Hot pads, potholders and rolling pins …

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Is there a difference between hot pads and potholders?

That was the question Colfax historian Susan Hill posed to members of the Colfax Merry Mixers January 5 at the Grapevine Senior Center during a presentation Hill had prepared regarding hot pads, potholders and rolling pins.  

So — is there a difference?

Members of the audience at the Grapevine said yes, indeed, there is a difference between hot pads and potholders.

 Hot pads are used to protect a surface, such as a countertop or table, from hot pots and pans.  

Potholders are used to protect the cook’s hands from a hot handle, or hot pots or pans.

Books published in 1940s encouraged people to make potholders and hot pads, Hill said.

Historically, people probably used rags, and in South America or Africa, they probably used woven grasses, she said. 

“Your apron. People used their aprons, too,” noted audience member Gladys Tandberg.

“They have been around for a long time. Looking at the history of it, they became a little more fancy in the 1930s when people started putting more color into their kitchens,” Hill said.

The making of hot pads and potholders slowed down during World War II because the materials were not readily available. After World War II, people started building new homes, so they started making potholders and hot pads again for their new kitchens, she said.

Many of the patterns for potholders and hot pads were for crocheted items. Books and magazines were published devoted to making potholders and hot pads, and some of the patterns were published in newspapers, Hill said. 

One sections of the potholders and hot pads that Hill put out on display were made in the shape of children’s clothing, such as pants, dresses and shirts.

“You can find patterns for them still, and the patterns are just as valuable as the potholders,” she said.

“Of the three (most prominent) colors, blue, green, red — red is the most popular for potholders. People were really spicing up their kitchens,” Hill said. 

Woven potholders that were made with a small metal loom and a hook also were popular, and people often made them in Girl Scouts or 4-H, she noted. 

Potholders and hot pads were knitted as well as crocheted, and natural fibers are better at protecting from the heat than synthetic fibers, Hill said. 


Potholders and hot pads often were centered around a theme, such as fruit-inspired items including hot pads that looked like a cluster of grapes or a slice of watermelon.

The grape clusters were made with soda bottle caps covered with crocheting made out of purple crochet thread or yarn.

Another type of hot pad was made with the round metal covers of Copenhagen boxes, although audience members noted that they had made similar hot pads using canning jar lids.

In the 1940s and 1950s, buffet-style luncheons and dinners became more popular, so hot pads and trivets, a metal device, often wrought iron, upon which a pot could be placed to protect a table or countertop, also became more popular, Hill said. 

Vintage kitchen linens and vanity linens, such as a dresser scarves, also are popular collectors’ items, as are antimacassars used to protect the backs of easy chairs and sofas.

Antimacassars are oblong pieces of cloth named for the macassar oil people would use to slick down their hair.

The antimacassar protected the material of the chair or sofa from the macassar oil.

The book Hill quoted from called them “abacasters” although there was no indication of how the author had come up with the word “abacaster” for “antimacassar.” A Google search does not turn up any references for “abacaster” but shows 137,000 references for “antimacassar.”

Rolling pins

Hill asked audience members how many rolling pins they had at home.

Answers varied, but most of those in the audience said they had two or three or four. One person said she had six rolling pins at home.

Rolling pins are made in a variety of sizes and from a variety of materials and are most often used for rolling out pie dough or other kinds of dough, such as cookie dough or cinnamon roll dough.

Grooved rolling pins are used for making the flat Norwegian potato pastry called lefse.

The oldest of Hill’s rolling pins is a grooved lefse rolling pin that had belonged to woman who lived in Colfax named Jessie Paff.

“Jessie Paff was my mom’s sister’s husband’s mother. I knew Jessie really well. Every Christmas I think of the Norwegian cream candy that she made. We have a recipe but nobody dares to make it,” Hill said.

The hot candy mixture is stretched out on a marble slab, and when it hardens, it is cut into pieces. The candy contains walnuts and pecans, and it is either white or pink, she said. 

Hill’s collection includes Tupperware rolling pins that you can fill with ice water for rolling pie crust, porcelain rolling pins that also are “cool” for pie dough, a hollow glass rolling pin that you would put ice water in to roll pie crust, brass and copper rolling pins, a shortbread rolling pin with indents so the shortbread cookies could be cut out, and of course, the grooved lefse rolling pins.

Rolling pins come in two different styles, one in which the handles turn, and one in which the handle and rolling pin are all in one piece, Hill said.

Vickie Hendricks, president of the Colfax Merry Mixers, noted that her mother’s uncle, Peter Nysted, had made lefse rolling pins and sold them at stores in the area.

Making doilies and dresser scarves and hot pads and potholders is a lost art, noted Colfax Merry Mixers secretary Kathy Tape.

Tape asked if Hill’s collection of hot pads, potholders and rolling pins had all been acquired locally.

Hill said she had purchased some of the items at local thrift sales and stores but that some of the items had been purchased while she had been traveling in other parts of the country.