What is selvage in sewing?

What Is Selvage In Sewing?

Has it ever happened to you that you are working on a sewing project and you came across an instruction to cut your fabric from the selvage? well, usually, no one gets it much since terms are often overlooked and skills take over. Yet, you’d be left wondering, what is actually selvage, its function, and other information about it, right? Okay, so, to take a quick look into it, the selvage is the narrow border that runs along the length of woven fabrics.

It usually looks different from the main fabric in terms of texture, color, or intentional markings. Selvage helps keep woven fabrics from fraying and also serves as a helpful guide for finding the fabric’s grain lines. But this is not enough to make clear about all the essentials. In this article, we’ll go on a journey to explore the secrets of selvage, its definition, purpose, and the options of creative opportunities it offers those who have expertise of a needle and thread.

Key Takeaways

  • The selvage is a strip of woven fabric at the edges of a fabric material designed to keep the ends protected from fraying.
  • They are usually cut because they are made from different materials and can behave differently when ironed or washed.
  • However, some selvage like plain selvage can be kept in a sewing project because they won’t interfere with clothing.
  • There are many different types of selvages and can be identified by the look and feel of the texture of selvage.
  • Even though selvages are usually cut, they can be salvaged and used in creative ways for other sewing projects.

What Is Selvage In Sewing?

What is selvage in sewing?
What is selvage in sewing?

Selvage, or “Selvedge” in British English is the finished edge that is different from the rest of the material and it has several purposes. This edge runs on the top and bottom of woven fabrics. It will stop the woven fibers from fraying. Non-woven fabrics are free from selvage. They will not fray as woven fabrics will. Some manufacturers include a strip of fabric along the edge of non–woven materials, so that, you have the information about the fabric. Some sewing patterns don’t use selvage portions of the fabric and they are often removed before any pattern pieces are cut. Don’t count this strip of fabric out completely. You will get a lot of information from your selvage strips, you can also make many unique crafts with them.

The Importance of Selvage

The importance of selvage
The importance of selvage

Selvage might be a cute marketing scheme for the makers of the fabric to have their name or brand stamped on the selvage, but there is actual importance to selvage beyond that! Fabrics are made and then packaged, shelved, and stocked before it is given to sewists to work their magic on them. But the ends of the fabric are where the fabric is most vulnerable as it can end up fraying and possibly compromising the integrity of the whole length of the fabric.

That is where the selvage comes in and keeps the whole fabric protected. They are thicker woven materials at the end of the fabric to help keep it protected and ensure that until it is used in a project that the quality of the fabric is perfect.

Why selvage are usually cut?

The thing with selvage is that they are usually cut off from the fabric before sewing. This is because the tighter woven material of the selvage makes it difficult to work on for a sewing project. As a result, the colorful selvage is discarded from the fabric and the sewing project altogether.

The other reason that selvage is cut from the fabric is because it behaves differently from the rest of the material when heat is applied or when it is washed. When fabrics are washed, they have a tendency to shrink. Now, you can imagine how two different materials in the same fabric will shrink differently causing a done project to look completely different when it is washed!

Misconception around selvage

But the one misconception and myth that has become widespread in the world of sewing is that selvage is unusable. That might be the case most of the time, but you can in fact use selvage in your sewing project! Maybe not all sewing projects can incorporate the selvage since it is a denser part of the fabric. But for example, you could use it as a hem for a skirt since and it won’t look out of place!

The myths don’t stop there because selvage can be kept in the fabric and used in the sewing project when the fabric comes prewashed or you have done the prewashing yourself! For such fabric, the selvage will not shrink more than it already has and is perfectly usable for a sewing project itself! It is all about understanding how the selvage works and how you can incorporate into your projects, be it for quilting or embroidery!

How to Identify Selvage: 6 Different Types of Selvage

How to identify selvage: different types of selvage
How to identify selvage: different types of selvage

Now that we have had a basic rundown of what a selvage is and how it works, it is time to identify the selvage so you know which part you may need to cut off. And luckily identifying selvage is quite an easy task! Here are some key identifiers:

  • Selvages are usually woven together so they appear bigger than the rest of the fabric.
  • The color of selvages can be different as well.
  • If you find little dots on the ends of a fabric, that is the selvage line.
  • They are also of a different texture so identifying through feel is also very easy to do.
  • Another easy identifier is that the selvage will have the name of the maker or designer.
  • If you see that the selvage itself is not unraveling from the threads, then you can definitely be sure that is the selvage for the fabric.

There are many different types around so let’s see what each of these selvages looks like and how you can distinguish between them!

1. Plain selvage

A simple plain selvage is where the selvage itself is made from the same material as the fabric itself but the yarn is packed more tightly, keeping the edges safer. They are quite difficult to cut since they are packed together so tightly, making them more durable. The really interesting thing about plain selvage is that it can be used as the seam for dresses because they have the same structure as the rest of the fabric and will not shrink.

2. Tucked selvage

These types of selvage are only found in fabric that was made in a shuttle-less loom like a Jacquard loom . The fringed edges of the weft yarn are held in place by the loom and then tucked back into the fabric itself to create an interlocking layer of dense fabric. This results in quite a thicker selvage and how tightly it woven will be determined by how warp yarn diameter.

3. Leno selvage

This is the type of selvage that is usually cut from the fabric before sewing because it uses additional threads to help make the selvage. The leno, sometimes called the gauze selvage, adds these extra threads to make the selvage sturdier and more shear-resistant to keep the edges of the fabric well-protected.

4. Fused selvage

Quite an interesting selvage is the fused selvage because of how it is made. Synthetic thermoplastic fiber fabrics like nylon and polypropylene are melted together with the ends of the fabric with a bit of heat to help fuse the two together, which creates selvage. As you can understand, incorporating such a selvage is quite difficult and why it is cut from the fabric before use.

5. Tape selvage

Quite like plain selvage, where the tape selvage differs is that the selvage uses a stronger yarn to make a sturdier but flatter selvage. These are usually seen in towels, curtains, and bed sheets which is why they are usually kept because they are not made for clothing.

6. Split selvage

Another selvage that you will mainly find in towels! As the name suggests, the two selvages are split apart in the middle by a narrow-width fabric that is weaved to twice larger than the rest of the material. Then the split selvages are cut in the middle and the edges are finished with a hem stitch.

Not Wasting Any Fabric: How To Use Discarded Selvage

Even though selvage is discarded after cutting it off, it does not mean you cannot use them for another sewing project! The great thing about fabric scraps is that they can be used for other fun and innovative sewing projects as well.

Think of a collage of different selvages scraps that you have stored and organized and making whatever that your heart desires! You could make a fabric cloth for your coffee mug or design the waistline of your pants to make it really unique.

All you need to do is make sure that the selvage is usable. You can do this by ironing the selvage to see if anything melts inside the selvage or you can prewash the selvage so it does not shrink further after you already have incorporated into a sewing project. The last thing that you need to look out for is the grainline when you are using two or more selvages for a collage piece. Even if most people would deem selvages to be useless, you can really make it into a crafty project using the extent of your imagination!


How to find grainline of fabric with selvage?

The grainline of the fabric is easy to figure out because it runs parallel to the selvage. All you need to identify is where the fabric ends and where the selvage starts so you can cut it off and sew along the grainline.

Is selvage on fabric straight?

The edge with no give is the selvage. The selvage edge runs in the same direction as what is referred to as the straight grain (or warp) of the fabric.

Can you use the selvage?

Selvages run the entire length of a fabric bolt, many people will cut them off and throw them away without a second thought, although, you can use them for some projects as they don’t fray.

Final Thoughts

As we have discussed thus far, the selvage is the end piece of a fabric that is of a different texture and size to ensure the edges of the fabric do not fray. It helps to keep it protected and is usually cut away from the fabric when used in sewing. There are many different types of selvage available and each of them is unique but also very easy to identify as well. And even though selvages are thrown away, you can collect them and make a fun little project of your own. When it comes to sewing, the possibilities are endless!


Hey I’m Sherry Howes an expert in sewing, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery. With a passion for fiber arts and a talent for crafting, I Have spent years improving my skills and sharing knowledge with others. Whether teaching a class or creating a new project, I’m always excited to share my love of crafting with the world. I like researching new techniques and trends in the crafting arts community.

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