When the time comes to pull the turkey from the oven on Thanksgiving, Ginger Wright won’t have to worry about burning her hands. She’ll grab a potholder.
The only dilemma may be choosing which one of the 500 she’s collected to use.
Wright, 82, received her first one from her grandmother when she was 10 and her ailing grandma had come to live with her family.
“Grandma wanted to be useful, so she crotched me a potholder,” Wright said.
That simple circular item became the linchpin of a collection that spans decades and countries. In her Coeur d’Alene home, she spread potholders across a pingpong table, her dining room table and her living room furniture.
“My collection really started when I was in high school and found Grandma Jacobs’ box,” Wright said. “I added a couple more to the one she made for me.”
Circles and squares may be the most common shapes for the items, but Wright kept her eyes peeled for the unusual.
“I’ve got very few just squares,” she said. “I like them with different shapes and patterns. Almost all of them are handmade.”
Pigs, owls, autumn leaves, dresses, shirts and vases mingle with intricately stitched, more traditional crocheted potholders.
“Someone told me I’m the potholder queen,” Wright said.
She picked up a blue-eyed lady wearing a blue hat. Three additional potholders are tucked inside. Each one features a woman’s face with Cupid bow lips and flapper-era hairstyles.
“This is my oldest set. They were made in the 1920s,” Wright said. “I found them at a shop in Lewiston.”
Another vintage set made of soft cotton features two clocks with hand-sewn puppies and a pocket labeled “Pots and Pans to tuck them in.
“I got those in Sisters, Oregon, in the late ’60s,” she said.
Wright and her husband, Ken, were lifelong educators who loved to travel.
“Everywhere we went, I’d pick up a potholder,” she said. “I looked for something different – something I didn’t already have.”
She’s especially fond of her selection of blue and yellow items from Sweden.
“I’m Swedish, and we’ve traveled there several times to visit relatives,” Wright said.
She picked up a crocheted vase and opened its top to reveal two tiny matching potholders tucked inside.
“Look at this handiwork,” Wright said. “People are so inventive!”
The collector has even stitched a few of her own.
“I’m a barn lover,” she said, pointing to a quilted potholder featuring a big red barn. “I made this one.”
Her international collection blossomed even more when she and Ken participated in a Fulbright Teacher Exchange program in 1991. When not teaching in England, they traveled through Europe and Scandinavia.
A four-leaf clover with “Pot Luck” stitched on the front marks a visit to Ireland.
An item with a couple wearing traditional Norwegian bunad is from their time in Oslo, and an embroidered Dutch girl next to a butter churn represents a trip to the Netherlands.
U.S. travel is also represented. An Aloha shirt from Hawaii, a potholder sewn in the shape of California, and a quilted moose made in Alaska are just a few of her domestic additions.
For Wright, the memories each item invokes add to the fun.
“I think about the stories behind them,” she said. “Where we traveled – where we bought them. I’ve so enjoyed doing this!”
From whimsical happy faces to brilliant sunflowers to quaint crocheted overalls, her collection demonstrates that useful kitchen items can also offer unique fun.
Wright, however, isn’t looking to add any more.
“I have enough – I don’t have anywhere else to store them,” she said. “No potholder ever got away from me!”