“Potholder” Quilting

“Potholder” Quilting

Wendy C. Reed – Bath, Maine

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.

The American Quilt Study Group (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; www.AmericanQuiltStudyGroup.org.

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!

Directions for making a Potholder Block for Bicentennial Project for PTQG members

So here we go! Please have fun making a block(s) and join the PTQG project!


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 measure 8 ½” due to the binding all around.


2. You may choose any batting that suits you as long as for a whole quilt it is roughly the same weight and thickness throughout. For this project we recommend a lightweight cotton or low loft wool batting.


3. Make an 8 ½” unfinished block of any pattern or design using 100% cotton fabrics. Please do not use the following types of fabrics as they would not have been used 200 years ago: No – batiks, no holiday prints, no kid’s fabrics and no novelty prints.  Cut a batting and backing each a little more than 8 ½” and sandwich the three pieces. Quilt the block, you can mix machine and hand quilting.


4. 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”.


Photo 1: click to enlarge

5. 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” finished – you will need to cut your binding strip 36” long [32” + 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 (see photo #1).

Photo 2
Photo 2: click to enlarge

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 (photo #2).


Photo 3
Photo 3: click to enlarge

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 (photo #3), stitch directly down the next side and repeat at each corner.


Photo 4
Photo 4: click to enlarge

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 (photo#4) and make a crease or mark with a pencil on that line.


Photo 5
Photo 5: click to enlarge

Pin those tail pieces together and stitch one or two needle widths to the left (photo #5) to create a little camber (photo#6) then trim to ¼”, press open and stitch down.


Photo 6
Photo 6: click to enlarge

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.

6. 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 (photo #7).

Photo 7
Photo 7: click to enlarge

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 (photos #8, #9, #10, #11).

Once you get the hang of it, it moves pretty quickly. The smaller the stitches, the stronger the seam will be!

Photo 8
Photo 8: click to enlarge



Photo 9
Photo 9: click to enlarge
Photo 10
Photo 10: click to enlarge
Photo 11
Photo 11: click to enlarge