Using the Selvedge Edge

The selvedge edge of fabric is completely finished, and often more densely woven than the body of the cloth..

The “selvedge” (not “salvage”, which is what I always thought my mother was saying) edge of the fabric is created as the fabric is woven on the loom, as the weft is taken back and forth.  It’s a completely finished edge.  Wise use of selvedge edges can make your costuming life much easier, but you need to know when you can and can’t use it.

The selvedge edge of fabric is completely finished, and often more densely woven than the body of the cloth..
The selvedge edge of fabric is completely finished, and often more densely woven than the body of the cloth..

Since the selvedge is so darn convenient, it’s tempting to use it as often as possible. Truthfully, there are times when it’s the wrong choice.  I’m not saying that as a sewing snob, so much as someone who has tried it and produced a skirt that was fantastic…. Right up until the first time I washed it, when the selvedge shrank more than the body of the fabric and the skirt suddenly pilled in all wonky at the bottom. (That was unfortunate.  Moral: Pre-shrink anything you plan to wash.)

Often, you’ll find that there’s a much denser concentration of threads in a little strip at the selvedge edge.  With many fabrics, the group of warp threads that make up the selvedge are under somewhat greater tension than the threads in the rest of the warp.  This means that sometimes, in the wash, they shrink a lot.  This is really unfortunate if you used the selvedge for, say, a hem, or you sewed a long straight seam right next to it.  (Yes, this will make a skirt buckle and get shorter at the hems – always an attractive look…)  It also means that for draped designs, the selvedge doesn’t follow the normal drape of the fabric.

So when do/don’t you want to use the selvedge?

  • Draping: Never.  Just cut/rip it off and make a proper hem.
  • Hems: If it looks fine after prewashing, go for it.  Otherwise, you’ll need to remove the selvedge and hem it.  Note: even if you only plan to dry-clean the garment, it may still shrink the selvedge.
  • Seams: You’re ok if you make little clippies through the selvedge every 2-4″.
  • Ruffs: Use the selvedge.  LOVE the selvedge.  If you look through Patterns of Fashion 4, you’ll see many examples where the selvedge is used for the edge of a ruff.  This is because it adds no bulk.

If you used a selvedge, washed it, and then found out about the shrinking thing….  Well, you might still be ok.  With a little steam, you should be able to stretch it back out.  You’ll need to let it cool in the stretched position, like blocking a sweater.  Also, you’ll have to do this every time you wash the thing.  Well, you know, that or you could wash it in cold and let it line dry….  ;)

5 Comments

  1. Making a dust ruffle, and since the selvedge (I thought salvage too until just now :) ) is so nice and not heavy, can I fold it once for a hem, or do I need to double fold press, then stitch? Oh, if I only have to fold these eight yards of fabric once before I stitch . . . how delightful that would be!

    1. Hi, Jan – before you do, you should know that the selvedge is woven at a different tension than the body of the yardage, and stretched on the loom. The implication is that if you wash it, your hem will go all bloomfy and look surprisingly mushroom-like. So as long as you’re not planning to wash it, a single fold should do. The change in tension will make it want to crease at the inside edge of the selvedge (if you’re reasonable sensitive to fabric, which is an experience thing for most people), so you might not even need to iron. Your mileage may vary. Best of luck with your eight yards!

  2. Hi Missa. Why didn’t I find your site last month??? I am making my first period, 1960’s, dress. I have the bodice done and started to cut the skirt. (I was going to us the selvedge for the side seams, would I be better off using it for the hem?) I go to cut my skirt and the pattern is 62 inches long!?! I know hoops and full petticoats require extra fabric, but 22 inches??? Since I need it for an event this weekend and don’t have my hoop petticoat made, I was just going to hem it with maybe a 6″ hem, so I can let it out for the hoop skirt. How do you figure how long to cut your fabric? I will peruse your site when I have time and I would be glad to purchase a pattern from you.

    1. Hi, Paula – I don’t know! Blame the Googles?
      A 62″ skirt length is pretty extreme, regardless of under-proppers. (Are you in the 1860s rather than the 1960?) I actually use maths, specifically the A(2) + B(2) = C(2) triangle maths (where a(2) is the height and b(2) is the width of the skirt, relative to the waist of the wearer) to sort out skirt lengths over farthingales and crinolines. With dome-shaped crinolines, I believe there’s things from calculus to figure them out, but I never got there so I subscribe to the “add five inches past the mathematical hem” theorem of ladies’ tailoring. ;)
      Be aware that with modern fabric processing, the selvedge will processed to being significantly tighter than the body of the fabric. Regardless of where you put the selvedge, if you wash and dry via modern methods, you can expect to see significant shrinkages on the selvedge edge.

      1. lol, I double checked my comment and still mis-typed. In 1960 my skirts were more like 16 inches! Thanks for the formula and the prompt reply. I am making this dress out of some fabric I got at a garage sale, so it is a learning experience and no big deal, except I do need to wear it this one time.

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