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.
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…. ;)