One important consideration when making potholders is heat resistance and flammability of the materials being used. You want to completely avoid synthetic textiles such as polyester or acrylic because not only are they not heat resistant, but they also melt when exposed to high heat and when melted can stick to skin, possibly causing a severe burn in the process. Natural fibers such as cotton and wool are good textiles to use for both the outside of the potholder and for the insulating material inside.
Most cotton or wool fabrics will work for sewing pot holders as long as they are tightly woven and of at least a medium weight (lightweight gauze on the other hand is not a good choice). You can even recycle a pair of jeans or other clothing articles. If denim does not fit with yur decor, try just using it on the working side of the pot holder; it is durable and its thickness will protect your hand well. Be sure to check the fiber content of whatever fabric you plan to use to ensure that the fabric is 100% cotton and not blended with a synthetic. If you are using fabric you already have in your stash or recycling fabric, and you aren't sure what the fabric content is, you can do a burn test. This consists of using a match or a lighter to carefully burn a small piece of the fabric. Natural fibers burn and smell differently than man-made fibers. If the fabric melts at all while it is burning, it is likely a blend. If you are interested in learning more about how fabric behaves when it is burned, this burn test article describes the specific characteristics burning fabrics display.
For the inside of the potholder, you want the batting to be thick enough to protect the hand from heat, but thin enough to still be able to bend around a pan while in use. You can use commercially available batting like that used for quilting as long as it is 100% cotton or wool (or a blend of those). Again, do not use polyester batting. To prevent burns, be sure to use at least three layers of cotton batting. There is also a product called Insul-Bright that is heat-resistant (NOT heat-proof). It needs to be used in conjunction with a layer of cotton batting to ensure safety. If you have some old towels that are starting to fray, you can cut them up and use the terry cloth as an insulating filler. Depending on the thickness of the terry fabric, you will need to use two to four layers.
Another important consideration is the thread that you use to sew the potholder. Most all-purpose sewing threads are a synthetic blend which are susceptible to melting. I have had stitches melt on hot pads (that I purchased!), causing the whole thing to eventually unravel and come apart. So, be sure to use all-cotton thread as well.
- Piece of fabric at least 9 inches long by 18 inches wide (a fat quarter will make two potholders)
- Filling material: cotton batting, terrycloth fabric, etc.
- One yard double-fold bias tape. If you make your own, it MUST be cut on the bias!
- Sewing machine and basic sewing supplies: scissors, ruler, marking tool, matching 100% cotton thread
Looking for more beginner sewing projects? Take a look at these books: