as tightly up against the pinned end as you can.
Pin that new strip of denim in place.
Drop the folded-back strips of denim back over this strip and lift up all the alternating strips.
Put your next loose strip of denim down and push it close to the first one.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Keep going until you’ve woven in eleven strips across the original eleven.
As you add the strips, you’ll need to lift the folded-up strips up a bit and push the newest strip slightly under them, so as to keep the whole thing as tight as possible.
(I’m thinking right about now I should have used some sort of X and Y designation for the vertical and horizontal strips, but oh well, too late.)
Okay – here’s our potholder with all the strips woven together:
And the ever-popular artistic on-the-diagonal view:
Next up – binding the edges.
This is the most time-consuming part, and I’m still trying to figure out an easier way to do it, but I have to say I like the resulting look of how I’ve done it these two times and I don’t necessarily want to change it. So maybe that’s just the way it’s going to be. If you choose to bind this differently, feel free. My husband suggested taping all the edges so I could then run it through my sewing machine and it wouldn’t all fall apart, and I may give that a try. If I do, I’ll let you know how it works.
But for now…
Take another long strip of folded denim. This strip needs to be long enough to wrap all the way around your potholder with a little left over to use for a loop.
I started along the first pinned edge, which was right up against the cork board frame (under the fabric). It was a bit cramped to work along that edge, but not impossible.
First, remove all the pins and move them one “square” back into the body of the potholder:
Now open your binding strip and slide half of it under these exposed edges, like this:
Leave a little bit of the end of this binding strip off to the side (it’ll line up with the other strips going the other way) and start stitching.
I think I just used regular cotton thread the first time around and it’s held up just fine, but this time I used heavier-duty cotton hand-quilting thread, just because it seems the sensible thing to do.
Now, I like to hide my binding stitches when I bind quilts by hand, and I did the same thing with these potholders. I just prefer the look. (I also seem to prefer to make things harder for myself than absolutely necessary, so if you don’t want to hide your stitches and prefer to bind your edges differently, have at it!)
Okay, so I started by running the needle through the inside of the border strip and coming out along the crease, then folding the strip over and coming out through the fold.
Then I stitch into the edge of one of the strips and out the other edge, back into the binding, then out and into the next strip.
Keep in mind that you’re only worrying about the upper side of the potholder right now.
Keep the thread as tight as possible so your stitches disappear, but don’t yank on it too roughly because the thread can (and will) snap and lots of bad word can (and will) come pouring out of your mouth. (Or, if the children are nearby and you have a smidge of self-control, you will just shout “BAD WORDS BAD WORDS BAD WORDS” and be really proud of and amused by yourself. Or not. That might just be me.)
When you get one side done, it should look like this:
At this point, if you haven’t already done it, you should trim the strips along the next side. I trim mine so they’re a little narrower than the woven strips. This makes it easier for you to wrap the binding strip over the loose edge.
At the corner, just bend the binding and let the little folded part bump up above and below.
Oh, I know – I’m terrible at describing this process!!!!!
Here’s another picture. I’m better at those.
Of course, you can’t really tell from this picture anyway, but what I do is stitch up into the little corner bit that bumps up, then out at the point and back in again, then out into the corner strip. Pull tightly and continue along like you did on the first edge.
And – yay! Four edges done.
Now take all the pins out and flip the potholder over.
You might find you need to trim some of the ends of the strips as you sew the binding to this side – that’s fine.
Once you’ve finished all four edges, it’s time to make the little loop.
First, stitch the end closed.
Then stitch the edges closed until you’re about a strip’s width from the potholder.
Now bring the end of this strip around and tuck the end into the opening…
Stitch the edges on both sides of the loop closed…
Knot the thread, snip the end, and – you’re done!
I apologize for the absence of technical sewing terms, and for any confusion that may come about as a result. Feel free to email me with any questions!
Oh, and you probably can see that the newer potholder is a bit larger than the old one. My husband asked why this happened, and I’m thinking I didn’t weave the newer one as tightly (or obsessively) as I did the first one. But that’s only a guess, as there’s a three and a half year age difference between the two.
My next project will be to make a pair at the same time, as best I can, and I’m thinking I’ll do a better job matching size.
Anyway, that’s the tutorial! If you give this project a try, please let me know how things turn out!