Sunday, August 29, 2010

thoughts on potholders--why not?

Yes, I confess I make potholders. Have for a number of years. Except for the one year when I got all sorts of fancy fellowships and grants. Quite frankly I couldn't sell a thing that year. Everyone would walk by my booth and not even look at my work--how disheartening.

So after thinking about it and realizing that there was nothing in my booth that I could afford, I brought back the potholder. And my sales rose immediately. At the first show, I sold a large wall hanging to a woman who had come into my booth to "look at the potholders." Her friend bought a smaller piece as well. Besides which it kept me in my booth talking with customers. I don't do well not selling.

At one point I used to make a lot of potholders--in my hay day I could sell a couple hundred at a craft show. Now this was back in the good old days. It was also when potholders were a significant portion of my income. One of the factors to figure in when calculating the price of an item is turnover rate. If you sell out of potholders several times a year you are making more money than if you have an item for the same price that you sell only once a year since you can re-invest from the potholders to make more money. Think about it.

Now you must realize that I do take great pride in my potholders. After all if you are going to be associated with an item, you want it to be well made. Of course there are many different theories as to what makes a good potholder--I want it to be a usable size with enough cotton batting to actually work and I want them to have a fun element. Both for me to make--I get to use all those wonderful prints that wouldn't work in my quilts--and fun for the customer to choose. I need to have enough selection to make shopping fun. I also want to respect all the people who look at my work knowing full well that many cannot afford most of what I make. That's just me.

Yes, I do get weary of making them sometimes. I only sell them to a few very select galleries anymore.  But they are great for those days when I just don't feel inspired. I rarely feel like I don't know what I am going to make next because I can always pull out a set of potholders and start sewing. Soon I am working with fabric and plotting something new. Then there is the problem of pricing--after all, how much are you willing to pay for a potholder? Seriously. I recently had a customer who had purchased from me in 1996 want to replace her potholders. (See --they do last.) Anyhow, she wondered why I would not sell them to her for the same price as I did in 1996. Seriously.

That being said, I looked at my stash recently while getting ready for the Long's Park Craft Show. I need a few more colors and styles. I had been thinking of using up the last of the dog bone fabric--great colors and a great gift for dog owners. I always follow certain rules I have established--I want them to always work together. First I play with the fabric to get the colors right--I want the center to be lighter than the other rows. Think of them as a take-off of Josef Albers with a yellow center. This dog bone fabric has certain challenges since it has a dark background with lots of lighter designs.

Then I cut and sew and have to choose a fabric for the back. I want the fabric to feel like it is the back for the potholder. That one is too light.

The brown is too dark and the wrong color.

The brick red is actually interesting. OK. A bit of a stripe that actually echoes a stripe in the fabric. I even take time choosing the color of the loop.

Now I need to make something for cat lovers. Meanwhile I am thinking of a new smaller item that I can add to my collection. What about you? Do you have smaller items? Do you think its OK to make potholders?


  1. I think it's FABULOUS that you make them--but of course that's because I'm poor and they're what I can afford. Even if weren't poor, I'd still love to have something in that price range to give to friends. If you come up with something else small, please let me know. The trouble with the pot holders is that they aren't really good as pot holders--not thick enough--but one wouldn't want to use them anyway; they are too pretty.

    MEANWHILE, I want one of the dog bone potholders for Miss Truffle!

    Thanks for catering to those of us without much money, Ann! And for doing such lovely work.


  2. Hi Tinky,

    Of course I will save you one. Interesting about the potholders--some say they are too thick, some say too thin. Some say too big, some say too small. And then there are those who want oven mitts. You wouldn't think there would be such discrepancy for a simple potholder.

    Oh well. Goldliocks had her problems too.

  3. Sure, it's great to make potholders, though why not make them in your signature style, rather than log cabin? A few years ago I saw your quilts (and was bowled over by them) in a show in Massachusetts, and the gift store of the gallery had placemats by you. They were more expensive than a potholder would be, but way less than a quilt! I bought two of them, and love having these very small "Ann Brauer quilts" in my home.

  4. Thanks Penny. I am actually trying to figure out how to market a very small wall hanging--inspiration or sample. More expensive than a potholder but less expensive than a quilt.

    I tried potholders in my usual style but to get the price I needed for them didn't work. Placemats right now can give you a bit of my signature style. I'll let everyone know if I figure out anything else.

  5. Most definitely! It is perfectly okay to make potholders. Walk around any art fair, festival, gallery, etc. and you will see that the artists have smaller pieces to allow everyone to own their work. I do the same with my watercolours and my quilts/table runners/placemats/bed runners.....tracey

  6. Making potholders is a mystery to me. I never know what to use to keep the burning-hottness from coming through. Do you just you batting? What kind? Is there something out there in the world of making potholders that is made for that purpose. I think it is great that you make potholders. I have been playing around with placemats and I had an idea.... I want to make a table runner that can be used to put the hot dishes on like a huge potholder...... I have my husband's grandmothers table and want to take good care of it. So, now your post gave me three more things to do this week. Find the magic combo of batting to protect from heat, finish my placemats for the holidays idea and thing about this table runner! By the way, I don't even use potholders, I am usually quilting when it is time to cook and pizza boxes are never that hot. Lisa

  7. Thanks for the nice comments. Lisa--I use three thicknesses of cotton batting for the potholders. For most things it seems to work--though I wouldn't use it at a very hot temperature--common sense. There is also a heat resistant batting available--not sure of what it's called. I would not use a polyester batting for the potholders--imagine the chemicals. Good luck finishing everything.