Basic machine sewing skills required.
First I want to say, we're making potholders today and it's valuable to remember that these things do not need to be perfect or even pretty. They really just need to be functional. My ultimate goal was to meet my need for functional potholders while also employing 2 of my life values: create more than you consume, leave no trace/leave each space cleaner than when you arrived.
When it comes to making crafts for my home, I really can't be bothered with overly complicated projects. It's not a matter of not having the time, but rather not valuing spending my time in that way. There are places that I deem are more important to put my energy than into the perfect potholder that literally nobody gives a fuck about.
I've been sewing since I was 12 and I have always gone the route of upcycling old garments into new items. As a child, this was out of necessity because I couldn't afford fabric or patterns. I did have the opportunity to learn to read a pattern and use a sewing machine though. A family member gifted me a sewing class after I fractured my back to help me feel better and I still think about what I learned in that class today. (Like how to thread a drawstring into pants - simple but valuable shit.)
After taking the class, the only time I used a pattern and new fabric for myself was for making a special occasion outfit - which happened twice. 1. a corset dress for grade 8 graduation and 2. a dress for my cousin's wedding that same year. I learned a lot about how clothing was constructed by deconstructing it. I learned about different fabric types by failing my way through thrift store upgrades. And ultimately I set in motion a pattern that would stick with me throughout my life -
using my creativity to turn what I had into what I needed.
When I made things for myself as a child, I needed the process to be fun and engaging, not methodical and linear. That definitely still holds true today.
When it came time to meet my need for potholders I knew a few things going in:
- The process needed to be easy & fast because they're potholders and they don't deserve a ton of my time.
- I didn't care to give the energy to the construction of these items to make them stunningly beautiful. Function & Zero Waste were my top priorities.
- I was not going to buy anything new to make them.
So, as we get into this tutorial I want to remind you all that this is not a specific recipe that needs to be followed as if you're baking a cake. This is more like creating a flower arrangement. You really can't fuck it up. Regardless of how 'good' your potholders turn out, if they meet your needs, they're a success! Keep it all in perspective - they're just potholders.
Easy Zero Waste Potholders
STEP ONE | PICK YOUR FABRIC
Today, we're going fabric shopping in our closet. Whenever I go through my closet I always save the clothes I don't want to wear anymore for future projects. Actually, let me back up a bit here. Whenever I buy clothes I look for natural fabrics like linen, cotton, hemp, wool, bamboo, etc. Then I know I have options when I don't want to wear them anymore. I really try my best to take full responsibility for whatever I bring into my life. That means, when I don't want a shirt anymore, it is my responsibility to deal with it - not just send it off to the thrift store. (Look into what happens to the majority of clothes that get donated. Hint: they end up in landfills.)
Purchasing natural fabrics will both help you keep a minimal eye when shopping and gives you a lot of options when reusing the material. You can dye it, felt it (knit wool), unknit it and bring it back to yarn, and so on. I can also tell you that I really do not put a ton of money into my wardrobe. Most of what I own has been thrifted or made with thrifted material, plus a few additions of some new higher end, consciously produced items. (And some borrowed items while I'm pregnant.)
Picking your fabric for projects like this really starts with what you choose to wear.
For my potholders, I picked some scrap fabric from shirts I had already cut into for previous projects. I used a felted wool and cotton.
STEP TWO | PLAN YOUR LAYERS
I decided to go for 3 layers
- Felted Wool
If you're not sure how many layers you'll need to properly insulate your hand, fold your shirt/dress/pants up and test it out. With my felted wool middle layer, I knew I didn't need to make them any thicker than 3 layers. I also made 2 potholders so I could always double up if absolutely needed.
STEP THREE | CUT YOUR SHAPE
Once your layers are decided, pick a shape for your potholders. I kept mine simple and didn't even make them the same size because I was working with shirts that had already been cut into. We're not working with completely flat bolts of fabric here, so be conscious of how many shapes you need to cut from each garment. If you're making 2 potholders and want 2 layers from a specific fabric for each, make sure you have space to cut out 4 shapes total. You'll likely be working within some boundaries of your article like seams and shaped edges. Remember, function is the goal, not perfection.
One way to meet zero waste is to plan your shape so that there is no scrap leftover. That wasn't an option for me since my fabric was so irregular already so instead I'll save all of my scraps for future repurposing. (Yes, even little bits of thread.)
STEP FOUR | QUILT YOUR LAYERS
To be fully transparent, I don't know how to quilt. I understand the basic idea behind a quilt (top layer, batting, backing, stitching to bind it all together) but I've never made one. For this tutorial, I'm using the term quilt to simply mean stitch your layers together.
I opted for a diagonal pattern and was not precise with it. If you want to have a more uniformed look, you can mark your quilt lines before sewing.
I used a basic straight stitch for this.
I also want to note that I didn't pin any of this and wasn't bothered by jagged edges. I somewhat took care of those edges later - but again, wasn't overly concerned with refined finishing.
If you want to shorten your steps for these potholders, align your edges and make sure everything is straight & tidy.
Once your diamond pattern (or whatever pattern you choose to quilt) is finished, use a zigzag stitch to sew around the edge of your potholder.
STEP FIVE | TRIM YOUR EDGES
Making sure not to cut into your zigzag stitch, trim the edges of your potholder if they're super jagged.
For truly zero waste potholders, save your little fabric scraps (or don't make scraps - see step 3). I'm testing out some ways to use fabric scraps and will share more when there's something tangible to share.
For simpler potholders, stop here. For finishing options, continue reading & making.
STEP SIX | FINISH YOUR EDGES + ADD A HANDLE
The way that I decided to finish my edges was to use some felted wool strips to wrap around the edges of my potholders. I also knew I wanted to hang them so I added a little loop.
FOR THE EDGING
The felted wool I used won't fray so I didn't need to worry about finishing the edges. I used a 1.5 inch strip to wrap my potholder edges. I wrapped each strip around the edge and pinned in place. After stitching with a straight stitch, I trimmed the extra fabric so it was just below my stitch line. (see photos)
If you have a fabric that will fray, decide how wide you want the edging to be and add 1/2 inch. Tuck 1/4 inch in on each side. Make sure your stitches lock the tuck in place. You may want to iron your edging first. You can also make bias tape using a bias tape maker.
I edged 3 sides and added my handle before finishing the 4th.
FOR THE HANDLE
To save yourself some time, cut a strip of the seam from whatever garment you've used. Look for a thicker/hemmed seam to use. This will skip the time it takes to finish your handle so it doesn't fray. You could also use a bias tape maker, but again, I'm all about simplicity when it comes to home projects. Scissors and pins are the most I want to pull out.
After deciding how big I wanted my loop to be, I trimmed my piece of seam and tucked it under the final side of edging.
I used a straight stitch horizontally across the handle first. I stitched back and forth a few times to make sure it was secure. Then I finished the edging below and trimmed the fabric to match the rest of the sides.
AND THERE YOU HAVE IT!
A perfectly imperfect, functional, zero waste potholder. Stay tuned for my adventures through experimental fabric scrap repurposing.