How I'm Getting From A to B

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]
I sure wish I still had this patchwork quilt (below). As quilts go, I own finer specimens (a good subject for a future post, actually, for what quicker way is there to farmgirlize your suburban house than by its bedding?). But this particular quilt — that’s my younger sister posing in front of it when she herself was much younger — is beloved in part because it was made by me.
Entirely of potholders.
Not the comfy-coziest of quilt materials, I admit. But here’s the more specific reason I love it: The amazing variety of potholder patterns I came up with for the squares. A bag of raw material, time to tinker, the courage to try, allowing yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and voila! Possibility! No such thing as one kind of potholder. Looking at things in new ways is the best kind of momentum I know.

For example:

There’s the two-color gingham-esque small check, the small-check/color block quad, the stripes, the checkerboard, the weave. Well, I don’t know what these patterns are properly called, if anything; those are the names I made up for the new ways I found to weave the colors. (My hallmark discovery was the “I” pattern, which looked like interlocking letter Is; I remember it was very popular with my Aunt Irene, and when done in black and gold when my older brother left home to play football for The University of Iowa.)
My potholder phase had begun when I received the requisite metal loom and crochet hook for my tenth birthday, along with a bag full of colorful cotton “loops.” My mom never needed to buy another potholder for the rest of her life. By Christmas, every aunt, grandmother, and neighbor received a stack custom-coordinated to her kitchen. And it must have been my mom’s idea to show me how to stitch together this quilt — I can see how one can put only so many potholders to work in the kitchen. Alas, it must’ve vanished 10 seconds after the picture of my sister was taken, for I have almost no memory of ever seeing it again, and neither does she.
My daughter, Margaret, discovered the craft when she was about the age I’d been. (Okay, so I’d planted the seed by giving her a metal loom of her own for her birthday!) A born improviser, she’s come up with even more new patterns than I did, I think:

It’s a quality that ought to serve her well, especially when life gets bumpy. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (Apparently it was a football coach and not the long-attributed Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein, which makes sense, given how strategic the sport is.) Variety is the spice of life — and sanity, apparently.
To get anywhere, you have to tweak. Pull in a different color loop here and there. Mix it up. Try something new. Experiment with combinations you didn’t think likely. Give yourself the time to see what happens, see how you feel about it. Notice how the new way fits in with your surroundings, or how it stands out. (Both can be good.) Start small — a new pattern for a single potholder. Or go unorthodox and go big — make yourself a whole darn potholder quilt!
If you can see it, you can make it.
And once you start noodling, you’ll see all kinds of amazing things.

  1. Sharon says:


    I used to make these potholders…although I never thought to make a quilt out of them! After makeing probably 150 of them, my mother just…quietly…stopped replenishing my fabric loops. Of course, my parents continued to feed my creativity with every art and candle making supply I could ever wish for. It’s amazing how something as insignificant as a potholder can bring so many great memories to the surface. THANK YOU for reminding me of how thrilled my mom and grandmothers pretended to be when they got potholder after potholder! Last, I am so sorry for the loss of your father. You were so very lucky to have him as long as you did. I lost mine when he was only 62 – eleven years ago. It feels like yesterday, and for over a year I woke up needing to talk to him, not immediatley remembering that he was no longer here. Luckily, I had a supportive husband and two beautiful daughters…and it became clear to me that I had to move forward. You will too. Over time, losing my dad, while difficult to bear, became less raw and painful. I know how much he loved me….and he knew how much I loved him. For now, that has to be enough. Thank God I still have my Mom! I hope the day comes that your father’s passing will not be the first thing you remember when you wake up. Just treasure the great things he taught you and the impact he had on your life. You and your sibling(s), after all, are a continuation of his life. What more could a parent ask for?

  2. TJ Kear says:

    I made & sold a many of those potholders on my mom’s metal maker and bought a plastic one for my boys who did the same. Never thought to make a quilt but did think of making a rug, but never did.

  3. CathieG says:

    I use to love those looms! I gave one to my granddaughter when she was ten. It’s funny you bring this up today…I have just started a book on opening up to creativity…so the two go hand-in-hand as some of the advice is the same. Thanks for the blog!

  4. Emily says:

    Hmmm….you did mention a brother away at uni…could he have packed a big warm quilt to take back with him??? 😀
    It’s amazing what wonderful arts and crafts young minds can come up with. A good reason to give children lots of encouragement and plenty of supplies! Love your story.

  5. Marilyn Collins says:

    Seeing those potholders brought back so many memories of summer afternoons many years ago. My twin sister and I along with a few friends would sit for hours making all color combinations of potholders. The quilt is a good idea, wish we would have thought of that!

  6. Brenda says:

    I remember making these as well and enjoyed it so much that later in life i made placemats using a cut out shape with nails around the edge. These were made using Rug Yarn which is also very study and last a long time. I have used them on my table and under lamps or plants to protect the table. You imagination is expanded like a childs in doing this. It is great fun even if I’m way past childhood.

  7. Marcia says:

    Life also is like the weaving. Don’t stagnate yourself by doing the same routine day in and day out; even the smallest alteration to your typical day is fresh and invigorating. Be spontaneous, fearless, encouraged to step out and do the one thing that you have been thinking of for so long. I did, and my life is weaving new moments!!

  8. sherry mcmillan says:

    I was a "Hoss" girl! Met him at Burdines (a department store) in Fort Lauderdale Florida in the 1960’s. My Dad took me and lifted me up to give him a big kiss on the cheek! He returned the gester! I was in heaven!
    I loved his smile and teady-bear hug.
    You just can’t replace those Cartwright men!
    Loved your story.

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