From the Islesboro Sewing Circle: How to Sew the Classic Islesboro Potholder

A staple project from Isleboro’s 157-year-old sewing circle.

by Sandra L. Oliver
Nearly every home on Islesboro is equipped with at least one Circle potholder. One of the easiest of sewing projects, these potholders can be sewn by hand or on a machine.

Design Considerations. This is a good time to use up scraps from other projects. Decide whether you want a solid color, a pattern, or a crazy quilt. You also need to determine what size you want your potholder to be and whether you want hang it, in which case you will want a tab or ring.

Materials. You will need fabric for two sides, filling for insulation, double-fold bias tape, and thread matching the bias tape. The filling can be an old cotton mattress pad, several layers of flannel from old shirts or flannel sheets, or the shiny lightweight thermal insulating fabric that is often used on commercial potholders.

1. Make a cardboard pattern by cutting a square the size you wish your potholder to be.
2. Using a pencil and your cardboard pattern, draw the outline of the square on your chosen fabric and filling. Cut them out.
3. Lay the back piece of potholder fabric wrong side up, then place the filling on top of it. Now place the front piece of fabric right side up on top of the filling. Pin or baste the layers together around the perimeter. Finally, stitch about a quarter-inch from the edge on a machine or by hand.
4. Measure a length of bias tape by loosely wrapping it around the edge of the potholder, allowing a few inches extra, and then cut.
5. Unfold the bias tape. Keep the bias tape folds flat against the right side of the potholder face. Turn the raw end of the tape under and, starting half way along one edge of the potholder, line up the tape around the perimeter. Pin in place.
6. Stitch the tape to the potholder using the first fold as a guide. At the corners, clip the tape about an eighth of an inch to ease the tape around the corner.
7. Overlap the starting end of the tape by an inch and snip off excess bias tape.
8. Fold the bias tape to the other side of the potholder, and using invisible hem stitching, hand sew the tape to the other side. You may find it helpful to clip off the square corners of the potholder to make the tape fit more closely.

Read “Stitch ‘n’ Bliss,” Sandra L. Oliver’s affectionate profile of her island’s venerable “Circle,” in our September “Island Issue,” on newsstands August 25.


Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver, who lives on Islesboro, is a food historian and the author of Maine Home Cooking and Food in Colonial and Federal America.