Squares in a square in a frame! It sounds fancy, but it’s really very easy – even if you’re brand new to patchwork. We all love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with tackling a challenge, but for many of us, turning around a fun little project in no time at all is the kind of instant gratification that’s hard to beat. This pretty potholder is a perfect choice.
You’ll blend sixteen small squares into a finished 8½” square, highlighting each intersection with decorative stitching. This fancy stitching is not only a gorgeous embellishment, it also acts as the quilting seam that holds together your layers.
We selected Quilt Stitch #52 on the Janome Continental M7 Professional, which is the machine we used for our sample, setting it for its full 9mm stitch width. This gave us a broad swing to either side as we stitched in the ditch of each patchwork seam. When choosing your stitch, test your favorites in order to find one that looks as pretty on the back as it does on the front. We also switched out our thread so the bobbin thread for the back stitching was a close match but the top thread was a bright contrasting blue to allow the decorative stitching to pop against all the pretty fabric colors on the front.
Paying special attention to seam allowances is important in every project, but is essential in patchwork because your seams need to match up perfectly. Therefore, you need to be very careful to make sure all allowances are consistent. For this project all our patchwork seam allowances are ¼”. If you’re brand new to patchwork, check our our five-part series on quilting basics. It’s also important to use the right presser foot for the job; in this case, the Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
Our steps below are quite detailed, so even if you are brand new to patchwork, you can follow right along. If you’re a seasoned quilted, a quick buzz through and you’ll know exactly what to do in the blink of an eye.
We originally used prints from a Charm Pack bundle in our stash: the 2020 Backyard Blooms collection by Allison Harris for Windham Fabrics. But there’s no need for an exact match to ours; this project is an excellent opportunity to use scraps or leftover pre-cuts in whichever holiday or everyday theme you like best. Even the backing and binding use just small amounts of coordinating fabric. If you sometimes struggle with how best to combine prints, take a look at our tutorial: Top 10 Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.
Your final step will be a narrow binding all around. Because the inner squares are just 2” each when finished, we knew the binding couldn’t be too wide or it would overlap and compete with the patterned fabric. We show you how to attach this ⅜” finished reveal in a traditional two-step process of machine stitching and hand stitching. As always, we offer full step-by-step instructions and photos below. If you’re new to the process, you can also review our full bias binding tutorial that features tips on figuring yardage, cutting, making, and attaching.
A fast and easy, beginner-friendly project like this is a great opportunity to “use what’s on hand” – both in the way of fabric as well as pulling out those presser feet you sometimes overlook and experimenting with the beautiful decorative stitches built-in to your machine. We all get into the habit of using the same stuff over and over. What we love about being an exclusive Janome studio is being able to look for new and different ways to use all the amazing standard features and accessories that come with our machines. There’s always so much more to discover!
Wouldn’t this be a perfect gift idea? Wrap up one or two potholders with some kitchen cooking utensils, a new cookbook, or your own delicious recipe.
Our Potholder finishes at approximately 8½” x 8½” with a single layer of thermal batting. If you opt for more than one layer of batting for extra heat protection, you’ll likely need to adjust to a wider binding to accommodate the increased thickness.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Quarter Inch Seam foot; optional, but very helpful with all the ¼” seam allowances
- Walking or Even Feed foot; optional, but makes handling the multiple layers easier – you could also engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the AcuFeed™ Flex system we use on many of our Janome studio machines
Fabric and Other Supplies
- SIXTEEN 2½” squares of coordinating fabric
NOTE: We used a Charm Pack bundle, however, it’s not mandatory. By starting with a Charm Pack, we knew all the fabrics would go together; and the 5” squares meant we had plenty of area from which to make a nice fussy cut. If you choose not to use pre-cuts, you’ll need to find sixteen coordinating fabric scraps from which your 2½” squares can be cut. Another option would be a pre-cut Mini Charm bundle of 2½” squares – so no cutting is necessary. However, that eliminates the ability to fussy cut a precise motif for each square.
- Scrap or ¼ yard of a 44″+ wide wide coordinating solid fabric for the backing – you need at least a 9” x 9” square for the best layering: we used a Kona quilting cotton scrap in pale green
- Scrap or ⅓ yard of 44″+ wide wide coordinating solid fabric for the bias binding – you need a starting square of at least 10” x 10” from which to cut the bias strips: we used a Moda quilting cotton scrap in a pale green pin dot
- ¼ yard of 20″+ wide thermal batting – again you need at least a 9” x 9” square; we used Insul-Bright from the Warm Company
- All purpose thread to match fabrics for construction
- All purpose thread in a contrasting color for the decorating stitching: as mentioned above, we used a bright contrasting blue for the top thread to allow the decorative stitching to pop against all the pretty fabric color but stayed with thread to match the backing in the bobbin
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Tape measure
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- Sheet of paper or card stock and scissors to cut a fussy cutting frame: optional
- Download and Print TWO copies of the Hot Pad Pattern.
IMPORTANT: This PDF is ONE 8½” x 11″ sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide line on each sheet so you can confirm your final printout is to scale. This pattern page prints landscape.
- Cut out each pattern along the solid line. Line up the center arrows and tape together to make one complete pattern piece.
NOTE: This means there will be two marked corner points for the handing loop. Of course, you only need to use one to use for your loop.
- From your collected print fabrics, fussy cut SIXTEEN 2½” x 2½” squares.
NOTE: If you are new to fussy cutting, try cutting a 2½” x 2½” square from paper, then cut out a center square leaving an approximate ¼” frame. Slide the frame around your fabric to find and center the best motif.
Use a clear ruler and rotary cutter to trim around your frame to create your finished 2½” x 2½” square with its perfectly centered
- From one of your print fabrics, cut ONE 1½” x 4½” strip for the hanging loop
NOTE: Of course, you could certainly use a seventeenth fabric for this loop if you wish.
- From the backing fabric, cut ONE 9” x 9” square.
- From the thermal batting, cut ONE 9” x 9” square.
NOTE: In the case of both the backing and batting, the squares will be trimmed down using the pattern. Your starting squares do not need to be exact 9” squares. You’ll see in our photos below that we simply layered “wild cut pieces,” trimmed away the excess, and then used the pattern for our final cut.
- From the fabric for the binding, cut enough 1½” strips, on the bias, to equal an approximate finished length of 34” -38”. As always when working with binding, it’s best to cut your strips as long as possible based on your starting fabric amount in order to minimize seams.
NOTE: As mentioned above, if you are new to working with bias binding, review our full tutorial prior to starting.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Find all sixteen fussy-cut squares.
- Lay them out in four rows of four squares, making sure any directional prints are all facing the same way and mixing and matching until you have a pleasing combination of motif sizes and colors. As mentioned above, if you’d like to learn more about how to best combine prints, take a look at our tutorial: Top 10 Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.
- Working from the bottom row to the top, match up the first two squares in the bottom row right sides together. Pin together along what will be the inner edges of these two squares.
- Thread the machine with thread to best coordinate with all your colors in the top and bobbin. For something this colorful, a neutral thread is best.
- Attach a Quarter Inch Seam foot, and if an option on your machine (as it is on many of our Janome models), set up the machine for a quarter inch seam. If you do not have special quarter inch seam settings, simply set for a standard straight stitch.
- Stitch together the squares.
- Place the remaining two squares in the bottom row right sides together, and in the same manner, pin and stitch. You’ll notice in the photo below that we are “chain piecing” our pairs o’ squares. If you’d like to learn more about this practice that speeds up the patchwork process, take a look at our Quilting Basics series of tutorials.
- Repeat this process for each of the three remaining rows. When done, you’ll have four rows of two sewn pairs each.
- Again starting from the bottom and working up to the top, seam together the pairs to create a full row of four squares. First place the inner raw edges of the two sewn pairs rights sides together and pin.
- Then, stitch together with the same presser foot and settings for a ¼” seam allowance. As you see in the photo below, we are again chain piecing.
- You now have your four completed rows, each with four sewn squares.
- Once again working from the bottom row up, pin the first two rows right sides together. The most important thing to remember is to keep your seams in line with one another. In order for the seams to “nest together” and create “perfect points” on the front (a perfect intersection of the corners), you need to alternate the direction of the seam allowances you are matching up. If the seam allowance in the row above lays flat to the left, the seam allowance in the row below must lay flat to the right. Alternate in this manner across each row. In the photo below, you can see the seams on the top row lay right-left-right. On the row underneath, this means the seam allowances are left-right-left.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch together the first two rows.
- Continue to add the third and fourth rows in the same manner, remembering to alternate the seam allowances as you go.
- With the patchwork complete, press the four horizontal seams open and flat. The vertical seam allowances are pressed to the side in their alternating pattern.
- Press from the front as well. You can see how nicely all the corners have come together.
Layer and trim
- Place your backing panel right side down and flat on your work surface.
- Place the thermal batting panel right side up and flat on the backing panel.
- Place the finished patchwork panel right side up and flat on the thermal batting panel.
- Pin around the outer edges through all three layers.
- Trim away the excess backing and batting fabric and pin the assembled paper pattern on top of all the layers, carefully centering it over the patchwork panel.
- Trim around the pattern to create the four pretty rounded corners. The three layers remain pinned together.
Add the decorative stitching
- Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top (we used a bright blue) and thread to best match the backing fabric in the bobbin (we used a pale green).
- Select a decorative stitch. As mentioned above, for our sample we selected Quilt Stitch #52 on the Janome Continental M7 Professional. We set the stitch width to the full 9.0mm and the length to 2.5mm.
NOTE: As always when working we decorative stitching, test and adjust your stitching on scraps to confirm the best look. In this case, you should even make a little “quilt sandwich” of two layers of quilting cotton with batting between. With thicker layers, it’s best to do your testing on the actual thickness to be 100% sure you will get the look you want. As mentioned, you want to find a stitch that looks as good on the back as it does on the front because the bobbin stitching will be visible on the back of the potholder where it becomes a pretty design element.
- Again because of the thick layers, we strongly recommend a Walking or Even Feed foot or engaging your machine’s built-in fabric-feeding system. This is what we did, engaging the AcuFeed™ Flex on our Continental M7.
- Our favorite trick for beautiful decorative stitching, even across thick layers, it two-fold. First: if possible, use your machine’s Start/Stop button rather than the foot control. As much as we might think we are applying even pressure to the foot control, we are actually much more apt to vary speed, which can vary the precision of the stitch. By using Start/Stop, the machine is in control of the stitching, keeping things smooth and even.
- Second: use a folded “starter piece” to begin the decorative stitching off the actual project. This allows the stitch to already be formed with perfect precision once it hits the project. It’s like giving your machine a running start.
- You are “stitching in the ditch” of each seam, which means you want the needle positioned directly over the seam to start. Keep this centered position as you move across the fabric. Stitch all the seams in one direction first.
- Then rotate and stitch all the seams in the opposite direction.
Make and place the hanging loop
- Find the 1½” x 4½” strip for the hanging loop.
- Fold it in half, wrong sides together, so it is now ¾” x 4½”. Press to set a crease.
- Open the strip wrong side up so the crease is visible.
- Fold in BOTH long raw edges to meet at the center line. Press well.
- Finally fold along the original center crease line and press. You now have your finished strip, which should be ⅜”.
- Stitch along the folded edges from end to end. The ends themselves remain raw.
- Fold the strip in half, aligning the raw ends, to form a loop.
- Using the paper pattern as a guide, position the loop in the upper right corner against the front patchwork. The raw ends of the loop should be flush with the raw layered edges of the main panels. Pin and then hand baste the ends of the loop in place.
- Find all your bias cut 1½” binding strips.
- You’ll attach your strips end to end to equal your final 34-38” of needed length. To do this, place the strip lengths at right angles to one another and pin together.
- Re-set the machine for a standard straight stitch. Re-thread with thread to best match the binding fabric in the top and bobbin.
- Stitch across the overlapped lengths, using a ¼” seam allowance.
- Press the seams allowance(s) open and flat.
- Fold the finished strip in half, wrong sides together, so it is now ¾” wide. Press to set a crease.
- Open the strip wrong side up so the crease is visible.
- Fold in ONE long raw edge to meet at the center line. Press well to set a second crease line.
- Open the strip flat again. It should still be wrong side up.
- Find the layered and stitched potholder.
- Starting at the center bottom and leaving a tail of about 1-2”, pin the binding right sides together along the outer raw edge of the potholder. You are pinning along the “wide” side of the binding; the double creased side of the binding is facing in toward the center of the potholder. You have also sandwiched the hanging loop between the binding and potholder. You can see it just peeking out in our photo below. Pin generously all the way around.
- Finish the ends, where they meet at the center bottom, with your favorite method: overlapping or seaming. We chose to seam, which meant first overlapping the free head and tail of the binding to align and lay flat against the patchwork.
- Then, placing right sides together, trim the excess binding fabric and stitch together the raw ends with a ½” seam allowance.
- If you are new to finishing the ends of bias binding, a simple fold and overlap is another option. For this, you would also need to trim away the excess fabric at the head and tail, leaving just enough to fold under one end and overlap it with the raw end so the joint lays flat. For more details and options, take a look at our full tutorial on bias binding.
- With the binding pinned in place and the ends finished, stitch all the way around the perimeter of the potholder, using a ¼” seam allowance. As above, because of the thicker layers, we strongly recommend a Walking or Even Feed foot or engaging your machine’s built-in fabric-feeding system.
- Go slowly around each of the rounded corners, easing the fabric and keeping the seam allowance precise.
- With the perimeter seam finished, remove the potholder from the machine. Re-fold and press the binding along the remaining inner crease line.
- Bring this folded edge around to the back of the potholder, smoothing the curves and edges as needed. Pin well all around.
- Thread a hand sewing needle with thread to best match the binding and backing and hand stitch the binding in place with tiny stitches. We recommend a small ladder stitch.
NOTE: Could you machine stitch? Yes, of course you could. With such a narrow binding, it does take a bit more patience, practice, and precision. You would edgestitch to the right of your seam on the front, just catching the wrapped-around, folded edge of the back of the binding. For more details on this option, you can again take a look at our full tutorial on bias binding as well as our Colorful Ruffled Oven Mitts project that use the technique.
- With the binding stitched in place. Flip the potholder right side up.
- Fold up the hanging loop into its final position.
- Stitch a short seam, just within the width of the binding, to hold the loop in its upright position.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild